Plum has just started on solid foods which makes this week’s lectionary reading from Corinthians resound with me.
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.
Around here, it’s a time of readiness, change and growth. Plum reaches for apples and he is absolutely delighted with a crust of bread. It’s an exciting and messy time. I wash his face so many times in the day and yet whenever I nuzzle into his neck, he is newly sweet and sticky. A giggling, grabbing, gabbling little person now, sitting up on his own and growing, everyday a little further from infancy.
Paul confronts his readers, telling them that they are still infants in Christ. I wonder how they heard the words. Offended. Shocked. How dare he? They thought that they were engaged in erudite theological debate, weighing the influence of their great teachers, and then Paul himself says it’s all just a baby’s bawling.
For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you…
My Plum gets jealous and suddenly fierce when I’m out out of reach or spending too much time with one of his siblings. He shouts out to me and stretches every muscles, and if I don’t get there as quickly as he’d like, it’s all panic and struggle. Then he won’t be consoled by anything. Songs and toys and silly faces do nothing. He needs milk and my closeness to calm him down and bring him back to himself. So I hold him close and fill him again with love and he begins again to trust. It is this trust that will get him over the panic and struggle of loneliness, the desperation of jealousy and quarrelling. He needs to trust that love will equip him and support him. Trust that love is close even when he can’t quite see it. Trust in love. This is the work at hand as much as learning new taste and textures.
This passage today from Paul’s letter is a collage of images. Milk and meat, planting and watering, fields and buildings. They are all images of growth, and Paul uses this variety to point us towards the beautiful truth that God gives growth. There’s nothing that we can grow on our own. There’s nothing we can force into growth. All growth comes from God’s hands.
But goodness, this is hard when longed-for growth doesn’t come, and we’re anxious about the stage we’re in. Long nights of teething or quiet days in a once-full church or stale, grey days whenever they might appear. Because, of course, they do. Days when we know that change needs to happen but there is nothing more we can do to bring it about. Then it’s easy to fall into jealousy and quarrelling. Baby’s bawling. Symptoms of our loneliness.
But then with Paul’s words, we remember that we are not alone.
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
We are. You are. God’s. Echoing these strong words, I hear Stephen Cherry’s thoughts from his wise book Barefoot Disciple:
I have come to see both pastoral work and community engagement as a strategic campaign in God’s long-term war against human loneliness.
Like learning to eat solid foods, learning trust is a process. A process at work in all aspects of our lives as individuals and communities. And God is active in this process as fully as we are. Wherever there is loneliness, God is building, growing, planting, watering with, among and in us, offering us milk and meat that we might trust and grow strong. Things to keep in mind in the sticky present.