That Hideous Strength, Chs. 14-17

I don’t know what it is but I always like the darker stuff of trilogies. For me, Empire was the best of the original Star Wars movies. I prefer Inferno to the rest of the Divine Comedy. Hamlet gets top spot over The Taming of the Shrew. And the third of C S Lewis’ Space Trilogy is by far my favorite. I was somewhat sad to end it this week.

The denouement is appropriately dark and grisly. For those who grew up on Lewis’ Narnia, the beheadings, disembowelings, and general terror and bloodiness of the Babel-like demise of N.I.C.E. is nightmarish and terrifying. And Lewis tells it so matter of factly, British understatement and all, that one is the more taken in and horrified.

What is interesting is that the human enemies of N.I.C.E. are possessed by the evil they have chosen to serve, but their possessions are as unique as their persons. Frost’s scientific espousal of mere physicality is brought to its ultimate logical conclusion as he both dismembers his colleagues, and immolates himself. His is the most gruesome, because most materially graphic, of all the deaths. Jules dies as is appropriate for one puffed up by pride. The Fairy dies in the same torturous way in which she tormented her victims. And Winter’s detached philosophical rejection of truth and goodness leads to the ever diminishing hold on reality.

Which is to say, each will be judged by their own words and deeds. Each will face the consequences of their own actions and choices. The unique allegiances of each will determine their eternal destinies.

Similarly, the salvation of the community of Logres finds its particular expressions in the singular personalities of those who’ve chosen the Truth of Love. I suppose being a new father, with newfound love for spouse and child, the salvation by domesticity wrought in the lives of Jane and Mark is especially touching. Mark comes to realize how he has objectified and dehumanized Jane. And he is ashamed. Lewis hints very strongly that Mark’s salvation then comes through the person who knows anew. Jane had come to realize that she served an empty ideal of progressive feminism which was a chimera and nothing like real womanhood. Her salvation is wrought then in the acceptance of a husband who far from deserved her allegiance. One could describe the consummation that comes on the community of Logres, and that consummation is both erotic and metaphysical, but one risks losing the Gospel in the midst of misunderstanding about true eros. The salvation of Logres is not merely the focal point of individual orgasm. If you will pardon me, fucking is not sacramental. Rather the consummate and biblical knowing, the full giving of self to another, in the context of lifelong fealty and submission and obedience to God and one another, the physico-spiritual union of man and woman, this is the sacrament brought down by Venus at St Anne’s.

We have lost this understanding of love.

Such fools as clergy who have abandoned their loyalty bandy about the orgasmic over the erotic. They claim incarnation in ejaculation; they ascribe to orgasm some mystical ecstasis. But they do not, nor apparently can, touch and know the true sacrament of eros. Their judgment comes not in some hateful intolerant demagogues carrying picket signs, nor necessarily in any sort of “visitation” in the form of STDs. Rather, their judgment comes in the logical conclusion of their choices, words and decisions. They know only the orgasmic, not the erotic. They miss out on love for sex. They know only lust, not the Lover. What they desire is their reward and damnation.

Conversely, for those who surrender body and soul to the will of the Beloved, is found in their own wedded beloved, far more than they could have ever have imagined. In this true sacrament of the knowing of man and wife, the sum is greater than the parts, because blessed and sustained by God.

The Fatherhood Chronicles XVI

Well, thanks to, I guess, exhaustion, and a Fisher Price Aquarium Wonders automatic baby swing, Daddy and Sofie got five straight hours of sleep out in our living room this morning. I can’t tell you . . .

It brought to mind, this morning, the BTO song much-adapted:

Any sleep is good sleep
So I took what I could get
Yes I took what I could get

Of course, that leaves the (adapted) lines which follow:

And she looked at me with those big blue eyes and said:
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
D-d-d-daddy you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet”

And I’m going to stop now, because even with the change in lyrics and meaning, this brings up disturbing father-thoughts I shouldn’t have to wrestle with for another sixteen years. Heck, twenty years.

But lack of sleep is only one of those things which can waylay you out of nowhere. There are other little experiences one is never quite prepared for. Take the ubiquitous diaper change. Of course, although I now know that changing poopy diapers is job one, I wasn’t prepared for a little episode a few days ago. I mean, I knew that if we had a little boy, we’d have had to have been careful of the “Fire Hydrant Surprise” during diaper changes. But, well, we’ll call this “Sofie and the Projectile Pooping Adventure.”

