The Divine Blend of Cosmos and Hearth

The Divine Blend of Cosmos and Hearth June 24, 2011
By Lisa Kay Adam
Edinburg, Texas
One of my dog Ladybug’s favorite activities is sitting on my lap on the back porch, both of us gazing out across the yard.  At these moments she doesn’t want to cuddle or snuggle closely. I do have to pet her, or else she looks back to see why I am falling down on the job. But other than that, I’m only giving her loving support  while she keeps her gaze on the yard, ready to leap down at any moment to chase a squirrel or bark at a bird.
I’ve seen children enjoy similar situations, comfortably perching on a parent’s lap at a party or park, running away to explore something new, and running back to the loving safety of the lap again.  It seems that most animals, human or otherwise, have this need for experiences at opposite ends of the spectrum.  We crave intimacy, warmth, and security, whether that is found in a lap, a lair, a nest, a pack or a parent.  And yet, we also need the expansive freedom to explore new experiences, seek greener pastures.  To borrow a book title from noted philosopher and geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, we want to enjoy both “cosmos and hearth.”
But it’s rare that any of us can experience those two conditions simultaneously.  Usually, like Ladybug or the child in the parent’s lap, we alternate between one or the other, going back and forth between exploration and security.  In fact, so unobtainable is this simultaneous combination, I sometimes imagine it as a quality of the divine, or of heaven: a perfect experience of intimacy and expansiveness at the same time.
I am reminded of that combination when I see images of another child, the Christ child, in his mother Mary’s lap. In the many paintings and sculptures of the two, Jesus never clings to his mother, and Mary does not clutch at her child.  Instead, she offers a loving support, while he turns his own loving gaze outward to the larger world, which includes his mother.  This perfect reciprocal love includes both utter security and infinite freedom.  Likewise, the Christian scripture tradition offers many images of the divine as both a comforting home in which we abide, as well as a liberating force. In one charming verse, the righteousness of the divine lets the recipients “go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

I think of this when I hold Ladybug in my lap on the back porch. Not that either of us have any personal pretensions to the divine.  In fact, I imagine Ladybug thinks of me as a somewhat limited creature, especially when I fail to understand her barking! But she makes me think about what we limited humans can do to offer love and security, as well as opportunities and freedom, to others.  For parents, that may mean negotiating the tension between nurturing a child and letting her go.  In regard to animals, that may mean providing a good home or food for lost pets, allowing domestic animals space and time outdoors, or preserving the expansive natural spaces needed by wild animals to roam, hunt, or forage.

For Ladybug, I know I can give her confidence in my love for her, the safety of my lap, and the excitement of the big world awaiting her joyous leap. For a few moments, perhaps, I can give her a little taste of heaven.  She does the same for me.

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