In the Park – What a Baby Is


A beautiful meditation for you today….

From Mind the Baby by Mary Perkins, 1950’s

AT LAST we are safely in the park, Jonjo and Thomas Edmund and I. Jonjo abandons his tricycle and runs over to watch the big boys playing football. Thomas Edmund bounces up and down in his stroller with wild impatience to be out and doing.

I lay the bag of necessities, apples and cookies and cleansing tissue, down on the bench; lift Thomas Edmund out and set him down on his two unsteady feet. He staggers around for a moment, looks at me questioningly, and then makes for the nearest pile of leaves under a big tree.

The autumn sun shines low and warm on yellow leaves and grass. Mothers and children, tricycles and carriages are dotted here and there in the golden haze.

Jonjo’s cries of joy come reassuringly over the stubble; he has been invited to join a “football game,” conducted by a kindly-looking man with two other four-year-olds. He will be well taken care of: I can sit down on the bench in peace and watch Thomas Edmund.

There he stands, such a small little boy, surrounded by such a lot of bumpy grass and overshadowed by such a very big tree. There are only twenty-five inches of him, from the top of his yellow head to the soles of his business-like brown shoes; but obviously he is the focal point of all this scenery–and not only to a mother’s eye, for that man and woman over there are watching him just as intently as I am.

Why is it that however beautiful a landscape may be, a baby in it is always the center of attention? What is a baby anyhow that people should stop and smile at him–even the most improbable people, such as crotchety old gentlemen and cross young ladies?

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?” If God is thus mindful of a Thomas Edmund, it is no wonder that we pay some attention to him… “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with honor and glory.”

Perhaps it is because God’s making of a baby is still so evident and still so unspoiled that we all stop to look.

But only “a little lower than the angels”? It must take a great deal of humility in an angel to recognize that he is only a little higher in the scale of creation than a small human being like Thomas Edmund; let alone to acknowledge that God has crowned that funny round yellow head with such honor and glory of baptismal grace that our son is, in super-nature if not in nature, the very equal of the angel.

Look at the little-less-than-angel over there, gazing in wonder at a squirrel running up and down the tree-trunk–Thomas Edmund Ryan, a human creature and a child of God; by nature akin to the ground and the grass and the tree and the squirrel, and to his guardian angel, and by

Baptism made a partaker of the divine nature. What a span of reality in one small being!

He is sitting down now, his fat legs wide apart, his small back straight and sturdy (if only we grownups could sit like that!) turning a twig over and over in his square little hands, examining it from all angles, chewing it now and then, and occasionally uttering a loud “Aii!” of admiration.

“Man is a creature composed of body and soul, made to the image and likeness of God.” …I can see Thomas’ square little body, I can feel its weight in all my aching muscles.

But what about his soul; how do I know that he has one? By faith, yes; but surely even common sense could perceive that small boys are moved by a different kind of vital force than are stones and bushes and squirrels. No squirrel ever showed such scientific, sustained and impersonal curiosity about a nut as Thomas Edmund is devoting to that twig.

He looks up, throws the twig away with a royal gesture of satiation, staggers to his feet and with immense difficulty leans over and picks up something else.

“Oh Tom, what have you got now? Let Mummy see.” He trots over to me obediently (for once) and holds out a large yellow leaf. My goodness, what a beautiful big leaf! He pushes it at me insistently until I take it and admire it, grabs it back again and sits down, plunk, at my feet to enjoy his treasure with every appropriate and inappropriate sense.

“No, not in your mouth, Tom.” He looks up rather hurt; then slowly and thoughtfully tears the leaf to shreds and picks up each piece in turn to examine it again more thoroughly.

Well, anybody with any perception could see Thomas Edmund’s soul shining out of his eyes. But, sentiment aside, surely one can find proofs in all his actions of the existence of a human soul.

People who think that babies are merely little animals must never have observed either animals or babies. A puppy will bring you a stick to throw for him; he may even bring you a treasure he thinks you want him to retrieve for you; but he would never bring you a leaf to admire with him, and insist on your admiring it. He would never offer you part of his dog biscuit, as Thomas so often offers me pieces of his cookies.

