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Archive for July 11th, 2005

The Birth

When Anna determined to birth Delaina through the care of a midwife, I was less than thrilled. Not that I had anything against midwifery, mind you. But when it comes to the health of my family, I want all the marvels of modern medicine at our immediate disposal. The whole midwife thing just smacked of new-agey hippie-ness. Not fer me, thank yew very much.

But for those readers who know my wife, Anna is not easily dissuaded once her mind has fixed on a goal. And her goal was simple and clear: a water birth with a midwife. And by golly, that’s just what she got. She wanted that with Sofie, but her employer switched insurance providers just before her last trimester and she wasn’t able to make the switch.

Sofie’s birth was marvelous, of course. I was a weepy, gooey mess. (Tripp can authenticate this claim, by the way.) But Anna’s ob-gyn had already determined that if Anna went a week over her due date, he would induce her labor. And that, in fact, was what happened. Although Anna paid attention to her body’s labor, since it was chemically induced, and her first delivery, there was more a feeling of not being in control, of things just happening to her and Sofie. And I was pretty much useless. As Sofie was being born, I stood at Anna’s shoulder while all the medical personnel north of the Mason-Dixon line worked around my wife. I briefly saw Sofie crowning, and the rest of the time I could only see Sofie as she had emerged from the womb. It was still a marvelous sight, but so very much filtered. I was an observer. They could have put me on the other side of a glass wall.

After Sofie had been born, while she was on the warming table and getting checked out, I could touch her and kiss her. But those first initial moments are lost behind that barrier.

Delaina’s birth was gloriously and completely different for us both. First of all, and most importantly, Anna’s body, not some doctor, dictated when Delaina would be born. Anna could listen to her body and had a good sense of what was going on and how imminent was the birth. In fact, we all went to Vespers just a few hours before Delaina was born–while Anna’s contractions were five minutes apart. After Vespers, we drove my mom and Sofie home and headed to the hospital. We got there between ten and ten-thirty and Delaina was born about three hours later.

When we got to the birthing suite, the midwife filled up the tub, while Anna worked through the stronger and more regular contrations. She could walk freely and sit up. I could apply pressure to her lower back and otherwise help her. The midwife was there to encourage us and chart all the stuff that was happening naturally. With about twenty-minutes to go (though we did not know it then), Anna got into the tub and let the last minutes of her active labor happen. It was, by Anna’s account, a much easier birth. No drugs. The pain was mitigated somewhat by the warm water. And no intrusion of a SWAT team of medical personnel. It was Anna, one of her friends, the midwife and me. (Though for insurance/legal reasons, a couple of nurses popped in and out from time to time.) And only at the end, when Anna needed some help repositioning so that Delaina’s shoulder could make it out of the birth canal did the midwife really insert herself into Anna’s labor.

Delaina was born quickly and placed on Anna’s chest, where she let out her first cries. Anna then laid Delaina on her upraised knees, balancing her in the water. We were able to feel the last pulsations of the umbilical cord as blood and nutrients flowed for the last time to Delaina. I got to cut the cord. And after they took Delaina to the warming table for measurements, I was able to give her my paternal blessing in the presence of the icons of the Theotokos and the Christ, and the vials of oil from the vigil lamps of the tombs of St. John of San Francisco and Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina.

But best of all, I got to nap for a couple of hours with Anna and Delaina before I headed home to get my mom and Sofie and give thanks in the Divine Liturgy.

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I have invested quite a bit of thinking (this is the thirteenth post of this series) around the notion of philosophia as a way of life (with obvious reliance on Pierre Hadot’s works Philosophy as a Way of Life and What is Ancient Philosophy?), and of Christianity as a philosophia. That ancient philosophy understood itself differently from present day academic philosophy would seem to go without saying (though the implications of that assertion are surely much more controversial), and that several important second century Christian documents present Christianity as a philosophia, similar though superior to ancient philosophiai, ought also be relatively uncontroversial. But whether one ought to invest in advocacy of the notion of Christianity as a philosophia is surely less obvious. What is important is to simply live the Christian faith as it has been passed down from the incarnate ministry of our Lord to today.

That is to say, the imposition of the structures of ultimate principles (logoi), a distinctive discourse (dialogos), and soulish exercises (askeses) is the imposition of external classificatory categories and structures that it is not clear arise naturally from within Christianity itself. That is to say, while the Holy Trinity, the Divine Liturgy and prayer (logoi, dialogos, and askesis, respectively) are in themselves entirely Christian, the organization of these realities along the lines suggested above is arguably questionable. One could argue that these are Hadot’s own classification of aspects of ancient philosophical schools, which schools themselves might well not classify themselves in this way, and that further, to apply Hadot’s structures on Christianity via ancient philosophy is suspect at best.

