Whenever I show anyone a picture of my beautiful, bouncing baby boy, inevitably one of the first three things they say is, “Oh my goodness, his eyelashes are so long!” (The other two are some variation of “Wow, he’s big!” and “He is so handsome!” I’m not biased—just reporting the facts.)
It’s true, his eyelashes would make Sophia Loren jealous and have made more than one person mistake him for a girl at first glance. But his eyelashes are more than just a feature to make the ladies swoon: they actually are a reminder of our salvation, of being reconciled to God.
The key is hidden inside the word “reconciliation.” Many words contain what are called dead metaphors—“dead” because their metaphorical meaning has become lost to us as language has changed. So, for example, when we say someone has scruples, we mean they have a sensitive conscience; but, in Latin, a scrupulum is a small pebble, so when someone has scruples, it’s like they have a rock in their shoe, niggling them. It’s easy to recognize the similarity in the two situations.
Another metaphor lies within the word “reconciliation.” The Latin word for eyelash is cilia. If you were so close to someone as to have your eyelashes with theirs (“with” being cum or con- in Latin), you’d be con–cilia. And if you were once that close, but had drifted apart and then returned again (“again” being re- in Latin), you would be re-con-cilia—you would be reconciled.
This one word, with its hidden metaphor, succinctly summarizes salvation history. In the beginning, human beings shared a great closeness with God. In their innocence, Adam and Eve stood uncovered before God, not needing to hide anything. God walked with them in the garden in the cool of evening, like you might do with an old friend after a big dinner.
But we separated ourselves from God by our pride; we withdrew from that closeness, that intimacy, by wanting to change the nature of the relationship, by trying to be equal to God. Instead of being gentle infants held in our Father’s arms, cheek to cheek, we were headstrong toddlers who pushed and wiggled and squirmed out. And when we realized what we did, we hid, we covered ourselves, and we couldn’t look God in the face anymore.
But God loved us and wanted us back. God wanted us to be able to look Him in the eye again. So He came among us as one of us, like to us in all things but sin—he had arms and legs, hands and feet, a heart and a mind… and eyelashes. Jesus came to sinners, to the afflicted, to the poor, and stood eye to eye with them and said: “Your sins are forgiven you.” And by His Cross, as man he stood eyelash to eyelash with God on our behalf and said, “Father, forgive them,” and as God could respond, “It is accomplished.” Thus God “reconciled the world to Himself,” as the prayer of absolution says.
I think of all this as I look at my son. No doubt at some point in our lives we’ll have tense moments when we can’t look each other in the eye. Currently our most difficult times are when I prevent him from tipping over the coffee table (as his Samson-like strength allows him to do), and he registers his objections by pushing me away when I try to pick him up. But eventually he forgives me and allows me to take him in my arms and press my face to his. I pray that all such moments between us will have a similar resolution.
God made us for closeness such as this with Himself. God made us ultimately to become, as the letter of St. Peter says, “partakers of the divine nature.” Perhaps we could simplify this by saying that God made us so that we could one day be face to face with Him—even eyelash to eyelash. God wants nothing more than to hold us and say, “I love you.” May He grant us the grace not to squirm, but to coo with delight, and nuzzle the nose of our Father.