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Why Christian are chicken

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, March 18, 2010

When was the first time you ever saw God? I don’t mean “I saw God in the bumble bee on a rose petal this morning.” I’m talking face-to-face. Was there ever a time when you actually looked into the face of your Creator?
This is not a trick question. The Psalms seem to suggest that each of us, before we were born, gazed upon the face of God, and God upon us. This seems worth pondering. Psalm 139 tells us,
“From the beginning, Lord, you created my inmost being,
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
My body was not hidden from you,
When I was made in your secret place.
When I was woven together,
Your eyes gazed upon my body.”
This is an intimate psalm about our creation. There is a notion here that, sometime even before we were conceived in our mother’s womb, we gazed into the eyes of the Pure Love who created us from the very beginning.
(Since I was a Program of Liberal Studies major, I have a license — granted upon graduation — to cite scientific phenomena and processes, with no precise understanding of them, to make purely literary, philosophical and theological points, which I will now do.)
You may recall from high school biology class a most unusual phenomenon called imprinting. Imprinting, as I understand it, was first discovered to occur in chickens. It describes the almost humorous phenomenon that the first living thing a baby chick sees when it hatches out of its egg, it believes for the rest of its life to be its mother.
So, for example, if a baby chick is hatched in an incubator by a lab technician, and the first living thing it sees after it hatches is the lab technician, guess what? The lab technician is “Mommy.” And if the chick is let out of its pen, even if there are other hens around, including its real mom, it will follow around the lab technician. In fact, if memory serves me right, it has been shown that the lab technician can disappear for months, even years, at a time, but if she comes back one day, the chicken will immediately start to follow her. That’s how powerful the imprint is!
Now this is where the Scriptures — from Psalm 139 to the Gospels — get interesting. John’s Gospel, for example, records the story of a man “blind from birth.” This man, in other words, has never seen another person in his life. And then Jesus comes and opens his eyes. So, the very first person the blind man sees in his life is Jesus.
In order to cure him, John tells us that Jesus made clay and smeared it into his eyes. Now John is a masterful story-teller, and this detail is hardly unimportant. In fact, clay is the very material out of which God made the first humans in Genesis. So, just as Adam and Eve gazed on God, and God on them, with no obstacles, so this man will gaze on God and God on him, face-to-face, through Christ.
And sure enough, the man opens his eyes, and gazes upon Jesus, and from that moment on, he has a longing deep within him, to know something about this man who re-created him. The whole remainder of the Gospel is this man coming to a deeper and deeper knowledge of who Jesus is. First, “He’s the man who gave me sight.” Then, “He’s a prophet.” Until finally, Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answers, “Who is he, sir, that I might believe?” “The one speaking to you is He.”
The longing we have to come to know the first person we ever see is a longing that is meant to keep us always trying to encounter God more intimately. Now, the funny thing about all this is, this instinct is so powerful in that little chicken, its longing to have a mommy is so incredibly powerful, that it makes the chicken start following the first thing that moves!
And we’d laugh at that, except that we know, that every one of us does the same thing — just in much more complex ways! This longing at the center of our being is so powerful that we very often fill it with the first thing that we see moving! In fact, all our other longings — our longing to eat and be full, to see beauty, to befriend someone and feel loved — are all instances of this one central longing at the core of our being — to see our Creator again.
During Lent, we give up things we desire, little things for which we often long. One way to think about this practice is that it is our way of reminding ourselves: All our desires in the end are just little instances of our desire for God. And only God, who we looked upon first, before we were born, will ultimately fill our deepest longing.

This week’s FaithPoint was written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, director of Bible Studies and ACE Chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.