The End of the Forty Days

To everything there is a season, and the 40 days of daily memorial prayers for my father has come to an end. We will continue to remember Dad in our daily prayers, as we commemorate the departed by name, but the prayers reserved to accompany the departed from this life into the next will now become less frequent. We will pray them again in a little over four and a half months, and then annually. We will commemorate Dad on the memorial Saturdays which occur periodically throughout the year. But this special period of forty days has come to an end.

As much as these prayers are a comfort to the bereaved, it is nonetheless a good thing for us to rest from these labors. And make no mistake, dying, and grieving too I am learning, is labor.

Continue reading “The End of the Forty Days”

Where Is the Happy Ending?

I am the father of two young daughters who are now of an age in which playtime and imagination consist largely of princesses, princes, and other fairy things. The older child is also developing a sense of the happy ending, the resolution to the crisis encountered in the tale, the promised chaste kiss awakening to new life. It occurs to me that I may one day have to face these little ladies who will have developed the capacity to compare the reality of life to the constructions of fantasy. There is and will be, of course, as there always must be, a sharp disconnection between the happy ending of the world of romance and what is perceived to be the lack of such in day to day living. My task, of course, will be to address this seeming dichotomy. I’m not sure what I might say in that day to come. But if I’m attentive, it may sound something like this.

There are two sorts of happy endings: the happy endings of fairy tales and the happy endings of daily life. The former are the sorts of resolutions which human desire constructs; the latter what a merciful providence provides. The happy endings of fairy tales call forth in us the desire for communion. The happy endings of providence satisfy that desire for communion. The happy endings of fairy tales satisfy our expectations. The happy endings of providence transfigure our expectations. The happy endings of fairy tales reveal to us an unhappy truth: our lives are not fairy tales. The happy endings of providence reveal to us a most happy truth: our lives are not fairy tales.

There must be something in a little girl’s heart that causes her to yearn for that fairy tale happy ending. And her father, when he sees his daughter’s disappointment on realizing her fairy tale happy ending cannot come, has his heart broken a little bit, too. He, too, though he knows better, yearns for that happy ending for his little girl. But his is a different duty, a task he cannot shirk: he must take that sorrowful chin in his hand, and turn that tearful gaze of disappointment in another direction.

I am sorry that I cannot give you the happy ending that you want. I am sorry that I cannot change the circumstances which frame our lives. I am sorry that you must learn this hard truth: the happy endings we often want, or think we want, will never come. Still, Christ the Savior loves us, and if we pay attention, we can create a different story with him. Our story will have happy endings, but not the kind you find in fairy tales. These happy endings God gives us are much better, and richer, and last forever. I know you look around for a happy ending, and do not think you see one. But if you ask me, where is the happy ending? Dear one, there is only one answer to give to you: you are my happy ending.

Kansas Spring

Springtime in Kansas is fecund with verdant grace. January calves follow their mothers. The coyote brood wends its way over the Flint Hills. It is a time of joy and expectation, and a promise of merciful work to come.

Into this bright joy, a father comes, his own daughters, like little lambs, skipping before him and calling his name. His is a tender love, but fierce. He will drape their brows with kisses. And he will, with arched eyebrow and slanted gaze, take his measure of the soul of that boy at the door to see if in him he has what it will take to be a man. To know whether within that boy’s heart beats the knowledge of just what are these treasures of a father’s heart.

This father’s heart is a curious thing. It is a heart that, at that first cry of his little girls, breaks wide open. The pain of it must certainly feel as though he will be split in two. And yet it is necessary. For only by this gaping fracture can such a heart expand to the love it now has to give.

For a father knows a thing or two that a daughter’s heart, young and innocent, may miss. So he prays, his prayers full of blood and fire. He will call all the hosts of heaven against anything or anyone that will hurt or sadden or pain his little girls. And yet he will not tremble at the face of the necessary hurts that must come to a daughter’s heart, if she is to be brought outside herself to face a world with the strength and confidence of the father’s hand she clasps in her tiny fist.

This is the work of a father, which continues all his life without cease. For once a father, no man can undo his destiny. It will remake him. And it may save him.

And when this father’s life has passed into that springtime that never ends, he will trace his arc across the mazes of the sky, under the Lady’s protection, his prayers for his daughters trailing out behind him like a golden thread. When the great mercy brings him home, his prayers will continue. And he will pray for his little lambs till the lightning splits the sky from east to west and the great shout shatters the worlds.

[Other Kansas reflections are here. Other Fatherhood Chronicles are here.]

Happy Sixth Birthday to Our Little Girl, Sofie!

Born at 18:40 on this day in 2003. One of the loves of my life.

