Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Renewal of the Spirit

I have been longing to write about a big event in my life. Okay, it’s a bigger event in other people’s lives, but surely the birth of one’s first grandchild is worthy of claiming as BIG!

My daughter and son-in-law live in a large eastern city where they have jobs that expose them to some of the seamy and scary aspects of life — he is a clinical social worker and she is a second grade teacher in the public schools. (Yes, their jobs are sometimes sources of joy as well, but that’s not my point today.)

So they are understandably cautious about having their son’s name or photograph appear on the world wide web, even on an obscure blog that I’m pretty sure hardly anyone reads. The point is, they are private people.

I’m honoring them by not posting my fabulous grandson’s name or photo except for this:

You’ll have to extrapolate from there — he is a wonder, very beautiful (the time will come when “handsome” is a better word, but at two weeks old, he’s simply lovely!), mellow, serious, curious. When I visited last week, we mostly just sat around looking at him sleeping. Baby Television, the most entertaining thing we could find to watch.

On the Sunday after I reluctantly came home, I preached about our first UU Principle: direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, that calls us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life. Here are the last few paragraphs from that sermon:

“A renewal of the spirit. An openness to the forces that create and uphold life. And how better to open oneself to the forces that create life than to put oneself in the presence of a brand new baby?

Many of you know that I spent a good part of last week in the presence of a brand new baby, my grandson ____. And this is the place where words fail me, because his presence in my life is such a mystery and wonder, yet such a gift. So I will try to tell you what it was like to be with him.

I can’t take my eyes off him. Even when he is sound asleep, I just want to look at him. I hold him for hours, doing nothing else but holding him, that solid little package that settles right in to the curve of my body. I feel his warmth, his vitality right through his clothes and mine — he is so alive.

Yet at the same time he isn’t altogether here yet. Two weeks old (three weeks tomorrow), not able to focus his eyes yet, he is still making the journey from somewhere else to here, still in the process of arriving. It will take him another two months to fully get here, able to focus and see, to start organizing his sensations and making meaning of what he sees, hears, smells. This is one of the miracles of watching a new baby come into the world: to watch it organize its understanding and begin to make meaning, make patterns out of what now must surely be random and puzzling events.

I think we will know that he has fully arrived when he begins to interact with his surroundings — smiling, cooing, recognizing faces and places. Right now he is still in some in-between place, making his way slowly and carefully into this life.

I am moved close to tears witnessing his patience and courage. That may seem like a strange word to apply to a two-week old baby, but “courage” is the word that comes to me when I think about this journey that he is on, all by himself really, though people protect him and feed him and move him from place to place. His most important tasks are ones that he has to do all by himself: looking, hearing, wondering, putting it all together. He is awake for long stretches of time, patiently looking around, moving his tiny hands, pursing his lips and trying out what it feels like to have a body.

As I watch him making his way into this life, I find myself noticing the similarity with what it must be like when people are making their way out of this life and going on to some other mystery. They have to do it by themselves, and it takes great patience and courage. Other people can keep them company, hold their hands, give them sustenance and comfort. But eventually they have to go on by themselves; no one else can go with them. I find this thought comforting — that we leave the way we came, quietly, with courage.

Mystery and wonder. And we are the privileged witnesses to it all. Thanks be to God.