And on the day when she comes to the end of all she will learn, she will still be yours.
No matter where she runs, no matter if she hides, no matter.
She is inescapable to you. You are inescapable to her.
Maybe this is what she already knows.*
She has “wise eyes.”
Her mother placed her in the crook of my left arm and my right hand instinctively reached to tuck the pink satin edge of the blanket under her chin so I could stroke her cheek with my index finger. She was awake, but only just. Her eyes, round in the deep blue of infancy, searched my face. While I have learned from experience that this is when many babies begin squirming, anxiously wanting assurance from their mother’s face, her eyes remained calm and focused, unbothered by the face of this stranger. The deep blue of her eyes seemed to hold the wisdom of ages.
I often wonder about babies with “wise eyes,” those who look at you as if they can see your very center. They seem to observe what is happening around them with quiet, calm curiosity, already centered and grounded as if in the moments before birth they remember being assured that all will be well.
The English poet, William Wordsworth wrote:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness… **
I wonder, do we all begin this way?
Is there a moment when we know that all will be well or is this what we spend our lifetime learning?
Some writing coaches suggest that rhetorical questions are dangerous, making it seem as if the writer does not have command of her story or theme, and leaving the reader to form their own thoughts. Ask questions, and control of the narrative can be lost.
The last decade or so life has left me with more questions than answers. When I was in my 20’s, 30’s, and even my 40’s, I was certain about many things. I had read and researched. I had learned and logicked. I knew things. Lots of things. I was sure that if you worked hard and planned efficiently, life turned out well—the organizer’s prosperity gospel. I had very few questions about topics that someone hadn’t written the book on. I read them.
And then the losses began to pile up. Young parents got cancer, friends died out of order, families fractured, children grew into what they wanted to be. Questions multiplied, many without answers. Many days, I find myself in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe I am in the middle of everywhere.
I now wonder things. Lots of things. Making plans seems droll, anticipation seems risky, and organization, well, organization has always been an illusion. And yet, in the midst of the unknowing, I experience freedom, God’s peace, and a sense that the Spirit is planting wisdom in this life’s garden. In this garden, the god of limited certainty has turned into the God of expansive wonder.
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr writes that “…spirituality is much more about unlearning than learning, because the ‘growing [child]’ is usually growing into major illusions, all of which must be undone to free [her] from prison and take [her] back to [her] beginnings in God. ‘Unless you change and become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of God,’ Jesus says (Matthew 18:3).” ***
To me, this feels like curiosity. I have noticed over the past few years that often the folks asking real questions are children and sages. The young ones ask, “Why?” as they build their worldview. The sage requests, “Will you tell me more?” as they undo theirs. I wonder, is this what the wise-eyed child asks too? Does she want to know if I have discovered that all shall be well?
She nestles into my arm, pink blanket swaddled around her. Eyes closing. Sweet girl, I am learning. Laying down certainty is difficult and scary. Undoing illusions that have taken decades to build is unsettling and generates work. The terrifying ability to wonder at the expansive love of God illuminates many good things but also highlights the rubble caused by believing in the god of limited certainty.
The God of expansive wonder truly is inescapable—no matter where we run, no matter if we hide. No matter. Even if we refuse to give in, refuse to let down our illusions, God is inescapable to us. Of this, I am certain.
Could it be that God has been this big and expansive all along? Wonder with me. All will be well.
*Jill English, “She Knows,” Red Tent Living, March 23, 2020.
**William Wordsworth, “Intimation of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” Immortal Poems of the English Language.
***Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of everyday life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.
Dear Jill, I have a million swirling responses to this deeply honest and equally deeply moving piece you have written. So often in my life at 42, a time when so many things that were Very Certain seem to be unraveling for myself and others I love, I have chosen hopelessness and cynicism, even if just temporarily. The tension created by trusting God while seeing pain and loss is too much to bear, so my solution is to sometimes just say, “Screw it!”
Then comes the gentle call within (or without) to look up, to be still and know in that most inexplicable of ways…
“And yet, in the midst of the unknowing, I experience freedom, God’s peace, and a sense that the Spirit is planting wisdom in this life’s garden. In this garden, the god of limited certainty has turned into the God of expansive wonder.”
Thank you for calling me to remember Truth, to hold tightly to the “God of expansive wonder.”
Oh Lacey, I have been in the “Screw it!” space so many times. The past weeks have felt like perfect times to wave the white flag. It’s difficult to stay engaged in the Yet, I’m reminded again and again that God is inviting our participation in the restoration story that God is writing. That’s the freedom for me. Thank you for your kind words, Lacey. I’m grateful to know that these words encouraged you.
Oh my! Gorgeous words Jill. This: “The young ones ask, “Why?” as they build their worldview. The sage requests, “Will you tell me more?” as they undo theirs.” Thank you!
Thank you for your encouraging words, Beth!
“Making plans seems droll..” Yes, ma’am. Love your words.
Thank you, Marcia. While making plans is necessary, I’m learning as I get older to hold them loosely and recognize that I’ll likely need to pivot. Not easy, but healing for this reforming planner/organizer!
What a question, Jill – “Is there a moment when we know that all will be well or is this what we spend our lifetime learning?” It seems to me that we spend our lifetime unlearning all that blocks us from the knowing that all will be well.
And, what an invitation – “tell me more….wonder with me.” Thank you.
Dear Linda, it is so good to “see” you! Thank you for your comment – it certainly is taking my lifetime to learn about and remove the blocks this knowing. You’re right in that it often is an unlearning. I love the way you turned this. Can’t wait to read more of your writing for RTL!