So here I am, doing my fatherly duty, I’ve got the old diaper off, and immediately scooted the new diaper underneath. I was using the baby wipes to healthy and cleanly effect. When with no warning–I mean, no heads swiveling on necks, no passing gas–wham! This brownish yellow stream comes forth from the nether regions of my daughter, up over the strategically placed diaper and splats all over the front of the plastic baby wipes container. I was in shock. What just happened? I clean up as best I can (new diaper under tush first, clean baby wipe dispenser exterior, lay down burp rags over mess), and dang if it wasn’t like “Ol’ Faithful” once again. This time I had the presence of mind to cover her up with the diaper. When it was all said and done, a record four diapers had been used (including the final clean one).

I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I mean, what sort of psi was locked up in my little girl that would send out this forceful poopy stream? I mean, if I had just squeezed her a little bit I really think she could have taken out the nursery room window. Convert that all to torque and my baby would have quite literally been turbo-charged.

Anyway, when I left to teach this morning (I’m at work now), my little Princess and her momma the Queen, were sleeping. (Me, I’m the Court Jester.) And I sure felt better. (Thanks go to Robert, Tripp, and Christopher for yesterday’s encouragement.)

The Fatherhood Chronicles XV

Sofie (and her parents) had a particularly difficult night last night. Take away four fingers off one hand, and the remainder on that hand will give you an idea how much sleep we got. Three a.m. and I had tried every possible thing I could to encourage Sofie to go to sleep. Finally, five came and Sofie, worn out, nursed and went to sleep.

I’m now at work. I leave here to go and teach. Then I head home to give Anna a break till I head to my evening class. Home by nine to give Anna some more break time, if I can.

Does it get better? If so, when?

And the thing of it is, Sofie had a great (relative to her first ten days) weekend. More alert during the day; more sleeping during the night. Then last night . . . wow.

I love this girl–and her momma–but boy she is wearing me out.

The Fatherhood Chronicles XIV

Sofie’s first two nights home were fairly difficult for us new parents. All of us were getting used to one another. We needed to learn the difference between Sofie’s “My diaper is wet and/or messy, and I HATE THAT!” cry, her “I have air in my tummy, and I HATE THAT!” cry, and her “FOOD! NOW!!” cry. All were heart-rending, but the last has a distinct urgency. The two or three nights following were a bit better. But last night was the absolute worst. Everything we had learned still worked, but Sofie slept for shorter periods. It seemed as though just as she’d been burped, changed, and laid down, she was restless and fussy again. Momma is exhausted. Daddy feels pretty useless.

It’s probably a good thing, then, that my dad and stepmom are coming up today. Grandma Frances (my stepmom) is a stereotypical grandmother and just loves babies. And having been one of twelve siblings, raised five kids of her own, and regularly babysits her grandbabies, she’s got some wisdom we’d like to take in.

Today is the last day of my vacation (not counting the weekend). On Monday my autumn begins with a bang: I’m taking three grad classes, teaching two undergraduate classes, and working half-time. I’m not ready. And I hate the thought of not being home all day with my wife and little girl. How do people do this?

The Fatherhood Chronicles XIII

We got some pictures developed yesterday, and I wanted to share them with everyone.

This is Sofie just as she’s ready to go home from the hospital. A day and a half old.

Here’s the happy Healy family ready to head home.

Father Patrick blesses Sofie and Anna.

Father Patrick blesses Sofie.

Daddy and his beautiful new daughter, less than a day old.

Momma and Sofie headed home.

I am a blessed, blessed man.

That Hideous Strength, Chs. 10-13

“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip ainto any college, or schoool, or parish, or family–anything you like–at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. . . .” (p. 283)

One might well argue with Lewis whether Dark Age Britain was a place where one could be both Christian and develop knowledge about the elemental powers of the world. Lewis, is, after all, writing a fairy tale, and borrowing from Tolkien. But what is most certainly true, since the coming of Christ and the bringing forth by the Spirit of the Church, the Truth of the narrowing of choices, the Truth of the two paths and the two masters, has been becoming ever more real. If there is a narrow and squeezing path, the one of life, there is only one other path, the broad and level one leading to death. This is no melodrama. It is the stark reality of the Gospel. It is why we must repent. Which does not mean adding a bit here, a bit there, some of this, some of that, and icing it over with some “Christian” words. Christ is the stone on which we are broken, or underneath which we will be crushed. We either know his love as mercy or as judgment. We cannot know it as indifference.

While some Christian teachers would focus on various world events to foretell the scheduled events of the Apocaplyse, it seems to me that a look at the Christian world of thousands of denominations is perhaps a better barometer.

Take for example, the Great Schism. In the sixth century, when the council of Toledo introduced the filioque, one could perhaps afford to be somewhat tolerant of the innovation. But when combined with the Roman bishops’ quest for political supremacy, with the ever-growing distance in language and culture, by Christmas Day 1054, such neutral choices were no longer available.

