I like to read children's books because of the language. It is soft and simple. The words sing gentle notes without sharp consonantal points. They pull you into a more supple place of hearing and receiving. I need that kind of language because sometimes I can be quite hard. No give. No flex. Unable to receive.
Being soft is not appreciated in our world. Sadly, it’s seen as a weakness. Especially for men. If a young man sheds a tear, he is called “soft.” It’s not an endearing term. Hardness uses that word to denigrate what it thinks of as an overly emotional response to the world. Softness is seen as a liability in a culture that is too intellectual and stoic. Our reticence to allow a softer, tenderer side is an obstacle to living the life we all wish we could live, one in which we are able to let go of our brittle commitments to our even keel existence. Sometimes the best way to see the world is through the soft translucence of a sad or joyful teary-eyed moment.
That’s why I read children’s books. They have a way of finding the softer more fleshy core, like when you take your nephew to see a Pixar movie and you end up in a puddle of tears while watching a movie that is suppose to be made for kids. Only, it turns out to be a story for grown ups veiled in doe-eyed cartoon people, clumsy nappy dogs, and red-headed, freckled-faced children so cute they pull out our hearts.
When we talk about God, we should be soft. If we need to get stone hard serious about God, then we can read wordy books about Christian morality and how our failures lead to some sort of hellish existence that lasts for all eternity, and how we all better get right with God, strengthen our brow, and plow through. Which is about the only way you can get through a lot of the books written about God because they don’t seem to be able to communicate with a softer glow of the lightness of being. The Bible is full of language of wrath and repentance, but that is only part of the story. The final word of God is one of compassionate, transformative love. Like In Ezekiel when the prophet speaks a softer, more Godlike word. “I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.”
The mystical Persian poet Hafiz has a poem that begins, “We should make all talk about God simple today.” I think that’s what God thought when Jesus was born. Let’s just speak and do the most simple and soft thing we can. Let’s save the world with a gentle and mild miracle. That kind of godly thought is a far cry from the hard words of John the Baptist as he screams from the banks of the Jordan River, “Repent, or burn.” I think it’s ironic that God’s response to that hard, prophetic language of wrath is the simple response of a mother and child.
In my early teens, I was an acolyte. One Sunday when I was assisting an older priest during communion, I overheard him quietly talking to God. He kept whispering, “Bless your heart. Bless your heart.” Hearing those words and the gentle, loving fragility in his voice was pure incarnation of loving softness. With all the ways we have to speak to God, tenderness is the one that changes us the most. Softness opens us up to receive that which is compassionate and loving.
Each of us has the gift of tenderness somewhere deep inside. Practicing it is hard and, even doing the best we can, we defy our softer sides in the name of protection. Softness is a way of being to be cultivated and nurtured within ourselves. It’s an approach to the world around us that may allow for the hard, unsympathetic reaction. But it also offers an invitation to let our guards down and to re-enter the world as Jesus first came into it. Hard words have never brought anything loving into this world. The final word is love. So tender and mild.