Last year was difficult, to say the least. And while there were many things that occurred that required attention, I think it was the abiding anticipation of the birth of our first child that served as the sword of Damocles about everything else. Then, in the earliest hours of mid-September, my beloved wife gave birth to Søren, our beautiful boy with Hyperborean hair and North Sea eyes. I loved him the moment I saw his bloodied, shaking, little body. He was screaming. Welcome.
“He’s so alert!” exclaimed the anesthesiologist, as a nurse lowered him, swaddled, into my stunned and weary arms, my exhausted, drugged wife beside me. And he is. So many others have said the same thing since. He is very, very alert. He takes in everything. He is watching. He is just four months old, now. And he is watching. And learning.
Becoming a new father forces one to think of one’s own father. Genealogy rears her ugly head and the uneasy binary tectonic pressures of Nature™ and Nurture™ tosses you about and you find yourself searching ancestry.com and findagrave.com in the same time of night your son was born. Family is a suturing of difficult lives – “difficult” meaning something like learning how to take care of an infant. It’s a steep learning curve. There is the joy and the terror of new life. It’s not that it becomes easier. It’s that it becomes more familiar. That familiarity is a phenomenon of genealogy.
Bleak theology remembers that giving birth means giving the necessity to die, the necessity of death. The gift of death requires the gift of life. This gift is what theology is all about, what makes it different from her sister, philosophy. There is the gift. Theology allows the consideration of a gift that philosophy will neither offer, nor accept. The sisters have different economies – though slightly different. They are sisters, after all.
Theological thoughts of birth inevitably lead to thoughts of incarnation and second birth. The latter more readily in evangelical circles. But the Johannine Jesus whispers in the night to Nicodemus that to be a child of God, one must be born again. But let us not deceive ourselves with illusions of clean, Manichaean dualities. Birth is messy, painful, and can last for hours, putting mother and infant at real risk. And then there’s a lot of crying and exhaustion and sleeping. But it’s all worthwhile because we’re alive, dammit. We’re alive. So, this second birth. It’s not as easy as one might explain. If we are, indeed, as human as we say we are.
And the still stopwatch clicks and bursts forward. Cycling around and around. An orbit upon its axis, the anchor of its mortal coil. Theology operates with the understanding that there is life and action and that death and action are part and parcel with it. Søren’s clock has begun. His parents’ a bit further along. The parental existentialism is as heavy as the weight of Sisyphus’ rock: how shall we help him become who he shall become? The paradox of education is the confinement for freedom. More tectonic pressures. “He’s so alert!” Am I, his father, so alert as he? I love that kid.