Or the Protestant Reformation. At the time, it was intended as, indeed, a reform. But with social and political retrenchments growing on both sides, excommunication surely came. By the time of Trent, it was no longer possible to be neutral.

One could bring up lesser, if not the less important, matters of our own recent days. In the Episcopal Church, one might have found it possible to be neutral on the sexuality issue. But this is no longer a possibility. For good or for ill, one must now choose one’s allegiance across the divide of a non-celibate gay bishop.

In the evangelical world, the choices are more numerous because the divisions are so rife, and the consistencies of constituencies so inconsistent. But with the proliferation of choice, one’s actual choices narrow. Simply because one can choose from dozens of Bible translations, worship styles, ecclesial polities, and ministries, one is finally faced with only one choice: the serving of self or God. In the evangelical world, the gospel of consumerism is laid over the true Gospel, and the clarion call of comfort drowns out the harsh trumpet of repentance.

This, I think, is what C. S. Lewis means through his Dr. Dimble. And I agree with the thought: we live in an age where neutrality is not only impossible, it’s damning. If we cannot answer “Yes” that some decision will more clearly reveal the Lordship of Christ in our lives, then to make that decision will be to unmake ourselves. For the reality is that we are servants. It is given to us, in the multiple thousands of choices each day, to decide whom we will serve.

This, of course, is the recasting of the words of our Lord regarding the eschaton. And this is why he also asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

The Fatherhood Chronicles XII: Fathers, “Poopy Diapers Are Job One” and Other Recently Learned Tidbits

Anna and Sofie are sleeping just now. Whew. It’s been a rough first two nights at home. Well, not rough in terms of how Sofie’s doing, but rough in that we are now of the tribe of the sleep-deprived. Due to one of Anna’s medications, Sofie has been pretty gassy. Poor thing. So Daddy takes her and walks all up and down the apartment trying to get that air out of that little tummy. With numerous trial and error, I have discovered she prefers me balancing her with her chest on my hand, her butt about level with my sternum, and facing out. From “Wah” to “Coo” in five seconds. Who knew?

Sofie is her momma’s girl, that’s for sure. Day 3 of life (and first 24 hours out of the hospital), and Anna insisted we all go up to the Carter’s outlet for their summer tent sale. “Honey . . .” I began to object. But the womenfolk ganged up on me, so it was haul Graeco Metro stroller, Kelty Kids baby “backpack,” and Eric Carle “Very Hungry Caterpillar” diaper bag down to car, buckle in and head to Kenosha. Surprisingly, though, Sofie did quite well. We did have to stop at Gurnee for a feeding, but Sofie slept until after we returned home. Sofie: three-day old power shopper! (Egad.)

I have also discovered, and mind you this has been borne out by expert testimony, that fathers have a job, perhaps not the only job, but certainly the primary job. We do poopy diapers. We are fathers. This is what we do.

Sofie’s first poopy diaper was changed by yours truly. And a right black tarry mess it was. Who knew that much gunk could come out of such a little body? And who knew that getting said mess out of otherwise cute little baby creases was tantamount to removing barnacles from a ship? But this new father perservered, and a clean pink bottom, ready for the new diaper was the glorious result. Sofie’s next few poopy diapers were even more of this “baby asphalt.” I mean, I was forewarned about this, but whew! Where did she hide it all?

I have also discovered that a new personage has emerged from my inner self. Alongside the contemplative theologian, pugnacious philosopher, and all around Scotch-drinking, pipe-smoking good ol’ Kansas boy, has emerged Conan the Barbarian. Well, okay, or Thundarr or someone like that. I have reverted to primitive hunting man status. Grunt. These are my women. Grunt. Hurt them at your peril. Grimace. Glower. Grunt. I have to consciously resist the urge to stand outside our front door, broadsword in hand and challenge the UPS guy who dares to invade the sanctity of our home with something called a “parcel delivery.” Crom! Demon dogs!

Along with these twin discoveries is another: I am absolutely and intensely interested in every bodily function of our little girl. I discuss the color and consistency of her bowel movements. I count the number of belches and farts–yes, my daintly little girl farts (I’m sooo proud!)–forecasting and calculating as though I’m discovering the existence of a new galaxy. The relationship between divine knowing and human knowing in Aristotle is blase compared to wondering if Sofie is crying because she is: a) hungry, b) gassy, c) call the pediatrician.

I could go on. But, I’ll have to end here. Sofie is stirring, and I’m sure I’ve got a poopy diaper to take care of. And by golly, that better not be the UPS truck stopping in front of our apartment . . . Where’s my warhammer?