But as a heuristic device, at very least, these categories and structures can prove helpful in reflecting on the Christian Faith and its practice, and I hope these reflections have made this evident.

As I hope I have demonstrated, there can be no compartmentalizing of the Christian Faith and life, for the divine call is total and radical, and in this way it brings wholeness and unity to otherwise fractured human existence. That is to say, the way of life, the philosophia that is Christianity cannot be added to one’s existence, as though a weekend hobby. It is, rather, the entirety of that which revolves around the Holy Trinity, the center of one’s existence.

There are at least two implications of this which ought be obvious. First, the organic wholeness of Christianity makes impossible any division away from the way of life transmitted without interruption from Pentecost as well any division within the way Christians have always lived. That is to say, there can be no spontaneous generation of the Christian philosophia. One cannot affirm the fundamental Christian realities or principles, nor can one study and imitate the unique Christian discourse and askeses, without taking on the Christian way of life from within that life Christians have practiced from the beginning. That is to say, Christianity cannot be franchised. One must become a part of the only philosophia that is Christianity if one is to truly have that way of life that is Christian. I will say it bluntly. The some purported twenty-odd thousand Protestant groups worldwide seek this very impossibility: to make the Church over from scratch as from theory. I know whence I speak, for my heritage churches’ raison d’etre was to “restore the New Testament Church in our day,” leap-frogging over some seventeen hundred years of the life of the Church to “start anew.” But this is little better than schism, well-intentioned though it be. There is only one New Testament Church, and true to Christ’s promise, it has never ceased to exist. This is the Church with the original and life-giving philosophia. All others, simply by virtue of failing to live the Christian way of life from within, ultimately create other philosophiai which are not that which comes from Christ in the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

Nor can any of the fundamental structures which organize Christianity as a philosophia be isolated from or emphasized out of proportion to the rest. By this I mean that one cannot elevate the elements, say, of dialogos over those of askesis. Doctrine cannot replace practice. (Nor, for that matter, practice doctrine.) Having spent nearly my entire life as a Protestant (which, formally, I still am, though I have been pursuing Orthodoxy for three years and hope soon sacramentally to become Orthodox), I can tell you that while Protestantism arguably pursues the fundamental principles of the Christian Faith, in most instances various Protestant groups focus either on doctrine–and too often a particular doctrine derived apart from the mind of the Church–over the way of life that that doctrine entails, or they focus on practice over the living doctrine needed to justify and support those practices. What results is on the one hand a sort of neo-gnosticism, in which as long as one believes correctly (witness the various confessional documents and statements of faith of Protestant bodies and groups), one has done the primary thing necessary, and the practice of that doctrine, though not unimportant, is given much less focus. On the other hand there is the imposition of practices that are hardly conformed to historic Christianity, and are justified ad hoc either through the purported ends sought or achieved, or through a superficial prooftexting of Scripture and doctrine which deviates from the objective and historic Christian norm (witness many of the practices that go on in “discipling” ministries and charismatic groups).

Further, the way of life of the Christian Faith will necessarily and essentially put us in opposition to our non-Christian neighbor, our culture and society, and all that which opposes Christ. That is to say, by virtue of living the Christian Faith, we will have enemies, human and demonic. If there is one overriding rebellion of the ecumenical/interfaith movements against biblical and historic Christianity it is this: the Church has enemies. “Do not be surprised,” St. John tells us, “that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). This is the same St. John who says “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). And: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Indeed, St. John is merely being faithful to the Lord who Himself said:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25)

Thus, as much as it offends the sensibilities of the world, even and especially the religious world that claims Christ’s name, Christians must be steadfast in maintaining their Lord’s exclusive claims: He is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6), and there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 5:12). Indeed, He who fills the universe has chosen to inhabit His unique dwelling place, the household of God, the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 1 Timothy 3:15).

This is not to say that there is no good at all in one’s non-Christian neighbor or in human society–for the Church has never believed that the image of God has been utterly destroyed in mankind–but it is to say that fragmented revelations of the divine image do not constitute the whole. Just because some religious teaching may participate in an incomplete way with the truth of which the Church is pillar and ground does not mean that such a religion or its teaching is Christian. It simply means that on this or another point which converges with the Christian Faith, Christians can affirm this specific teaching, while also obligating themselves to the clarity of love that reiterates Christ’s exclusive claims. But in affirming these fragmentary truths, we also affirm the fullness which the Church alone possesses.

None of these truths are comfortable, nor are they given to the making of social friendships. But that is the way of things in the life that is Christianity. That we find these truths uncomfortable ourselves, or find ourselves resistant to them, may only illustrate how far we are from the Christian philosophia. Please God that all of us may be more and more conformed to the life of Christ in His Church.

[The remainder of the posts in this series can be found here.]

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