It is a Wednesday afternoon, and my 6-year old daughter is cutting paper shapes on my desk while I write a Father’s Day sermon. She has finished a paper skirt and taped it to her waste. This is an idyllic time in my life, and looking into her eyes reminded me of a letter that I published last year. I hope it might be meaningful to you to read, as it was for me to write. Perhaps it might also spur you on to read Thomas Merton and Marilynne Robinson, which would be time well spent. As always, I welcome all comments, positive and negative.
I will never forget holding you for the first time, my firstborn child, looking into the eyes of this little angelic baby for the first time, you the size of a football, a little angel football, crowned, as Jesus said, “a little lower than the angels.” In that moment a question settled into my mind until the tears flowed, that beautiful firstborn question: “How could God be this good to me?”
And then there was the second-born moment. This moment was a couple of years in the making in a sense; a couple of years of figuring out what it actually means to steward a miracle, a miracle who kept us awake at all hours of the night and vomited all over us at all hours of the most inopportune times. And then you appeared in our midst, a second angelic visitation. And we found that the secondborn question is even grander than the first. No longer, “How could God be this good to me?” But even more, “How could God be this good?” Period.
This extravagance is more than I can bear. There are days with you in which I fear I will wake up and it will all have been a dream; a breathlessly happy dream. The joy that you have brought to your mother and me is, in the words of 1 Peter 1:8, “unspeakable, and full of glory.”
What I mean to say is that when I am with you, it as if the New Testament vision of creation has been finally consummated. I live my days now in a bright fog of wonder, feeling my way through a world made new each day, a world pulsing with the laughter of God. The theologians tell us that we live in what they call the “Already-Not Yet” tension of the old and new ages. Yet to look into your eyes each day is to feel the heat of the bush burning unconsumed, to glimpse the eschaton, to fall into the crevasse of the new world splitting from the old. I never knew that every inch of reality is sacred, until you appeared. My everyday miracles.
Unfortunately, the old age continues to tighten its ugly grip on the world that you will soon know all too well. I cannot save you from the very real darkness that has gripped this world. That is God’s job. But perhaps I can enlist you to join His assault on the darkness, that “the whole earth be filled with his glory.”
What will arm you for such a mission? Consider these three challenges.
First, in an age that is driven by false images, be true to the image of God that has breathed upon you, and that lives within you. Over and against what you will learn in science class, Genesis 1:27 tells us that you were created in the likeness of God. This means that the center of your being reflects God. When I see you, I see God. This is true of every person.
It will not be easy to remember this as you grow. The forces of our culture will claim to love you and will attempt to stamp you with a different image, an image of commodity. A world of commodity assigns a value to you based on achievement, intelligence, athletic ability, the shape of your body, the features of your lovely face. This value is no less than the mark of the beast (666), an assigned image that keeps the world buying and selling. Do not give into this powerful lie of consumerism. The merchants of our society will advertise to you a sense of deficiency – what you are not – in order to sell you the solution: diet pills, mascara, overpriced I-things. They will do so using the power of images.
We see this most luridly in the empire of pornography. Perhaps it could have previously been named an industry, but that day has passed. It is an empire now: an entire world of powerful fantasy, so normal that we could not even watch the Super Bowl together this year without covering your eyes during commercials advertising Doritos and web hosting. Yes, it has come to that.
Pornography is the result of a society in which bodies have been commoditized, de-mystified, and stripped of the imago dei. Pornography is what happens to a people when, in the words of the film, The Sixth Sense, the streets are full of “dead people, walking around like regular people, only they don’t know that they’re dead.” You will have to navigate such a world. I pray that you do not exchange the image of God for the mark of the beast.
Second, in an age obsessed with exteriors, nourish your interior life. I have a Facebook account (1700+ friends!) for some reason, and it disgusts me. Why in heaven’s name the average person now feels the need to inform the world of every nook and cranny of their day is beyond me. It is similar to pornography in a sense. Things that were once sheltered as private are now mindlessly bloviated to the public. I am sorry that my generation has given you such a world. (They are calling us the “Me” Generation. Perhaps you can change that.)
The only answer that I know of to maintain any sense of depth in such shallow, numb waters is the cultivation of the interior life. In the words of the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, “the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us in the creatures of God.” Such a life requires “unlearning our wrong ways of seeing, tasting, feeling…to acquire a few of the right ones.” It means that along with the pace and the noise of sports, school, friends, hobbies, we dive into the pleasures of prayer, solitude, study, even silence. I hope you find these disciplines to be gifts, not burdens.
Finally, in an age that is increasingly spiritual, I pray that you become religious. By this I mean that I wish you to find a home in the traditions, the language, and the community of the Church. God has seen to it that our family tree has been grafted into the specific Christian family of the Church of God. So, in Texas football parlance, dance with the one who brung you. At a young age, marry the Church, blemishes and all. She is not perfect, but she will save you from the Tower of Babel, from a life of the forced and unthinking sameness of our consumer culture. She will save you from your own sense of individualism, so God-given, that will yet eat you alive when left to its own devices. She will give to you the gift of originality; of color in an otherwise black-and-white society.
That originality is the full circle. It is the image of God within you. Let His image not be snuffed out. These days, looking at you, it is all that I can see.
I leave you with a sentence I read from the Pulitzer prize winning novel, Gilead, in which a dying Congregationalist minister reflects on the wonder of his child. “It’s your existence I love you for, mainly.” There are days when this is all that I know how to feel, what to say.
 Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (New York: Harcourt, 1955), 33.
 Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (New York: Picador, 2006), 52.