Most of us middle class American types and especially middle class Southern American types think of barbeques, cookouts, and the proverbial father’s day gifts such as a new shirt, tie, or some sort of lawn equipment as the quintessential Father’s Day celebration. And yes, all of these apply. However, I think there might be more to it than that? My daughter, the archeologist, and her husband, the artist, sent me a card for this Father’s Day which I hate to say pegs me to a tee, or rather nails me a tree, however you want to look at it. As you can see from the picture above I am caricatured as being “rather eccentric and somewhat theatrical, but in no way dangerous”. Now, most parents on receiving such a card might be a bit “put off”, or outright insulted, but not I. Knowing my daughter and her wonderful husband I take it as a complement and find it most amusing, if not outright funny. It is “spot on” as some are wont to say. Being the descendant of a long line of “eccentrics”, which is a kind characterization compared to many I have received over the years, I am very pleased. Upon receipt of the card I texted my daughter with the retort, ala Sir Winston, reminding her that “the apple does not fall far from the tree”. To which she replied “touche”!
I. The Point of It All
And, there it is: the apple and the tree. Those symbols pervade our greatest writings including the Holy Bible and point us toward a truth greater than barbeques, ties and lawn mowers. They point us to the realization that taking care of others and shepherding them through their darkest of nights is what a parent, whether father or mother, is all about. To emphasize this point I was somehow directed by some force majeure away from the gory details of “Ironclad”, a movie I had been watching on Netflix about wicked King John and his attempt to undo Magna Carta (it was only a guideline anyway), toward an old black and white staring Gregory Peck as a Scottish priest named Father Francis Chisholm. Along with him was Edmund Gwenn, remember Saint Nick from Miracle of 34th Street, playing a Bishop, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, as an Monsignor (in Anglican terms a sort of Archdeacon). aptly named Father Sleeth. The movie opens with the Monsignor visiting a really old Father Chisholm, He had come in the role of Bishop’s henchman who is to break it to old Father that he was now much too old, and too useless, to continue to serve as a priest in his home parish. After arriving at the conclusion that this old man was totally incompetent and needed to be put out to pasture the Monsignor finds himself drawn, also by some force majeure , to open and read old Father Chisholm’s journal. And with that the “Hollywood flashback” of Father Chisholm’s life begins. Having run through two total unsuccessful attempts to be a parish “secular” priest young Father finds himself before an old friend Bishop Hamish played by Gwenn. Bishop Hamish after acknowledging the recent failures of dear Father says they have a new mission starting up in China and they need a priest to be “in charge” . So unable to say no to Hamish, whose persuasive powers have made him a Bishop, Father accepts and off to China he goes. I will spare you the details from here as you may wish to watch this movie on the Netflix yourself. Needless to say Father did quite well for himself and as his Reverend Mother companion tells him”he is truly much closer to God than his old Bishop will ever be”. And, as a result of reading Father’s journal Monsignor Sleeth cannot bring himself to fulfill his mission and the “force” persuades him to issue a much more favorable report to the Right Reverend. The movie is titled “The Keys to the Kingdom”, a somewhat unoriginal but very apt title.
The key point is that as Father Chisholm is saying good bye to his congregation in China, having been recalled to Scotland for retirement, his chief lay minster and aide Joseph asks the dear Father to bless “these thy children” before he goes. If there was ever a tear jerker for me here it is: the scene of a large congregation kneeling in reverence before their priest, their father de facto if not de jure, and receiving his blessing. (Remember I am a bit eccentric) . That scene drove home the point the “force” was trying to get across. First, our role as parents never ends and second they extend so far beyond the boundaries of our own immediate family circle as to boggle the mind. Whether you have children or not, married or not, you are a parent, man or woman, you are a parent, a parent to any child of God in need of your help and your love. We must never turn away and never lay down that burden as it goes to the core of our souls. That does not mean we must forgo the joys of our own families only that we need to realize our “parenthood” is so much broader than that.
II The Gift
Well no shirt, no tie, no lawnmower or golf club for me this year. Rather a truly thoughtful gift from my wife and son: The Annotated Version of C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters. Manna from heaven! Have I not read the Screwtape Letters by this time, you might ask? Why yes, I would say. But, only recently and by chance ( I suspect the force had something do with this) did I run across a copy of the “annotated version” at my public library of all places. I found that this version contains the notes detailing the source material which Lewis used in composing the work and which he intentionally omitted so as to give his work broader appeal.
For example: Letter 1 beings “My dear Wormwood, ” and in this version there is a note attached to the word Wormwood, a footnote. The note says : From the Old English wormod (or wermod), a woody shrub (Artemisia), which has a bitter aromatic taste. It is used in the preparation of vermouth and absinthe and some medicines… Well, interesting to know but not that spectacular. However, the notes continue. In one local battle over the relationship between body posture and worship I found as a useful argument both the text of Letter 3 and the notes which accompany it:
One of their poets, Coleridge 1, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love ” and indulged a sense of supplication .”2 That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in for quite a long time.3 At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.
Note 1 references Samuel Coleridge as an English poet and literary critic best known for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Kuhn” and goes on to discuss Lewis’s respect for Coleridge but it also points out his rejection of Coleridge’s conclusions.
Note 2 points out that Lewis is quoting Coleridge’s poem “The pains of sleep” .
Note 3 quotes Lewis tribute to a “Prayer Without Words” from his Letters to Malcolm, chap 2.
Note 4 is the “silver bullet” and begs to be quoted in full:
Lewis echoes this idea in chapter 3 of Letters to Malcolm: “When one prays in strange places and at strange times one can’t kneel, to be sure. I won’t say this doesn’t matter. The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both the better for it….The relevant point is that kneeling does matter, but other things mater even more. A concentrated mind and a sitting body make for better prayer than a kneeling body and a mind half asleep. “In chapter 5 of Mere Christianity, Lewis writes, “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body -which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and out energy
So there it is! A better present could not have been had, a ready source of background and source material utilized in a great writing by one of the worlds’s outstanding theologians.
HAPPY FATHERS DAY and remember to bless and parent all of your children. Pax et bonum PN