Recently I was on a flight, sitting in a row of seats with two new parents and their baby boy. He was about four months old and this was his first flight. Naturally, his parents were as anxious about how he would respond as he seemed oblivious to anything other than his physical closeness to the two most important people (he was begining to discover) in his new life. He was clearly delighted: Indeed, child psychologist Jeffry Simpson found that communication and interaction from a baby’s perspective really takes off at about three or four months of age when babies start to initiate social contact with their caregiver.[1]

The dynamic between the parents and their child was a beautiful and extraordinary thing to be close to. Every movement, gesture and sound were met with both delighted and concerned responses from his parents. Their focus, affection, concentration and responses were directed entirely towards him: it was an extraordinary and tender three-way symbiosis of mutual beholding. It was difficult to see in that moment of mutual beholding that there could ever be anything that could prevent those parents from loving their baby any more fully or any less completely; and that baby didn’t seem to need anything other than to be held and embraced and fed and gazed upon. Their words were irrelevant. Their actions spoke volumes.

Developing secure attachment is a primary factor in how a baby develops socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically. “The attachment process is interactive and dynamic. Both (parent(s)) and…baby participate in an exchange of nonverbal emotional cues that make…baby feel understood and safe.”[2] When Nathan Fox from the the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland first visited the now notorious orphanages of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, he was struck by the terrible silence in the baby-rooms. The infants had realised that their cries were not responded to. Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston subsequently followed those children for fourteen years and they found that emotional deprivation resulted in the children experiencing “delays in cognitive function, motor development and language. They showed deficits in socio-emotional behaviours and experienced more psychiatric disorders.”[3]

There is a well-developed tradition among the Greek Fathers which depicted Adam and Eve, our mythical first parents, as little children[4]. For Irenaeus “Christ takes Adam from where he is, fallen from grace and still inexperienced. He nurtures him from the lost innocence of childhood into spiritual adulthood. He forgives Adam and Eve their first sin, and then helps them to achieve holiness.”[5] The image of “the Fall” in the eyes of the Greek Fathers is as much a tragic trip of innocence and inexperience as it is a leap of malice; and God is hurt in his parenthood as his children are hurt in their fall. This is a tragic trip of innocence and inexperience.

The English saint and mystic Julian of Norwich wrote: “God’s relationship with us is one of parenthood. God is a father to us because our nature is essentially of God, and mother because we are brought forth from God’s own being. (43)”[6] In fact, Julian’s Revelations are all about the unconditional love of God for women and men. Julian discovered that “our Lord was never angry, nor ever shall be, for he is God: he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is peace; and his power, his wisdom, his charity, and his unity do not permit him to be angry….God is the goodness who cannot be angry for he is nothing but goodness. (46).”[7]

Veronica Mary Rolf, author of Julian’s Gospel writes: “Always to be loved, in spite of everything, is a concept so vast and humbling as to defy human comprehension.”[8] I wondered if before comprehension, in his universe of wordless, mutual beholding, that baby on the plane had an unspoken sense of what “always to be loved” might be like. Thinking back to those new parents on the plane: it was difficult to see in that moment of mutual beholding that there could ever be anything that could prevent those parents from loving their baby any more fully or any less completely. If God loves us the way those new parents loved their baby, what an incredible bond of love that would be. I wonder if, in the depths of our own being, we might contemplate and wonder and trust in those words: “Always to be loved, in spite of everything.” How different our lives might be too.

[1] Simpson, J. A. (2002) Attachment theory in modern evolutionary context. In: J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver, (Eds.). Handbook of attachment: theory, research, and clinical applications. The Guilford Press.

[2] cited 01/02/2018

[3] Nelson, C. A., Fox, N. A., and Zeanah, C. H. (2014). Romania’s abandoned children: Deprivation, brain development, and the struggle for recovery. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: Harvard University Press.

[4] Toews, J. (2013) The Story of Original Sin, Pickwick Publications

[5] Zimmerman, A in cited 04/04/2018

[6] Earle, M.C (2013) Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love. SkylightPaths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont

[7] Fruehewirth, R. (2016) The Drawing of This Love, Norwich, Canterbury Press.

[8] cited 01/02/18