Temple Grandin is a movie about the insurmountable courage and perseverance of a young woman and her family in overcoming many limitations of autism. Early in the movie, Temple’s mother attempts to give her daughter a goodnight hug only to be met with a fierce recoil: “I don’t want you to do that,” says Temple. The viewer sinks into the mother’s feelings as she stammers out her apology: “I’m sorry. I forgot. No hugs.”
This is a powerful moment of longing and unmet need for both women as we discover later in the story that Temple builds a squeeze machine for the express purpose of being hugged. “I have always wanted to understand the gentleness other people feel by being hugged by their mothers,” she says. “Because of my machine,” she explains, “I am able to know the kindness and love that have been given to me to reach this point in my life.”
This is a particular, and maybe uncontrollable dynamic of autism, but it reflects something about the larger human condition. How often do we find ourselves pushing away from the very thing we need because of a fear of being overwhelmed by it? Affection, kindness and community involve varying degrees of intimacy which, if many of us were honest, we would also admit we fear. Are self-sufficiency, perfectionism and self-assurance the masks we wear to hide our vulnerability and need? I wonder in my own life how many family arguments might have been better resolved with a bit of human touch like a hug or by being more open, less protective and right.
In this gospel reading, I think Jesus is lamenting this human dilemma. He looks at Jerusalem, the city of his people, and sees both their need for love and resulting destruction that comes from rejecting love. He yearns to reach out with compassion to protect them as a mother hen would her chicks, all the while anticipating their ultimate betrayal.
We learn early in life how to protect our feelings, but this occasionally helpful childhood strategy can do more harm than good when it impedes and distorts the very love and intimacy we crave and require as adults.
I wonder if these same defensive and protective behaviours get applied to our relationship with God. Otherwise, why do we keep God at such a distance? Why do we feel ourselves recoiling from God’s unconditional love? What would we have to face and let go of to respond to the invitation of this kind of love? And how would we have to retell our own story of hurt, pain and need?
Using the Ignatius Imaginative practice, I will place myself in this reading and imagine Jesus saying—to me, my family, my city, my country—“How often have I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” I ask myself, am I be willing to be gathered in?
LUKE 13:31-35 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
PSALM 27 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid? When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell. Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; And though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him. One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. Even now he lifts up my head above my enemies round about me. Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. You have been my helper; cast me not away; do not forsake me, O God of my salvation. Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will sustain me. Show me your way, O Lord; lead me on a level path, because of my enemies. Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen up against me, and also those who speak malice. What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the
GENESIS 15:1-12, 17-18 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”