I lathered the shampoo gently through his full head of hair, patient with the knowledge that he would whine and pull away. It had taken him an entire hour to warm up to the water at the pool, but I didn't have another one to wait during bathtime. He jerked his still-baby-round head in protest and I chided him softly. Scooped some water up and let it trickle down his fat white back as a peace offering. We grinned.
My knees were starting to ache against the tile floor when our eyes locked, his lashes like butterfly wings delicate on his face. He saw something—pulled in closer. "Daddy right der!" he whispered, pointing at my iris. "Dat daddy right der!"
My own reflection danced in the dark of his pupils; he saw himself in mine.
A chubby finger touched the rim of my eye. "I see daddy der!"
He never stopped whispering, like the discovery was too great a secret to reveal. Had he shouted, perhaps it wouldn't have felt so supernatural; as it was, there was something that pulsed in the air every time his feathered voice broke through.
Everything he knows of love, he knows in community—a trinity of father, mother, son in which one is constantly being found in the other. From this centrality emerges every other expression of love he encounters: siblings, friends, grandparents, parish, community. It all shoots out from the love that exists between the three of us, because love is not stagnant. It must always be going and coming, from and to something.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a complicated one, and other religions rightly find it befuddling. One God in three Persons? Sounds like a man-made idea scrambled to account for the teachings of a masterful prophet who said some incredibly confusing things. Even Christians struggle to understand, let alone explain, such a mystical reality.
But Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, atheist all witness to the reciprocity of love, that it will not and inherently cannot be contained. For love to exist, it must be going from one being toward another; it is an intrinsically communal experience (yes, even when it goes unreciprocated). The language that the Christian tradition has given us for this reality is the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit —wholly uncreated, and together at the beginning of time. "Let us make humankind in our image," the Godhead says in Genesis 1. We claim to know what it means, but we swim in mystery.
"The energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons or neutrons," Fr. Richard Rohr writes in explanation of Trinitarian love, "but in the relationship between them." The universe itself is relationship, is community. Is it really so far-fetched to say that love makes the world go 'round? Perhaps it's quite literal. We are invited to move our thinking past an infantile imagination of three white men up in heaven; the Trinity is in the relationship between protons and neutrons, in everything that loves and is loved and is love (which is to say, everything).
Love, and even being, only exist in community. No man is an island, as they say, but neither is God, for God is in relationship with God's own self — must be, if it is true that "God is love". And we? We are the fruit of that love relationship: we are the reflection that we see in God's eye.
I was going to be the best mother. I would blow everyone away with my mothering skills—most of all my husband, who, amid is longing for fatherhood, carried the ominous expectation that it would be the weight to finally completely cripple him with anxiety. Luckily, I knew my motherhood would render parenting our first child a breeze. He'd be ready for six more in no time.
I rounded the corner of my final lap toward family life sure of two things: 1) Parents should be in control at all times, and 2) Children should never be allowed to emotionally manipulate their parents. Bolstered by a stack of books penned by some prolific Christian authors, I was convinced that this two-part theory (with enough nurture thrown in) would guarantee a happy home life.
But when motherhood finally met me at dusk in a little Ugandan orphanage, I furrowed my brow and curved down my mouth at how my expectations failed to fall in line. I had a degree in family studies, for crying out loud. What were these inadequacies and failures doing, showing up in the one area I was supposed to be good at? We finalized the adoption, and, despite all the parenting advice I'd taken in, I couldn't control my son. A year went by, then another, and another. We loved each other deeply, but the Beatles were wrong—love wasn't all we needed. I felt hopeless and defeated; he felt cornered and scared. I didn't know how to get through to him, and he didn't know how to trust me. We were at a stalemate: a very emotional, angry, brokenhearted draw.
And that is exactly where I was the night my husband discovered a man named Jean Vanier in a mediocre-quality YouTube video.
Read the rest in the July 2018 issue of St. Anthony Messenger!