“As a man dies many times before he’s dead, so does he wend from birth to birth until, by grace, he comes alive at last.” —Godric (Frederick Buechner)
Holding a friend’s newborn, a sacred ritual becomes more sacred. Marco’s mother rises to exit the sanctuary and fetch a bottle, baby crying, and I gladly offer my services. Settling into my arms, he chugs, and sated, sleeps. All I have to do is bounce and smile and admire his fresh-off-the-shelf beauty: tiny lips iced with milk, a sweep of thick hair, dark eyelashes resting on his cheeks like boughs on a winter mantle. As congregants gather around the altar for Eucharist, I sway to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” exquisitely picked on a guitar. And when they come my way, I lean to accept the wafer and the wine, before the vicar thumbs a blessing on Marco’s tiny new head.
These days, I am unjaded. All the lustrous, lurid, mystifying moments leave their stamp on a newly tendered heart. On a highway, I pass a wooden cross pounded into the gravel of the median and draped with bike helmets, and tears. On NPR, I hear Syrian refugees who’ve lost children along the road, and tears. I see enormous sweeps of rain drift across mountains, tears; admire the dark skeletons of oaks burdened with bursts of mistletoe, and am moved by their dramatic beauty. I pass the horse I visit not enough, see her alone in a frigid downpour as I hurry past, and the squeeze of regret kneads my heart. When I do finally stop, I look into her eyes and my eyes overflow.
I have lived portions of the last ten years this raw and open. At other times, a reticence to face my unconscious knowing shut me off, safely jaded. That is the price (or benefit, depending on one’s perspective) of emotional dishonesty. Conversely, living raw and open invites all the ecstasy and sadness this astounding world offers.
Newness demands openness to change and loss. And change and loss demand courage. I have not always been courageous. I have resisted change. But the walls we naturally erect must be thin enough to fall on occasion under the gusts of ecstasy that stir past us, or we arrive at the ends of our lives having not lived. The greatest tragedy of all: erecting impenetrable barriers to life’s ecstasy and (sometimes painful) wonder.
I have a daughter and a God-daughter. I understand the impulse to want their protection—to desire walls around them, like thick Volvo carriage and body, an all-encompassing cloud of airbags, ferrying them through life. But, at bottom, this is not what I really want. I want them to be fully alive and tender with wonder, and ecstatic at the stirring of Spirit within and beauty without. I want them to reach the end of their days knowing what it means to be a piece of God, uniquely formed as a particular human creature, sojourning as an eternal spirit among the static matter of this Earth—painful as this can be.
Why would I ask less for myself?