Today’s musical pairing, chosen to illustrate the meditation below, is Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson. See the video embedded below. Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here.
“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”
Day 10. 838,061 confirmed cases, 41,261 deaths globally.
When the shadow of death touches the doorstep, we draw our children close. We fear more for them than we fear for ourselves. What should happen to them if the virus finds its way into their veins?
The majority of the suffering and death in the pandemic is concentrated among those who are grown and full of years. Yet statistics and probabilities are no comfort when it comes to the thought of losing your children. Or the thought of your children losing you.
Children are watching their parents go to the hospital and are never seeing them again. Fathers are saying their farewells through windows. One mother spoke her last words to her children through a walkie-talkie. Even those without children of their own are praying for the children they know.
To become a parent is to let love overflow in all its miraculous creativity. To be a parent is to love recklessly what is fragile, fleeting, and at risk. We want to possess our children, but we do not. We want to protect them, but we cannot. Our children outrun our grasp and outgrow our shelter.
Kahlil Gibran talks about this in The Prophet:
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flights
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Ever since my first daughter cried her first cry and clasped her hand around my finger, I have been captured. She may not be mine, but I am hers. We care more for our children than we care for ourselves because we are made in the image of a God who gave his life for his children. We are not creators of children, but we are vessels of God’s creativity and his yearning to have more children who will love him and love being loved by him.
We remember those things—their first cries, their first steps, the nights we held them, things they cannot remember. Before they fade, we gather those memories up like leaves and press them between the pages of our own recollections. We will carry their memories, and they will carry ours, and so we become a part of one another.
This is our fear and our comfort all at once: that our children are not finally in our hands, but they stand in the palm of his. Like Abraham, we offer our children on the mountain of the Lord. And as with Abraham, we only truly receive our children when we are willing to give them up. Then God gives them to us not as objects for sacrifice but as human beings who carry their own destiny and their own journey toward him.
We are their roots but not their branches. They rise from us, but they reach their arms higher than we can and open their hands to the face of God. And if the time should come for them to grow without us, then we whisper a prayer of gratitude for every day we knew them. Then we stand aside, we rejoice their life goes on, and we entrust them into the only embrace that could ever protect them in the first place.
Every child is on the altar. But we know you smile, O Lord, when we give you what was always and already yours. They are safer on your altar than they were in our shelter, and more loved in your hands than they were in ours.
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