The Fatherhood Chronicles XI

One thing I know: I am not worthy of this little girl

Sofie was, quite literally, the answer to the prayers of the Theotokos for Anna and me. I suppose that’s why when I first started praying for our baby I almost immediately began using the feminine when remembering her to the Lord. This whole pregnancy has been for me “a marvelous work and a wonder,” to borrow and sanctify a well-known title. It has brought out of me thoughts, feelings and actions I would never have dreamed, yet had always knew were in some way required. Women and baby girls make of us pliable men the best of gentlemen.

What I am now about to write, I don’t know I have the words for. To start at the beginning, Sofie was born with the cord around her neck. This, as I am learning, is not entirely uncommon. Unfortunately, because Sofie at the last came more quickly than Anna’s doctor could arrive, we had a resident ob-gyn, who, in an effort to untangle the cord from around Sofie, inadvertently drew it tighter. Quick as thought, one of the assisting nurses shoved forward and immediately drew Sofie free. But the very brief episode was enough to shock our little girl.

Although the birth plan called for me to cut the cord, and the ob-gyn resident asked if the father (me) was to cut the cord, the quick-thinking nurse said no. The cord was cut, and they took Sofie to the warming table. This is when my nightmare began.

Sofie was not responding, and was greyish. The nurses worked with her, but as the hours-long seconds ticked by this was having no discernible effect. I could see one nurse pushing on Sofie’s chest. Another nurse, grim-faced, got on the phone. She spoke so softly that I could not hear. Within moments, a doctor, who I was to learn was from the neonatal ICU, came. Four medical personnel engulfed our baby, working with life-and-death intensity.

My heart was in my throat. Though I could not know for sure what was going on, I could tell it was dark and not yet joyful. Sofie was not crying, and the nurse kept pushing on her chest. I learned shortly after, her initial alertness scores were almost as low as they could be.

I thought only one thing: We are not leaving this hospital with a dead baby.

I cannot tell you, even as now I still tear up writing this, what thousands of deaths I died. I had only one wish: If this is the way it has to be, let it be me, not her. I will bear this for her. Let it be me.

I cannot recall these moments still without deep gasping tears. I woke this morning again to these images. Again, came the tears as though it was just happening. How can it be that a tiny little girl, whom I had known for only moments, I could love as though I’d loved her for a hundred lifetimes? Who could ever be so worthy of this?

These thoughts, of course, come precisely because we know how the story went. Sofie, it turns out, is like her father, quiet and contemplative. So her initial stillness was somewhat more of who she is than the great black fears her father had in those first moments. These were indeed, mere moments, and not the eternity they felt, and soon she was scoring a perfect test for alertness, breathing, color, and just pure godly vitality. A silent vitality, but brimming full of life nonetheless.

She has now passed her first day and a half, and if I may say so, is the most beautiful girl in the world. She sneezes and I am undone. She cries, and I am turning the world inside out to ease her distress. She looks at me, with those knit brows and semi-focused dark blue eyes, and I fall down endless depths of soul, swallowed whole and consumed. I am madly, passionately in love.

I was shocked to find that, learning Anna was pregnant with Sofie, I could unearth a new depth of love for Sofie’s mom such as I’d never known. I did not know that those early years of marriage, with our yearning passion, could have been replaced by a love of such depths it could not be described. And here, forty-one weeks later, I am shocked yet again to discover that this sinner’s heart can not only love her mother with a new-found love, but here, added to that, entwined and ever enlarging, is yet another love. Who could know this man’s heart could contain so much love?

This sinner is far too unworthy of this. Five lifetimes could never discharge such a debt. But this one I’ve been given is a good place to start.

The Fatherhood Chronicles IX

I have not–no kiddin’–been this nervous since my last football game . . . which happened to have been the state regional championships . . . and we lost in regulation by one point.

I just wolfed down a slice of really greasy pizza. This was a very bad choice. Despite that it tasted wonderful!

Work is slow today. I continually find myself tapping my foot.

My wife sent out an email earlier today. It was a “broadcast” email to dozens of friends. But when it hit my mail box here at work, I only saw the subject line: “Baby is Coming.” Here’s my reply:

[Cliff resumes regular breathing. Heart is still beating 140 per min.]

Oh. My. Gosh. Honey, I saw the email heading and about fainted. Please, remember my ability to jump to wrong conclusions in sending out emails with that kind of heading!

Oh, and when I replied, it went to everyone.

And yes, I did think my wife was communicating to me via email. And yes, of course, I lost my mind.

I’m a wreck. I won’t be sleeping tonight. At least I have a copy of the (abbreviated) Hours of the Church. How I’ll negotiate praying the midnight office with five house guests, I don’t know. Maybe a flashlight on the front porch will do the trick.

This kid must have my procrastination genes. C’mon, little one. Whacha waitin’ fer?