Here and there over the last several months, SMC regulars have patiently read the musings of a dad anticipating the marriage of his first daughter. Last Saturday the sacred event commenced. Rings were exchanged, along with vows, and a river of joy-tears. Everyday since then, my meditation has been shaped by a steady stream of the most delightful distractions imaginable. Rather than swimming against that stream for the current reflection, I figured I’d just direct a little of that stream your way. Thanks, in advance, for indulging this misty-eyed dad.
While constructing my toast for the reception, I was transported back to my very first moments with the baby who would one day be a bride. After a day in labor, the nurse wanted to whisk Annalise away for some pseudo-clinical, procedural reason. Needless to say, that wasn’t happening on my watch! Nurse Ratched finally acquiesced and allowed me to perform the nurse’s duties at the warming table. As I stood there, it occurred to me that what Annalise probably wanted most was to have her womb back. My job was clear. I wrapped my arms and hands around her as tightly as I could. Such a maneuver required me to position my face just inches from hers. With her peering into my eyes, and me returning her gaze, I was sure I knew what Annalise was thinking, and would have said if she could have found the words. “Daddy, I see myself in your eyes.” I’m pretty sure that I responded to her unspoken observation out loud, “That’s because you are in my heart.”
Looking back, I am convinced that the two most essential elements for spiritual and psychological development over a whole life span were present in seed form. (1) A firm holding environment that contains plenty of… (2)… delight. I am convinced that Delight is one of the more important synonyms for God, or at least one of God’s primary creative activities. Delight provides a kind of psychological/spiritual oxygen and calcium for the human soul to flourish. The holding environment provides two functions. It provides a container for the Delight. But maybe even more importantly, it provides a firm boundary keeping what disrupts Delight on the other side. In a delivery room, that looks like fending off the ministrations of an overly fastidious nurse while a dad baptizes his little girl with his tears. As an adolescent, it required a willingness to wrestle with an older version of my daughter to keep out those things that feel delightful in the short-run, but erode the experience of Delight over time… for example… things that go on at unchaperoned teen parties.
Even in the midst of this delivery-room seminal experience, I knew that my arms would not be long enough, my hands would not be strong enough to provide a proper holding environment over a life-span. That would require a wider community. It would necessitate entrusting her to others. Twenty-seven years later, gathered at her wedding was an assemblage of people who have provided those holding contexts that could mirror soul-forming Delight for my daughter. In that reception hall were aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, pre-school, elementary, and high school families, colleagues from college, Law School, and track, along with their coaches.
And what did the warm flames of Delight forge in these many holding environments? To answer that, I am reminded of a quote that was attributed to the great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhardt. “There is no sameness in God.” There are no two leaves, no two blades of grass that are created to be exactly the same. Call me biased, but like every mother’s child, Annalise has developed into a human being that is exquisitely and uniquely herself. I find in her a fierceness that pursues her essential goals like a force of nature. I also find a softness in her that is frequently moved to tears of laughter, joy, or awe. Over her seven year courtship with Matt, I have found the central criterion for a healthy relationship met. Annalise is more uniquely herself than I have ever seen her. In fact, I am able to say what every father hopes to be able to say. I see something in my new son-in-law’s face that I recognize when he looks at my daughter. It was a look I had on my face the very first time I met her twenty-seven and a half years ago. Pure, uncreated, soul-sustaining… Delight!