As I’ve related before: An answer to the prayers of the Theotokos for us. On retreat 11-13 October 2002, at a Benedictine monastery, I prayed the Akathist Hymn and asked for Mary’s intercessions for us. Seven weeks later we found out we were pregnant. Then, to put her seal on the matter, Sofie was born the evening before (liturgically, the feast of) Our Lady’s Dormition.

Our Lady has watched over us all this time, including saving Anna’s life when she had her miscarriage. I cannot look at our daugther, Sofie, and not be aware of the Theotokos’ watchcare over us.

Wow. Six years.

[The pic, by the way, is of Sofie at one year old. Again: wow.]

The Fatherhood Chronicles CXX

Post-Liturgy Belly Laughter and China

What a wonderful morning we had this morning. It was capped off by a deliriously-giggly, joy-filled ride home from Church. The girls each have two small stuffed puppies, who, when their left ears are pressed, alternately bark, growl and pant. I don’t know how or why, but somehow for some reason, the girls began to press their doggies’ ears in tandem, and being at the same point in the respective cycle, each happened to bark, growl and pant in unison–and somehow that just cracked us all up. This lasted, I have to say, for several minutes, and many city blocks! I laughed so hard, tears came to my eyes, and the girls were reduced to little more than full-body, gasping giggles. What a precious, precious moment.

And then just a moment ago, Sofie was singing in accompaniment (or what approximates such for her) to Divna’s Christos Anesti. And I told her how beautiful her singing was, that it was as pretty as Divna’s. I then told Sofie I loved her, to which she replied, “I love you as far as China.” I think the response to that is something like, “I love you as far as the moon,” but I was too choked up.

The Lord has so filled my day with blessings, that I am just speechless.

Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever.

The Fatherhood Chronicles CXIX

The Family that Prays Together . . .

I just had a most wonderful and heart-warming experience with my younger daughter, Delaina. I had come home mid-morning so that I could watch her for the rest of the day. We played and had some lunch, and while Delaina colored on the floor, I went to our icon corner to observe a brief set of sixth hour prayers. I had no sooner started than Delaina went to my bookshelf and grabbed one of the volumes to my Loeb edition St. Bede the Venerable (i.e., the li’l red books), and stood right next to me.

So, I prayed the office in a quiet voice, and she did the same, crossing herself when I did, and bowing when I bowed. And when I began to pray Panagia‘s on the prayer rope, she took the smaller prayer rope and attempted to continue to imitate me.

I’m not a monk, so the office was very short, only a few minutes. But it will stay in my memory for a long time to come. A wonderful gift of God’s providence to me today.

In about a half hour, my fellow little prayer warrior and I will go pick her sister up from the Orthodox school, and then we’ll all three enjoy the remainder of the afternoon together.

Deo gratia.

The Fatherhood Chronicles CXVIII

Struggling to Rest

I think most parents know the difficult challenge of the naptime struggle. The little ones are still learning how to release all the energy they’ve got pent up inside them. They need, even unconsciously yearn, for sleep, but they cannot enter into the rest that is waiting for them.

Parental skills are sorely tested here. There’s the rational argument approach: “Sweetie, you’re so cranky–see, you just yawned!–you need to get your rest so you’ll feel better.” There’s the barter approach: “If you take a nap, you can watch your favorite video when you get up.” There’s the assertion of authority: “You will take a nap.” Occasionally, one tries the sequential approach: “Okay. Heads on pillows. Legs out flat. Arms at your sides. No noises coming out of your mouths. Lie still.”

But sometimes the only thing that can be done is to allow a controlled throwing of a fit. Of course, they can’t go all out, since that’s not appropriate and is self-defeating. But to allow a few minutes of tears and frowny-faces often does the trick. It’s as though that last final expenditure of emotional energy is all that is needed to finally throw on the “night-night” switch. It’s my experience that sleep follows almost instantly.

There is, I think, wisdom to be gleaned here. For unless we have reached sanctity, some of us are still very toddler-like in our walk of faith. God will reason with us–“Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord.” God will barter with us–witness Abraham interceding for Lot’s life among the people of the doomed cities. God certainly will express his authority–simply read the last few chapters of Job. And he will give us sequential tasking–just as he did Elijah: anoint Hazael king of Syria, anoint Jehu king of Israel, and anoint Elisha your successor.

But sometimes we will not allow ourselves into his rest without a great burst of energy as we finally relinquish our will, our trust to him. The Psalms of lament are a witness to us. And there is the limping figure limned against the rising sun, having just wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. It is not for me to paint this as an inferior, or less mature form of submission. It may well be. But it may also well be necessary for us. The great thlipsis, or pressing, of the soul evokes a struggle in us, and God may ordain such struggles so that we may finally come into his rest, albeit limping, but shining in his glory, too.