For three weeks we’ve lived in our new house and a week from now our new baby is going to be born. Big stuff is happening in our world, and we are all feeling happier than we have in a long time. The dissipating stress is almost tangible at times. I’m noticing big growth in you and it’s an understatement to say that Daddy & I are enjoying that. In fact, it’s certainly contributing to our dissipating stress. And all our assumptions are being confirmed: you have been a stressed out, freaked out little man this spring. We see you unwinding in our new house. There is little I enjoy more these days than watching you deep in play with your trucks or your trains or your marbles on the big open, sunny, carpeted space beside our new kitchen. I haven’t seen you play like that maybe in a couple years. And like a little sub-creator, I am looking at it all and Seeing That It Is Good.
And while it’s more than a stretch to say that you’re finally finally finally finally finally potty trained, you are actually actively potty trainING again and the fact that you are capable of conversing about the subject and feeling accomplishment and interest instead of fear and shame – well, I’m calling it a win. Meanwhile, you are well on your way to a successful career as a beat-boxer. Just before he left for South Bend, Patrick (with Nicole) taught you the song from the Lion King. But when your best buddies are professional musicians you have to expect that there will be multiple layers of counterpoint involved in a simple song, and so now you and your sister start with “Awimbowop awimbowop…” and then one of you brings in the words: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” But you really shine when it’s time for the third layer, and you start to splutter “Boots and cats and boots and cats and boots and cats” just like they taught you. At first you were laughably bad at this. Now you wander through your day spontaneously breaking out in vocal percussion under your breath at any juncture.
This morning you are helping Daddy load up the splintered remains of the old basement into a fresh dumpster. Your sister is strolling through the house in her rain boots with her baby stroller, saying things like “Now I’m going to Lowes,” enjoying the expanse of this place. I’m at the kitchen counter finishing off a second breakfast and taking pills in hopes of whipping an awful cold before the baby is born. I’ve reheated my morning tea at least six times, so I’m feeling very stereotypical as a mom. In a little while we’ll go meet up with friends from our new church for some simple backyard summer fun and then stop on our way home to check out the brand new local market that just opened down the street from where we used to live. Word on the streets is they had mangoes for $0.17/each the other day and someone’s Facebook mentioned a sale on gelato. Tonight we’re hosting our first huge party, a reception for dear Mr. Neswick, back from his new post in Portland for his final Howells recital. You’ll already be asleep by the time the party starts, but there’s been much talk about the cake and I’ve promised to save you a piece.
I thought I’d take this chance to muse about the Holy Spirit a few moments. Pentecost Sunday was two weeks ago and we celebrated with our precious friends Robert & Liesl & Baby Peter before they transplanted themselves to Louisiana for a new life. We wanted to begin imparting to you and Meredith the sense that this day in the year is a big deal. It felt like it at our house: roast beef and a whole feast laid on the table, wine, an extravagant dessert, and bright red geraniums everywhere – they’d adorned the altar that morning and then been given as gifts to the musicians at Daddy’s church. In church I felt disappointed: there wasn’t much said about what the Holy Spirit actually does and is, just some poetic suggestions that maybe we don’t know and a cute stretch to suggest our orange chairs might remind us of the Holy Spirit. Since they’re almost red.
Still, I was struck by the weight of this day and this season: the idea that the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the end of Church Year, the denouement of the whole Christian story… for now any way. And how fitting that this season which we call “Time after Pentecost” and “Ordinary Time” is so very long until we arrive at the true end: Christ the King, and then, again, Advent. For six months we’ll stay here, ordinary, and if we do well we’ll steep in it. We’ll dig ourselves deep into what it means that the Holy Spirit has come. Isn’t this the meat of the Christian life? For six months, the Christian story, but for these six months, the Christian life: all the things Paul and the rest told us about what it means to live, as we say in our house, as “Jesus-Disciples.”
