faith

The Dark Horse Of Love


We found out that we lost the first baby a few days before Ash Wednesday.

It’s hard to understand mourning someone whom you will never meet. Our older children were both a stark symbol of the growing absence and a balm in the midst of our gloom. When we initially told them we were going to have another baby, Norah’s reaction was strange. She was concerned for the baby’s safety, uncharacteristically nervous. When she found out that the baby had died, she sobbed. Having that pain filtered through our five year old’s tears was harder to bear than any other shade of this sorrow.

I have found that we each give and receive love in ways as unique as our own thumb print. Upon reflection, mourning seems to be a self-same instinct.


Me, I just wanted to keep my head above water till the storm waters had subsided. I expected to always carry the weight of this grief as heavily as the day it was handed down to me. I spend my days preparing my heart for sorrows that rarely crossed my path.

But my wife on the other hand, her feelings are usually so veiled that they remain shrouded even to her, until a culmination of grief and relationship bear in upon them. A woman’s connection to her unborn child is something a man isn’t meant to understand. The difference makes it all the harder to relate in processing the loss. It wasn’t until the pregnancy in May that she began to talk expectantly of another loss. She felt as if something had broken in her, both spiritually and physically. As if she were being punished for some fatal and unrecognized flaw. Her brow was dark, forecasting a curse that she would never have conceived of six months prior. And in some aspect at least, she proved to be right.

The second miscarriage was worse. Farther along and with more complications, the scars run deeper. My wife rarely shares, but says those memories haunt her every day. She ended up in the hospital before all was said and done, undergoing outpatient procedures that turned into an inpatient transfusion of a couple of quarts of blood. We buried our baby boy at the back of the garden, near his sister, sprinkling wildflower seeds across the sprawling roots of the stump that serves as a headstone. They are just now starting to bloom for the first time.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Perhaps it does seem foolish in hindsight, looking back on our ancient decisions. The sorrow of loss is inextricably mingled with the question of culpability. We replay our missteps and recalculate our misguided course corrections ad infinitum. We wear out the tread of the truth in each slipping memory.

What should I have known then? What could we have done better? Is it irresponsibility to let this happen again? Is it cowardice to stop nature in its course?

Hope sprung eternal, hellacious gluttony, or stubborn pride of principles? Some synthesis of these keeps us returning to that boundless natural resource: human suffering.

We all squint a bit sidelong at the foreign aspects of each others’ humanity, incapable of understanding what allows someone to be so cautious or so reckless, so invested or so isolated.

Too deeply animalistic, so willingly tied to the frailty of our fallenness.
Undisciplined. Too excessively principled, rejecting sensibility to go chasing shadows of eternity in a dangerous world. Naive.

These mortal coils seem sleepy and submissive at a comfortable distance, yet they always prove inscrutable at close proxemity. Lulled to sleep by years of screen hyponosis, yet a prolonged toothache is all the discomfort needed to suddenly stir the dozing suburban spirit. Many would call us fools for allowing our bodies to continue to procreate. I imagine myself viewing the scene over your shoulder, nodding my approval of such pronouncements. Perhaps I am a selfish pig for allowing my wife to devote her body to so many scarring failures. Perhaps she is a timid fool for continuing to trust in me and Him and this process.

The third miscarriage in as many quarters came with stranger circumstance and more nebulous confusion. After a month of concerns and tests and procedures, the doctors could never verify the presence of a child in the womb. Still, her body continued on high alert, in a fever pitch to prepare for a life that didn’t seem to even exist. The verdict was that letting this misguided attempt continue would most likely kill her in time, but we waited all the same, hoping toward some glimmer of knowledge on which to hang. None came. Each passing day meant less time before her body broke. We caved. The girders of our constitution were found wanting. Under stress, they collapsed upon our heads as we pondered them. The layout of the hospital wards were becoming all too familiar. By the end of October, we looked back on the year in a dumbfounded daze.