You can keep a dog happy quite easily, with the right kind of food and exercise and play and companionship, but nobody on earth can keep an eighteen-month-old baby happy all the time.

For the baby wants everything in sight, and that is because he is made to want everything beyond sight, and that is because he has a human soul (I must try to remember this chain of reasoning the next time Thomas Edmund is being quite unbearable with all his wants).

Tom’s human soul is now moving him to some new enterprise. He is on his feet again, making for his brother’s abandoned tricycle. He pushes it over, bracing all his small muscles and grunting with the effort.

When it finally falls, he looks at his achievement with awe and says “Oh!” Then he pushes one of the pedals to make the front wheel turn around, with all the earnestness of a scientist in his laboratory. Yes, it really turns; and, what is still better, it keeps on turning. “Ai!” says Thomas Edmund, looking up at me to be sure that I am sharing his excitement, “Ai!”

But how does all this show that a little boy is made to God’s image and likeness in a special way in which grass and trees and squirrels are not? Because God knows and loves and is happy in Himself, Infinite

Truth, Infinite Goodness and Infinite Happiness, and He has made Thomas

Edmund able to know truth and love goodness: the truth and goodness of wheels and cookies, the truth and goodness of ideas and actions.

He has given him powers of knowledge and love which He has also raised and strengthened by grace so that Thomas Edmund will be able to know and love God Himself and to be happy in His own happiness.

Then again, God is a Person–a “Who,” not merely a “What”; and He has made Thomas Edmund also a “Who,” in His image. We were told in college that a “person is an independent substance of a rational nature”–and anyone who has ever watched a baby busy with his own affairs realizes just what that definition means.

Nobody could have any doubt that Thomas over there is a great deal more than a “What”; that he is a “Who” all of his own, in his fine independence and self-hood a small created reflection of the infinite independence and of-Himself-ness of God.

But there is a more appealing way than this in which our Thomas shows that he is in God’s image. Little as he is, he already wants to share with people he loves his small happinesses in cookies and leaves and turning tricycle wheels.

“God is love,” Holy Scripture tells us. He made everything because of love, out of His overflowing generosity, so that He might communicate His perfections to things according to the designs of His wisdom, so that some of His creatures might even come to share His own life and happiness.

And so, little Thomas Edmund, made to His image, made to love and to give himself to God and men in love, already wants to share what is most his own, his joy (even though he clings desperately to more material possessions, especially those he shouldn’t have, like matchboxes!).

What about Thomas Edmund’s body in all this? The catechism doesn’t say, “This likeness is entirely in the soul.” It says “chiefly in the soul.” But what likeness to the infinite God can one possibly find in that funny square little body?

I remember a glorious prayer said at a Bishop’s consecration, when his special episcopal gloves are blessed: “Almighty God, who gave man, made to Your image, hands remarkable for their separation into fingers, as an organ of intelligence for correct workmanship; which You commanded to be kept clean so that the soul might be worthily carried in them…” Here the liturgy fills out the catechism’s bare statement: the organs of our bodies are made to be the expressions and instruments of the powers of our souls, which are made to God’s image.

Tom’s small fat hands, which are now so carefully investigating the inner workings of the tricycle-wheel, such dirty little hands, covered with oil and earth, are made to be the instruments of his intelligence, so that he may make things rightly, according to his likeness to God the Maker. (Should I try to keep them cleaner than I do? Since our souls are carried in our hands, it is no wonder we look at people’s hands to see what kind of people they are, or that a handshake is such a communication of personality, or that there is a whole science of deducing character from handwriting!)

Thomas Edmund has now managed to wrench the seat off the tricycle, has somehow got to his feet with it, and is staggering off proudly with his prize. Need I take it away from him? No, he can’t do much harm to it, or it to him; and a tricycle seat is such a fine red and silver object to carry around.

Surely the uprightness of that small figure shows something of God’s image too, or at least that he is made to “seek the things that are above.”

Now he is sitting down again and digging hard in the dirt with the shaft of the seat, as if to point out that he is made to the image of God, the Ruler of the universe, who commanded man to “subdue the earth” as well as to cultivate it. Thomas Edmund certainly looks as if he were trying to subdue this particular section of ground–such fierce determination is on his face as he digs!