Wanting to pursue this further I opened a beautiful English hymnal from our shelves to the section on the Holy Spirit and began reading. What I found was more than faint hope of sensing the Spirit and cute words about wind on the seas and orange chairs. There was so much to say and it was concrete – enough to actually fill the space of these six months and commission us with identifiable work to do.
Come, Holy Spirit, come,
Let thy bright beams arise;
dispel the sorrow from our minds,
the darkness from our eyes.
Cheer our desponding hearts,
thou heavenly Paraclete;
Give us to lie with humble hope
at our Redeemer’s feet.
Revive our drooping faith,
our doubts and fears remove,
and kindle in our breasts the flame
of never-dying love.
Convince us of our sin,
then lead to Jesus’ blood;
and to our wondering view reveal
the secret love of God.
‘Tis thine to cleanse the heart,
to sanctify the soul,
to pour fresh life in every part,
and new create the whole.
Dwell, therefore, in our hearts;
our minds from bondage free:
then shall we know, and praise, and love
the Father, Son, and Thee.
(Joseph Hart, 1712-68)
Then there was another, which captured the message of John that Pastor Moon (he baptized you) preached five years ago on Pentecost before you were born. I’d listened to it in the kitchen as I’d made brownies before church that morning, and awed at the Spirit’s work of leading us to Christ, of showing us the glory of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, like a dove descending,
rest thou upon us while we met to pray;
show us the Saviour, his great love revealing;
lead us to him, the Life, the Truth, the Way.
Come, Holy Spirit, every cloud dispelling;
fill us with gladness, through the Master’s Name:
Bring to our memory words that he hath spoken;
then shall our tongues his wondrous grace proclaim.
Come, Holy Spirit, sent from God the Father,
thou Friend and Teacher, Comforter and Guide;
our thoughts directing, keep us close to Jesus,
and in our hearts forevermore abide.
I thought about these things a lot last week. I also noticed your changing disposition as you have eased into our new world here at home. I thought about this season where we are called by the Holy Spirit to the sober duty of putting on Christ. I thought how I can see already your growth into self control, and how much we need to cultivate and practice this not just as nature’s by-product of a stable life but as something we must choose (by command) by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not something we’re very good at as a family. Worn down, stressed, exhausted, Daddy & I feel so often that we don’t treat you guys kindly or patiently or gently enough. I find myself indulging my natural frustration borne from exhaustion and over-work and complete lack of margin. I take it out on you because I have power to do that. That’s the scariest part of parenting to me – the power you have by nature over your kids. I don’t think there was a single day last week that I didn’t see my own sin in how I treated you or spoke to you. Always I knew why, and the why is important, even if it doesn’t absolve. You weren’t listening (you were over tired) and I was in acute pain (over pregnant). It happens in this broken human world, but it doesn’t mean it’s not sin. Every day I felt resolve to treat you better, and I knew that could only come from the Holy Spirit, from being a Jesus-disciple instead of following myself and serving myself.
Sermon #2 on Sunday (our Sunday thing is weird, go with it) was from Colossians. Our pastor talked about circumcision – about how God makes us weak in the place where we feel strong. That resonated with me – that one thing I wish I didn’t screw up that I screw up every single day. And then he talked about PF Changs. How he’d been in the Atlanta airport and he had money to spend and he knew he really really wanted PF Changs and he went to great lengths to get there and wouldn’t – couldn’t be distracted – by Chick Fil A or any other good-enough option he passed at every intervening gate because he wanted PF Changs. That, he said, is how we need to pursue Christ: wanting him enough to give us blinders to everything else.
This is what the Holy Spirit does for us: shows us Christ and little by little teaches us blindness to other loves. But like the season of Pentecost and Ordinary time, it takes a lifetime. This is what I want for you, sweet boy, and for me. I see you growing, changing, becoming stronger and wiser every day. The things you’ve struggled with in the past year are gradually falling away and when you cry you can pull it together and when you sin you can talk about it and when you are feeling greedy or angry you can take control and choose something else. This is big. So very big. And I am proud of you, and eager for you, and hoping that somehow (by the Holy Spirit, that is) you and I will get there.
I love you.