It’s strange how the religious imagination works. In August, we adopted two boys who have, as young boys are wont to do, become the center of our lives. Very quickly, their schedule becomes yours and you suddenly find that each conversation, where once you might have talked about work or the weather, becomes about the intricacies of one boy’s behavior or the other’s rapidly expanding vocabulary.
Since the day we heard that this adoption might be a possibility – indeed almost from the first moment – I have had a verse from Scripture echoing around in my head. Off and on again – at rather random moments – I hear John 19:26-27. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ’Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
If one does morning prayer regularly one hears, repeatedly, the godly reminders of the blessedness of the fruitful family. For whatever reason, it was always Psalm 127 that annoyed me the most. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
While enemies might not be gathering at the gate – the notion that one would not be put to shame because of some number of righteous offspring naturally engenders an amount of shame when offspring are not on the horizon. Over and over in Scripture you get fruitful vines, Rebekah conceiving, and Elizabeth in her old age bearing John. Zechariah’s vision – the promise for Elizabeth – felt a bit like a rebuke when I heard it.
Yet, I had really made peace with the whole thing. Our family was perfect in my mind. It was my wife, my cats, my dogs, and me. I put up with the annoyances of the lectionary and chalked up these occasional reminders of the blessedness of fecundity to the agrarian, atavistic notions of a threatening and dangerous epoch when security could only be guaranteed by fortifying one’s line. As I had no fortress to pass along and no gates which would be besieged, I counted us as immensely blessed in so many ways that I would not begrudge God this slight.
In fact, my wife and I were enjoying one of the fruits of a life unencumbered by children, travel to far-flung places, when we got word that an adoption might be possible. She woke me up from a deep sleep to read me the letter from the agency. I listened and immediately the verse from John’s Gospel sprang to mind. Behold, your son. Behold, your mother.
Yet, I really did not want to admit that this might happen. Not too many months earlier, I had gotten my hopes up about another adoption – of three boys – and I had been fairly devastated when it had not gone through. So, I humored my wife even if I bristled a bit as we started to look at adorable outfits and panda-themed sleepwear.
When we returned to the States – it was a whirlwind. Fairly rapidly we were meeting birth family, meeting the boys, and then, just like that, they were in our home. Behold, your son.
I suppose that passage comes to me over and over because it would have been easy for the disciples to be lost – for a mother to be lost – in grief. In that moment it would have been entirely understandable for loss and pain to have defined all around Jesus. Yet Jesus, in that moment, does not leave those who might grieve bereft – he redefines how they relate to one another because of love.
Family becomes rooted in the deepest and richest source of living gift – in Christ’s own self-offering. In that moment, at the nadir of his earthly ministry, Christ still makes a promise. They would see greater things. They would see out of the shared experience of Christ’s love the blossoming of a new family whose center would be the risen life to come not the shattered body before them.
In my own life there have been moments at which it would have been easy to be defined by loss. And for long stretches of my life I have let loss and grief define and delineate the boundaries of my hope. Yet each time, when I make peace with loss, I find that God then takes what seemed like an empty plot cleared of the weeds of anger and resentment and plants something fresh and breathtaking.
Behold, your son. This is what I am endeavoring to do. To behold the Son revealed in acts of hope in my own life. Family – in that moment of generous compassion – was defined as something more than blood and body. It was defined by Blood and Body. It was defined by love and loss, compassion and generosity, and by self-offering and welcome. It was defined by the weaknesses and frailties of this mortal life and the unbounded promise of the one to come. It was given new life by a last breath.
I still marvel. Tonight I went into two boys’ rooms and I heard that voice again, “Behold, your son.” I wept because God can take imperfect human lives, once so far apart, and weave them together in perfect love. Behold, indeed.