Suffering is a thing that some prepare for. Like doomsday preppers, they carve out a place inside them and try to get comfortable, quivering and waiting for the inevitable fallout. Most seem more eager to ignore the mushroom cloud on the horizon. With a little numbing of the soul, we can convince ourselves that it can be avoided altogether, even as we cruise toward it. Whether we level our stance to try and catch it or turn our hearts to ignore its approach, the breaking of our love bowls us over and wrings us out when it arrives. No philosopher who apologizes suffering in the sunshine feels comfort from his aphorisms in the midnight watches. No preacher is comforted by his portfolio of God-study on the restless deathbed.

Love sours. We place our youthful bets and clench our tickets madly, cheering in unadulterated enthusiasm. At length, life slows and we frown. Grey hairs arise. Hopes wane and fall back among the pack, being slowly surpassed by unforeseen entries. Mourning is the dark horse of love. This new front runner overtakes and whelms all of our investments as we get to know and slowly age out of this world. We reveled in and savored them in their newborn flight. Now they are leaden upon our shoulders and our hearts.

I promise that if you love, you will know excruciating pain. Lewis said that to appreciate even an animal is to open oneself up to be broken by care. Still, to those familiar with the long weight of beauty, the man who has no attachments has a more pitiable fate than that baggage of a lifetime. Such is our lot, to sting and yet fear most the not being able to feel the sting.

I promise that your loves will deteriorate and that it will hurt. This is true for the waffling atheist, the star-crossed lover, the ardent jihadi, the workaholic philanthropist, the octogenarian martyr, and the cafeteria Catholic alike. The depth or type of a conviction is never strong enough by principle alone to withstand the terrors that prey upon the minds and memories of men. Whether you ignore the universe or build an empire of conclusions, everything human cracks under the slightest pressure from our inescapable place. There is no collection of right perspectives or sufficient actions that will grant release from the slowly crushing weight of existence; all attempts at love and hope turn in slow degrees to anxiety and despair. What we lean on most heavily becomes in its turn the source of the quickest decay.



Is there yet some flicker of comfort in all of this? Some recollection of a sensible design, if decay is now the unforeseen path upon which caring leads us? Love is not a blindly self-replicating chemical reaction, a dangerously diluting emotional state, or even the noble choice of a hearty devotee. Love is more than a divine impulse. Love is divinity Himself. Love once embraced this depth of mourning and darkness and pain. Love recognized that its path led into desolate depression, yet still it plunged. Love is a person who embodied hope that willing drowned in pain. Love entered a void of turmoil and came up gasping for breath in the unseen hope beyond.

When we lost the first baby, our daughter wept tears too bitter for the young. But then she sang songs of life over us. This one we first put our life into, she poured out new songs about Jesus’ desire to change our circumstances and our mistakes and making all things right.

Love is not a concept or an action. Love is a Person; that Person is the salvation of the world, who willingly stepped away from all hope and trusted that hope would be found beyond reckoning. The Christ is Love, promising unfathomable mourning now and overwhelming purpose ultimately. Suffering hits us all squarely, disorients us to the cores of our likeness with Him; but we can expose our hearts before God and men, open ourselves to more suffering without hardening our hearts, and seek to know the Person who is a promise that all will be renewed as concrete joy in the end. Mourning hearts are well prepared. Those who have known loneliness make worthy worshippers.


How To Get Rid Of Faith


“What those ancient Greeks (who also had some understanding of philosophy) regarded as a task for a whole lifetime, seeing that dexterity in doubting is not acquired in a few days or weeks, what the veteran combatant attained when he had preserved the equilibrium of doubt through all the pitfalls he encountered, who intrepidly denied the certainty of sense-perception and the certainty of the processes of thought, incorrigibly defied the apprehensions of self-love and the insinuations of sympathy–that is where everybody begins in our time.

In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be. . .going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days of weeks. When the tried oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows. . .except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.

