Often I realize that if I couldn’t see her face I’d still know when she was filled with joy. Her hands pivot up and down, her legs swing and kick. Her whole being is caught up. She screeches or cries “ooohhhhh!” Sometimes her hair seems to get even curlier than it always is.
Reese isn’t self conscious about it. She simply doesn’t restrain the physical wave of joy. It flows through her like electricity. She lets it flow, and doesn’t unnaturally try to damn it up within her or tamp it down for our civilized consumption.
Of course Reese also frowns with her whole body. No denying that. But right now I want to focus on the smile.
My parents tell me that I did this long ago. As a boy about Reese’s age, on Christmas morning I’d sit in front of the tree awaiting my chance to open my first present. My parents say that my backside would literally bounce up and down in anticipation, in happiness, and if I must say, perhaps a little greed thrown in for good measure.
I didn’t do as much of that as I got older. I tend to call that shift “maturity”. But, I’m not sure that the shift should always be given such a respectable label. Perhaps it would be better to call that change “domestication” or something even less savory.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because of the words of Jesus. You’ve probably heard them before. I’ll paraphrase: Love God with your whole self – your mind, your body, your strength, everything you have and are. And love your neighbor as yourself.
Many parts of Christian life come to mind as an illustration here, and worship is one. Many of us love God well with our minds, but with our bodies – well, not so much. We feel odd if we start to tap our toes during the music of a Sunday service of worship.
Or, some of us love God well with our emotions, but we don’t want to think about our faith, to tease it out in our imagination, to study it with our minds.
Or, some of us love God all the way on Sunday, but we withhold our strength, our money, and our lives from the Lord come Monday. By Wednesday, we live however we live no differently than we would live if there were not Christ at all.
Maybe this smile with the whole self thing is easily done by Reese because she is still very young. Surely, the Jesus who gave the great commandment also smiled with his whole body as a child. Further, in the mystery of faith we confess that in that child God himself uniquely smiled at us with his whole body.
That is part of the deep magic and wonder that is Christmas. But, come to think of it, the Gospel of John says that even as an adult Jesus cried with his whole body (in public, no less) before the grave of his friend Lazarus.
If Christ were willing and able to love with his whole self, then perhaps Christians are called to the same in his name.
The funny thing I’ve discovered is that being around Reese loosens me up, returns me to when I more easily smiled with my whole body. I do silly dances, sing pathetic, made-up rhymes, and speak in ridiculous, unknown tongues. And I do it for her unashamed. I do it for love.
Maybe being around Jesus helps loosen me up as well. Maybe in there somewhere is a lesson about my life lived before the Lord, a lesson about Christian freedom in an often uptight, angry world.