No animals were harmed in the writing of this column.
So anyway, you may want to skip the next few lines if you are a rhesus monkey or a friend of one. In the 1950s a team of researchers studied the effects of relational deprivation on rhesus monkeys by isolating them from normal early-life contact. Some test cases could look at their mothers through a glass but not touch them. Others had to subsist with a wire or cloth mother, and some were isolated from all exposure to their species.
The results were tellingly devastating. In adulthood, these monkeys were completely incapable of normal relationships. They missed all cues of normalcy and were rejected by parents, peers or any other monkey near their age. They were left to huddle in cage corners ... alone.
Only one thing helped. When younger monkeys were introduced into their setting, some of these ruined animals got better and even regained a state of social normalcy over time. The reason was simple and poignant: the younger monkeys didn't know any better. Since they hadn't learned social cues of normal behavior, they didn't reject others on that basis. More than that, they often held on to these poor creatures, clinging to the back of them as they huddled in their cage corners. Even if the damaged monkeys didn't know to reach back, something was hanging onto them. And it helped.
"Hey, we love her."
One of our boys said this of our then 9-month-old daughter roughly twelve hours after he arrived from a setting that was less than nurturing. The information above was presented at our adoption support group network, and I realized with a start that the photo of the little monkey clinging to the huddled form of another bore a startling resemblance to what I have often seen our baby daughter doing to her adopted brothers.
A lack of social cues? What does that mean to a little girl who is perfectly comfortable eating macaroni on top of the table ... naked. Temper tantrums? She throws them often when we try to jam her into her car seat. Toileting issues? Who cares? She's in diapers. She hugs them, kisses them, plays with them and, yes, pinches and punches them without reserve.
"Hey we love her." No wonder, for there is grandeur in the guileless love of a child.
"Our Father is younger than we are," said G.K. Chesterton, an English author, "for we have sinned and grown old."
Indeed, even as the love of Christ swells within me at tidal force, I am alarmed at the sin of years which instinctively selects those who are deserving of my love and attention.
So just who is deserving? Scripture is clear on that one. No one. And just as I was pondering the specter of Allyson's love for our boys, other paradox and mystery from the Christian faith washed over me as waves and breakers.
Children are not sinless. Part of the bliss of youth is not in perfection but in ignorance. Beauty can emanate from children, but so can tantrums, cruelty and selfishness.
But then there is God, knowing everything. And there is us, separated from the touch of our heavenly Father - broken and damaged beyond our full knowing. God sees it all, and He loves us. He comes to us. He came to us in the form of a baby.
"This is how we know what love is," states the book of 1 John. "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers."
Every shred of pride, superiority and social privilege should vanish at the foot of the cross. For you see, "He made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
The desperation of our state demanded what only God could provide. In the words of Frederick Beuchner, "We are never safe from God, because He is never safe from us."
The blunt majesty of Christ's birth, life, death and life is the hope for every one of us caught in the blight and damage of sin. The Hebrew word "aman" connotes rolling over into the grace of God. Indeed, even those unable to extend their arms to Christ can grasp the concept of rolling over into the grace and love of Jesus. And we view the nail prints on the hands enfolding us. This is what love is.
For each one who huddles in the corners and margins of love, know that the God of the universe is reaching to you. Believe enough to let Him hold you, and you will find a love with no borders reaching into the huddled corners of our lives.
Andy Meiser is the pastor of the Eshcol Brethren in Christ Church in Ickesburg.