Monday, February 22, 2010

Sweet Dreams, and Namasté

There are moments in parenthood when everything is right, when a deep, abiding sense of contentment and peace and gratitude fills the soul.  I had one of those moments tonight, and I savored it, let it linger in all its wonder, breathed deep and long the air of clarity and perspective.  It was not exciting.  It was not momentous.  But it was pure and true.  Genuine.  A glimpse of life on earth as it is in heaven.

Josh had a business meeting for the fire department tonight, so I had the kids to myself for bedtime.  We made it through the usual flurry of activity surrounding bathroom-using and pajama-dressing and tooth-brushing.  By the time we settled into Abby's big green chair for books, the kids were visibly tired.  Ben rubbed his eyes and yawned; Abby climbed into my lap and rested her head under my chin, relinquishing her usual post of autonomy next to me.

As has been the case the last several days, Ben chose his little, phonetic reader to read to us.  Now that he has discovered his power of reading, he finds delight in being able to read us a bedtime story.  His skills are becoming more fluid.  Now he stops to sound out only the occasional word.  He puts the sentences together more quickly, even adds the appropriate intonation.  He can read a whole "chapter" of four to five stories in a sitting before tiring.  I'm astounded by his growth.  He hadn't read for Abby yet, but I was confident the novelty of Ben reading would quell any impatience she might feel toward his speed.

I was right.  They both settled in, their bodies still and relaxed, their energy quiet and calm.  Abby didn't complain or grow impatient once, not even in the places Ben paused for a significant time.  She even began to point out the "I's" on the page that began many of the sentences.  Ben rested his head on my shoulder as his little pointer finger moved steadily from one word to the next, and I was torn between wanting to let Ben continue reading indefinitely for the magic of it and knowing they needed to get their heads to a pillow before they crashed.  Having them both snuggled close, sensing the absolute contentment in their spirits, feeling the drive and rush and play and defensiveness and offensiveness and exuberance and scramble to figure out their world leave their little bodies as we all sat in the security of each other's presence--it was sacred.

When Ben finished the three stories we had agreed upon ahead of time, he handed me the book Abby had chosen.  She ran into Ben's room earlier to find The Moon Shines Down by Margaret Wise Brown, the same author who penned the children's classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.  It's a charming story narrated by a koala bear who imagines all the children of the world seen by the moon:  "I see the Moon and the Moon sees me, and the Moon sees the Dutch boy far over the sea..."  As he describes the many children and their homelands, the koala prays a blessing over each one, saying, "O God bless him and God bless me..."

The kids have it memorized, so they took turns reciting various pages.  At one point, Ben recognized the word "the" in the text and then saw "to," "and," and "of"--a few of the site words he's learning.  It was as if another light bulb went off in his head.  I could practically see him thinking, Hey, these books are made up of the words I'm learning and reading.  The destination of his efforts came into focus.

We finished reading, sang our songs, and prayed, thanking Jesus for each other and for the events of today, praying for tomorrow's activities.  When we finished, Ben hopped down with his Teddy and walked into his room; Abby got down to walk to her crib.  I remembered at the last second to put Aquaphor on the two scrapes healing on her face before scooping her into my arms to hug her and kiss her and lay her down.  As I set her in the crib, I said, "I love you, Abby.  You're a good girl, you're such a good girl."  She looked at me for a moment, as though contemplating my words, then leaned her head into mine and declared quietly and sincerely, "I luhf Gahd."

In one small sentence, she pierced my heart with her unadulterated, unsolicited, unscripted profession of faith.

There are so, so many theological concepts I could run on and on about here, but what struck me most profoundly was how simple it is to confess our desire for God, how uncomplicated it is to receive Grace.  There's no need to pray a special prayer, no need to understand every nuance of sin and atonement and life redeemed. Abby loves Love, and that is enough.  Faith is as effortless as sharing her two-year-old affection for an entity that, in her reality, cares enough to bless the moon and her and the children living far over the sea.

We grown people, especially those of us who've grown up in church circles, have this tendency to convolute all matters spiritual, to add a bunch of musts and should's and formulas and prescriptions to faith.  It is all chaff, no more the substance of faith than the lines in a coloring book the substance of art.  Ultimately, it all comes down to a mustard seed of faith in Love, and I think a lot more people have that than anyone realizes: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love, does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).  I know a lot of people who love--some in beautiful, sacrificial, Mother Theresa ways, others in simple, everyday, unassuming ways--many of whom won't be found in church on a Sunday morning.  Maybe because they don't find much that resembles Love in the places we talk most about God.

Tonight in the green chair, Benjamin, Abby, and I glimpsed heaven because the three of us simply rested in each other's love--without competition, without jockeying for position, without seeking attention or affirmation.  We rested, together, in Love.  Abby's precious proclamation merely put words to what we already knew and recognized.

I wish these moments with the kids weren't fleeting, didn't appear only in brief flashes of brilliance.  Often I wonder why we can't "just get along" all the time, and I grow frustrated when this expectation suffers the inevitable let-down of reality.  But I think in this world it is impossible to shed our competition, our jockeying, our attention- and affirmation-seeking for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone at the same time.  This pattern of life is so ingrained in us, so endemic to our flesh.  We are driven, enslaved in our cells, in our very DNA, to nature's law: "survival of the fittest."  Government, economies, religion, HOA's all serve to uphold this tenet.

How can I possibly expect my children to deny their flesh when I can't get over my need for people to think I have great kids?  Competition, jockeying, affirmation-seeking is my curse, too.

The only antidote, I think, the only relief from this pressure-cooker life is to stop thinking about ourselves and instead love: to help others survive, to affirm other's worth, to esteem other's accomplishments, to carry other's burdens, to shelter other's frailties--not in some self-deprecating, neglectful state of martyrdom, but in blessed freedom, resting in the knowledge that God is for us, not against us, rejoicing in the truth of every person around us.

I love the phrase "Namasté," which loosely translated means, "The divine in me honors the divine in you."  Beneath our flesh--our striving, competing selves--is an image of God.  It is in me.  It is in Ben.  It is in Abby.  It is in you.  What wonder when we get to see it without its ugly cover-up.

Tonight in the green chair, the flesh was too weary to raise its ugly head, so we got to experience Love instead.

Namasté, dear friends.

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