The little lord of the earth looks up from his digging, scrambles to his feet and rushes over to me, with an appealing look in his dark brown eyes.

What’s the matter? He snatches the bag off the bench beside me and starts to investigate it. Oh, a cookie. You’d better let me get it out. He grabs the cookie, gives it a big crunch, and goes back slowly to his digging.

What an odd thing is a human being, dependent on crackers and milk and meat and vegetables for his soul to have a chance of developing; yet so independent of such sustenance that his soul will go on existing for all eternity without it (and his body too, for that matter, after its resurrection, by the grace of God): so much a part of all this scenery and yet so separate and so different.

When you begin to think about everything that a human being is, you realize what wise men mean when they tell us to know ourselves as the first step to knowing God. How justly will Thomas Edmund be able to say, when he knows enough to say it, “I praise Thee because I am made so wonderfully.”

For if he were simply a human being, that would be amazing enough to praise God for, but his humanness is, after all, only the foundation, the prerequisite for what he really is, for (if one may dare so to call it) his divineness.

“O God, who so wonderfully built up the dignity of human substance and still more wonderfully refashioned it…” What new actuality was added to Thomas Edmund when he was born again of water and the Holy Spirit?

A baptized baby does not look different from an unbaptized one (though his mother certainly feels some difference when he comes back fresh from the Holy Font).

You can’t tell which of all these children playing here in the park are baptized and which are not. Yet the ones who are live by a different kind of life and are infinitely more alive than the ones who have not received baptism.

Thomas Edmund over there thoughtfully grinding the grubby remains of his cookie on the tricycle seat, is not only a human child, He is God’s child. And God did not simply adopt him at baptism, did not merely say that from then on He would consider Thomas Edmund as His child. He actually gave him a share in His own life; He made him His child in-deed.

Nor is Thomas Edmund simply one more child of the Eternal Father; he is somehow a new version or expression or realization of God’s only-begotten Son, of Christ our Lord.

He became God’s child by being incorporated in Christ. He received the life of a son of God in and through God’s Only Son.

When God the Father sees that little boy playing there on the grass, He sees him in His Son and He sees His Son in him. Christ our Lord is continually pouring His life into the members of His Mystical Body–so much so that whatever I do to or for Thomas Edmund, I do to and for Christ Himself.

(Dear Lord, forgive me for all the times when I get so angry with him, when his yelling annoys me beyond endurance, when I am just too tired to attend to him cheerfully. Help me to remember that it is You I am taking care of in him, and to do it better.)

And God the Holy Spirit is always dwelling in Thomas Edmund as His temple–a very funny little temple for the Spirit of Love and Joy–so that I am not just washing or feeding or clothing my own child; I am taking care of the temple of God.

The little dwelling-place of the Blessed Trinity is now trying to climb up on the tricycle. Oh woe, of course he didn’t get the seat back where it belongs. He lets out a wild yell of terror and frustration; the tricycle falls over with him, and he lies howling on the grass.

Poor Thomas Edmund! The world is still a valley of tears, even for the children of God; and it is only by many tribulations, many falls and frustrations of all kinds, that we enter into our inheritance of God’s kingdom.

When Christ our Lord was a baby, He must have fallen off things too, and cried as babies cry, so why should we expect to have our children walk any smoother road than the one He walked Himself…

But here is Jonjo at last, demanding his apple and cookie. “Look, dear, be a nice boy, give Tom a ride on your bicycle and cheer him up.”

Jonjo mounts his steed; I put Thomas Edmund on the back (the yells have stopped as soon as he sees a ride in prospect); and they set out, bumping over the stubble, Thomas Edmund hugging his brother hard and singing a little tune of joy.

Two little human creatures, two children of God, two other Christs, two temples of the Holy Spirit riding off together on a red and silver tricycle. Come on, boys, let’s go home.

“The parent who loves his children and takes pleasure in training them in right conduct gives the best possible testimonial to marriage. On the other hand, the parent who constantly complains about his physical, financial or emotional burdens breaks down his youngster’s vision of marriage as a worthy state in life.” – Rev. George A. Kelly http://amzn.to/2yxKIes (afflink)


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