Learning from Baby

Me, I like babies.

When I have one around, that is, which is the case at the moment.

It’s actually kind of difficult to get babies off my mind these days considering that my personal baby is physically on me about twenty-two hours a day, including the darkest dark of night. He evidently finds the crook of my arm much more comfortable than his mattress, and you know, that’s okay. I’m keenly aware of how quickly time passes, and if this baby prefers the warmth of our bed to the cold of his during this blink of an eye before he goes off to college, he’s welcome to stay.

So, since I’m a firm believer of letting God speak through the realities of the present moment, when I want to listen, when I want to get a jump-start to prayer, I watch the baby.

We’ll start with smiles. Is there anything better than the toothless grin of a baby?

I can’t stop wondering why they do it.

He’s eleven weeks out of the womb, and when he’s alert and not annoyed at the world’s failure to constantly give him something to suck on, he’s doing one phenomenal thing: he’s smiling. Grinning, gurgling and making the most splendid dimples ever seen.

Secular scientists have tried mightily over the past two centuries to strip the universe of God. There’s no purpose or end, to our existence, many of them declare, and our presence here is the result of pure chance. My baby argues against that depressing scenario without saying a word. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject, and no one, not the cleverest evolutionary behaviorist, has been able to answer the question of why, at about four weeks of age, this little primate started locking eyes with familiar faces and meeting their silly grins with a big beaming one of his own. How does he know that what he’s doing is what we’re doing, too? Where did the desire and the satisfaction in the act come from?

Chance? Randomness? Does anyone really believe that? Does anyone really want to?

No, my baby’s grin assures me that in spite of the enduring puzzles, God’s hand in creation can’t be so easily slapped away.

I’m also moved to wonder, though, in our extended mutual admiration sessions, why human infants are born so helpless, especially in comparison to most other species? Why so dependent and for so long? A possible answer came to me last week, one that might have occurred to you to, in your own musings.

Perhaps we’re born not quite finished so we can be finished in the presence of other people.

Maybe our nervous systems remain a bit raw and undirected so that they can be formed in response to the sounds, touch and faces of other human beings.

Perhaps our eyes don’t focus perfectly for weeks so that they can learn their first lessons in relation to the human face.

And maybe we must be taught to communicate, to move and to play by other human beings so that from the very beginning, social bonds become the basis of our existence and we can learn the process, the most important lesson of all – to love and be loved.

God, it seems, has given a great gift in the midst of what might seem, at first glance, to be an annoying inconvenience, and even a disadvantage.

The baby comes among us, helpless and in some ways, incomplete. In teaching the child, we’re finishing the job God started: we’re weaving the bonds and planting the seeds that will enable that child to express his unique identity as God’s child, made in God’s image, able to reason, to create, and, most importantly, to love.

It’s a responsibility. It’s a gift. And most of the time, if we open ourselves to it, it’s a lot of fun, besides.

(Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.)

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