Researchers now tell us that men have biological clocks too. I know I do, and it is ticking loudly. Every time I pass by a small child with a captivating smile, I pause to think about how old I am, how old our two children are, and what my chances are of seeing our two grandchildren graduate from high school. To put it bluntly, I’m smitten with babies with no hair and big smiles. It must be something hormonal. One day my wife and I were strolling in a local mall when we passed this cute infant with a round head and big smile, making her/him (Who can tell at that age?) look exactly like a smiley face.
You have all seen that ubiquitous graphic, the most iconic version of which was designed by commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963 as a marketing tool for an insurance company. Smiley faces are everywhere now, even on the national highways you are traveling this August. Some astute construction engineer decided to post smiley face signs along congested roads to dampen down road rage.
There is something about a baby’s smile that tames the angry beast in all of us. I have watched the grumpiest of adults be transformed into happy folks at the mere sight of a small child with a big grin and sparkling eyes. I think all of us started out as smiling infants; somewhere along the way, adults lose the gift of the instinctive and innocent smile. While reflecting on my chances of seeing our grandchildren, Amanda and Wade, become young adults, I came upon this weighty theological question. How do babies learn to smile? Is there such a thing as a neonatal smile? Did I smile (say at hearing the sound of a John Deere tractor on my Uncle’s farm) while I was yet in the womb?
I asked my wife (who has had more firsthand experience with things neonatal than this writer) how babies learn to smile. Her response was that they learn from their parents. But how? Perhaps infants are merely imitating those smiling heads that hover over their cribs and talk baby talk, cooing like so many turtledoves. If this imitation is the means, could we teach a baby to never smile by never smiling at them? Cultural anthropologists have debated the nurture vs. nature question for decades without arriving at consensus, though we seem to be in an age where all of human behavior is seen as rooted in genetic and biochemical factors. So, is there a DNA code for the smile, a specific gene that some people have more in abundance than others? If human behavior is fundamentally biochemical, than could pharmaceutical companies concoct a happiness pill, so that every one of us would become a joy germ? I know a few people for whom I would prescribe the smiley pill.
Puzzled by all of this, I turned to my Bible. To my surprise, there are no smiles in the Bible, at least if I am to trust the concordance to The New Chain Reference Bible (KJV) that I use. I was at a loss to explain this–no smiles in the Old Testament (but lots of smiting) and no smiles in the New Testament, where one would expect lots of smiles, given the happy events the early Christians experienced. Check it out. One finds no smiles even in the Easter account. The word happy is used in the Bible, as in Proverbs 3:13, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding,” and Psalm 144:15, “Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.”
My Hebrew is rusty, and my Greek New Testament is packed away in a box in the barn, so I cannot tell you whether linguistic equivalents existed in the Biblical languages for the word “smile.” If they did, it is surely strange that the word escaped the compilers of my concordance. It is too far fetched to speculate that humans did not smile at all in ancient times but used some other form of nonverbal communication to express happiness. What? Wiggle their big toes?
Traditional African languages had no word for “religion.” Why? Because primal cultures drew no distinction between the sacred and the secular–everything had religious significance. A society only needs the word “religion” if there is something to set it against, like the profane (from the Latin, meaning “outside of the temple”). Perhaps there is an analogy here. The Bible has no smile in it because the entire story of God’s redemption of non-smiling humanity (from Genesis thru Revelation) is one big smile. It is all sacred time–God’s time. We can put on a happy face because God in Jesus the Christ has set things right between us and God the Father. We are that baby in the crib upon whom God smiles. So when you next walk into Cazenovia’s United Methodist Church, smile, you are on God’s Time.