When your three-year-old daughter walks into your room at 2:30 in the morning covered in blood, it’s pretty much enough to freak you out.
Baby Zoe (I know she hardly qualifies as a baby at three, but that’s what she is, and always will be, to me) is my quiet, serene child. Anyone who has met our kids can readily tell you that we got one of each end of the intensity scale. Mattias, who is eight, is a whole lot of humanity packed into a sixty-pound body. It’s like someone cranked his amplitude up to eleven, and then broke the knob off. In eight years, I’ve yet to hear the child whisper, though he’s convinced he’s as stealthy as a ninja. The one upside is that he hardly ever gets away with anything.
Zoe, on the other hand, is as subtle as her big brother is not. She almost always smiles, and one of the loudest noises she makes is her resigned sigh. In fact this is what finally woke me up in the middle of the night to find a miniature version of Heath Ledger’s Joker staring at me, blood smeared from ear to ear and cheek to chin all over her round little face.
“Daddy,” she finally said, “my pajamas are just such a mess.” No kidding. A nosebleed in her sleep had apparently been flowing for some time, and instead of it waking her up, she just smeared it around. Thankfully, she was fine, and I’m equally grateful that she takes copious amounts of blood in stride as she does everything else, so no one else even woke up while I cleaned her up and stemmed the bleeding.
But as I held her in my arms, tilting her head back and holding her nose with a tissue, I had a most unexpected glimpse of the Divine. While some acknowledge God more in the majesty of a dramatic mountain range or in a particularly uplifting worship service, I don’t tend to understand God in the same ways. For whatever reason, I tend to experience God more in the muck and messiness of daily life.
In this moment it wasn’t so much that my daughter was covered in blood and snot that revealed God, but rather in the confident, vulnerable trust I saw in her eyes as I cared for her. While I recognize the psalms of praise and Paul’s exhortations about God’s imminence as beautiful, I don’t really relate to them.
It might seem weird to some, but this is one reason I’m a Christian. While some long to fit Jesus into a similar context of mighty imperial ruler, I see the messiness, the vulnerability and the dependence of God on humanity in Jesus as worthy of exploring. That the Source of all that is could be found in the form of a child that could be crushed at the hands of his caregivers creates a point of connection that shows there is really no distance between us and the Divine.
I’m a big fan of the phrase, “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Though the life of Jesus points to this, I’m not inclined to believe that God was any more or less “with us” before, during or after Jesus’ life. But it does point to a re-orientation of our understanding and expectations of what God is within and among us.
Call it a lack of sleep, or perhaps a moment of clarity made possible by a lack of preoccupation with anything else, but I saw God for a moment in baby Zoe’s bloody little face. I’m not even sure if she remembered the whole thing this morning, as she didn’t even really talk about it. But for me, the middle-of-the-night interruption was an unexpected gift.
Not that I’m eager to receive it again any time soon, mind you.