Fathom Mag
Article

The Birth of Brawn

This is the stuff of God.

Published on:
May 20, 2019
Read time:
3 min.
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Little quivering columns—that’s how I describe her ten-month-old legs. She hangs over the edge of the wooden toy bin behind the couch, diving headfirst into wide-eyed stuffed animals, shiny green necklaces, and unsorted matching cards. This is worth giving all of yourself to when you’re ten months old. She grapples with balance as she reaches for anything her dimpled fingers can find, drawing out treasure from triviality. 

She grapples with balance as she reaches for anything her dimpled fingers can find, drawing out treasure from triviality.

But it’s her legs I can’t stop watching: bare and white with a whisper of pink beneath the surface—glorious little rolls of pudge on the back of her thighs, beneath her knees, and around her ankles. And they shake ever so slightly, the way I remember Aspen leaves trembling on the hill where I grew up. With the slightest suggestion of wind, they would shutter and shake. Those are her legs right now. With any movement of her torso, they pulse and twitch and struggle to regain a center of gravity. But she won’t sit down. Who could sit when a treasure chest lies wide open on the beach of the morning? And so she digs to the depths, her columns of flesh calling out for rest. In pure excitement and discovery, she ignores the call. This is the stuff of God.

After five minutes, she collapses onto her diaper-padded bottom. She’s fought the good fight. She staggers back with a metallic green pearl necklace and a porcupine just larger than her fist. She squeezes them both as if they were gold, turning her dimpled fingers white from pressure. The necklace, like everything else, goes right into her mouth, where teeth hiding beneath her gums are whining for the attention of bite. 

The sitting lasts thirty seconds. Then she grabs the edge of the toy box, pulls her wobbling body up, and dives back into discovery. There’s more treasure to find, more to break and bend and bite, more to cling to, more to grip—for eternity, it seems. And there go the legs, shaking and shuttering. 

They shake because she is building herself. As the skeletal muscles around her thighs and shins contract, they tear. As she rests, they rebuild. They repair. They grow stronger. The paradox of muscle-building is that strength comes through destruction, power from pressure, redemption after repose.       

They shake because she is building herself.

This is the birth of brawn. It seems ordinary. It’s not; it’s marvelous. And what could be grander than to have the Son of God himself take up his own little quivering columns, to stand on the earth while muscle tears, to lay down as it repairs and grows? To stand again, and again, and again? To build a fortress of himself alongside us? Through sweat and blood, cries and groans, the sinews and tendons and ligaments of our Lord grew. He was a temple of flesh made for flesh so that God might dwell with flesh.

And after all of that muscle-building—thousands of days and nights where quivering legs stomped the dust and grew strong and stood their ground—after all of the strength, all of the pressure, all of the repose, he let his temple fall for us. Whip lash and thorn needle tore into muscle and pulled away what would not have the time to build again. His last few nights were a dark and deep symphony of destruction, a composition of tearing. And the audience? That was you. That was me. Some two thousand years beyond sight. Strange to think of how something so small and fragile as a human body would cause the rise and fall of so many. Strange to think of how one little birth of brawn in a family would be the birth of blessing in the world.

But the blessing came because the brawn that was broken became bread. Death became life. Destruction birthed creation. Christ was more than a muscle builder. He was a muscle maker. And so he remade himself by the Spirit of his Father. He went beyond us, and came back. He came back so that my daughter’s quivering columns could stand on a Saturday morning. He came back so that she could dive into the toy box. He came back so that she could grasp a porcupine with her white knuckled fist. He came back so that she could build herself. 

But he really came back so that she could stop building one day.

But he really came back so that she could stop building one day. He came back so that the rhythm of tearing and rebuilding, of breaking and making, of destroying and developing, would slow to a halt. He came back so that our muscles wouldn’t have to shake forever, so that the aspen-quivering of weakness and fragility would find finality. He came back to show that the birth of brawn would be the birth of beauty, for it would really be rebirth in himself. He came back to build us. He came back to claim his artistry.

One day soon, my daughter will walk. And I’ll mostly forget about her little quivering columns. I’ll see brawn, not its birth. I’ll see stalwart strength where weakness once stood trembling. But only mostly. It’s hard to forget the stuff of God completely. It’s hard to faithfully forget where you’ve come from, just as it’s hard to faithfully forget where you’re going. We were made for the gifts of brawn and beauty. We unwrap them in time. But to unwrap them in eternity.

Pierce Taylor Hibbs
Pierce Taylor Hibbs (MAR, ThM) serves as the Associate Director of the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of Theological English, The Trinity, Language, and Human Behavior, Finding God in the Ordinary, and The Speaking Trinity. He writes regularly at piercetaylorhibbs.com.

Cover photo by Picsea.

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