The present writer is nothing of a philosopher, he has not understood the System, does not know whether it actually exists, whether it is completed; already he has enough for his weak head in the thought of what a prodigious head everybody in our day must have, since everybody has such a prodigious thought. Even though one were capable of converting the whole content of faith into the form of a concept, it does not follow that one has adequately conceived faith and understands how one got into it, or how it got into one.”

– Soren Kierkegaard (under the pseudonym Johannes De Silentio), excerpt from the Preface of Fear And Trembling.
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This sarcastic little preface starts one of the key works of existentialism, a book that champions faith. It turns out that Kierkegaard is, contrary to his claims, capable of presenting very dense philosophical concepts. His goal in this preface seems to be to validate self-doubt in a culture of self-presumption and faith in a culture that assumes it can discover all that there is to know. Doubt and faith exist as check and balance that should last a lifetime, keeping us honest about the nature of the things we believe and helping us to more deeply trust what we have recognized as reliable truth.

The interesting point here is that “our day” for Kierkegaard was the early 1840’s. It is sometimes hard to remember that the troubled ideas of a modern age brimming with scientific discovery are not new. Just because we are only recently making rampant “discoveries for discovery’s sake” does not mean we are the first or second or fifth generation to assume we can get somewhere based on discoveries alone. Humanity has eternally presumed and desired a mysterious completion of (or in) discovery rather than faith in anything. But isn’t that a form of faith in scientific discovery?

Kierkegaard is humble enough to assume that he will never be able to Systematize existence. Just as he calls our implicit faith in sensory-perception and process-of-thought into question, he questions whether faith itself, even if we claim to understand what it entails, can be pulled out and set aside from ration.

When I read this piece I immediately think about how ready we are to hurl a slew of random statistics and scientific studies at problematic points to prove our emotionally-based opinions. There are studies and statistics available to validate nearly every opposing viewpoint available to choose from today; so much so that, though we haven’t created self-presumption and human omnipotence, our generation has nearly perfected the use of them.

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Related reads

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

What Christians Can Learn From Athiests

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby


UPDATE!!!

My wife is 41+ weeks pregnant with our third child. Even though we’ve done this (twice) before, we are attempting a VBAC home-birth and we’ve both been running the full gamut of stressful and nervous emotions. All signs point toward a healthy and comfortable baby who just doesn’t want to come out yet(who can blame them?), but expecting to go into labor every hour for 3 weeks is exhausting.

The other day, after a solid cry session, my wife expressed again her current emotions in the constant waiting and said “I just feel like something bad has happened and I have to convince myself to be okay and bear it.” The truth is that anything we put significant hope in is a tragedy until it is fulfilled. It’s not tragic because we don’t want this baby, its tragic because we really, REALLY want this baby and we can’t do anything to get at it.

From a storytelling perspective, this makes a lot of sense. The goals that any characters hope toward and how their actions and fate play together are the plot of a strong story. The only difference between a traditional comedy and a tragedy is whether the hopes of the protagonist were eventually fulfilled. In a comedy he gets the girl and the happily-ever-after. In a tragedy he dies alone. Either way, the plot along the way is tinged with some level of fear that his hope is misplaced.

I think life should be full of these experiences. They suck pretty badly, but if we want to cultivate things like faith and hopefulness then we have to pour a lot of them out before we start seeing them rewarded. We live in a world that mostly let’s us down. Whether its the people we care for or the general negativity of circumstances, cultures, or political structures, we have more reasons to stop hoping and cut off faith in beauty and love and truth-acted-upon. But there is reason to hope, though we only do so in weakness now.

We’re pushing in to this idea. We’re recognizing the confusion and frustration and are choosing actively to have hope that we will look back in joy and laugh at what becomes a comedy in hindsight. We want ever stronger and stronger muscles of faith, persevering to trust in the truth regardless of attacks or whispers against it. As a farmer plants his seeds in the spring and watches the seasons change in eagerness, we have hoped and prayed toward this child’s birth and will continue to seek and find rest in the future healthy delivery of a son or daughter (we don’t know which!)

UPDATE!!!

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Further reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Their Fathers

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

What Christians Can Learn From Atheists