On Growing Up: A Letter to my Children

[Someday, perhaps, I will have children. There will be a great many things I wish to tell them, long before they are listening at all. That is the thing about the knowing you carry in the core of your heart: you can give it away every day of your life, but you cannot make anyone take it. And how will they know I was a child too, once? That what seems to them like a long age of dusty history was a short flash of years to me? That just as I started to figure it out, it was over?

I will write a letter. A letter from here, from 20 years old, from the barest bank on the other side of the bridge that only takes you halfway there. I will dedicate it to the children I may someday have. And to all the children that are mine in the Kingdom of Heaven.]

Children Running
My Dear Children,

You are vibrant with breath. You are bright-eyed and beautiful. When you take it into your head to do a thing, you do it, and the crimson pump in your chest keeps time.

It is called life, and it is a gift you could do nothing to earn. In addition to that, it is a gift much too big for you, like a too-large sweater with sleeves dangling into the spaghetti. You must grow into it. That is what it is about. It is about coming to a coming of age that is more than the number of candles on a cake, or of discarded calendars. Quite simply put, it is about growing up.

Do not imagine that growing up has anything to do with growing old. For we all grow old (and if you do not know this now, oh! you will know it very soon) but only some of us ever grow up. You must not think that because you are young, you cannot grow up yet.

Someday you will be old. And in that day, you must not think that because you are old, you have grown up already.

For to grow up means more than the putting away of childish things. It means also the putting away of adultish things, of the wisdom of the world that clings ever closer as old age comes on. And you were born with a great many adultish things about you. You must grow out of all of this. Out of power-hunger and hard pride and cynical un-love. Out of the shallow pretenses of wisdom. Out of fear.

There is a childhood into which we have to grow, just as there is a childhood which we must leave behind,” wrote George MacDonald. “A childlikeness which is the highest gain of humanity, and a childishness from which but few of those who are counted the wisest among men have freed themselves in their imagined progress towards the reality of things.”

Child, you must grow out of willfulness and into the strong will. You must grow out of reasonable anxiety and into the reckless abandon of trust. You must grow out of good resolutions and into obedience. You must grow out of innocence and into purity. You must grow out of self-sufficiency, and grow into the deep, deep debt. Little children, you must grow out of the fool’s paradise and into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I can say all of this to you with no lingering arrogance, for I was a child not long ago, – oh, such a little while ago! and I know all about it. I know what it is to be a new-comer to the wonder-filled world and the delight. I know what it is to be young and perfect and boisterous.

I know what it is to be at the center of my own universe and bitterly dissatisfied with my reign. I know what it is to be small and weak and overcome with vanity.

But more than all of that, I know what it is to be seeking after the good things with almost my whole heart. I know what it is to be fascinated and intrigued by glorious righteousness, and yet to shy away from the kind of giving up that is required. I know what it is to be holding something back.

Child, as long as you are holding something back, you are a child still, you have not grown up.

KnightAnd this is the answer to all the riddles: growing up is giving up. When you get there, you will know it. It is giving up your vast dreams, your lively freedom, your marked-up maps, your own way, your own notions about the way things are, and the way they should be. It is a bowing of the knee. And when the boy has bowed his knee before the throne of the sovereign, it is then that he feels the scepter of the sword come down on his shoulders and rises a knight, a slayer of dragons, a man of action. Because most of all, growing up is an action.

Let me tell you the way of things in the Kingdom of Heaven. The truth is not given to you all at once. That is not the way of the learning that really matters. Truth comes in like the rising tide: one wave a little bigger than the next. What is different is that the ocean goes on beating the sand regardless of everything. But truth must have your permission before it can wash any deeper into you. It is a stark, strong, beauty and it will not waste itself on the unready heart.

When there is a thing that you know you must do, you must do it. When you do it, you will grow. Immediately you do it, you will know something you did not know before. You will know it in your core, and it will change you. If you do not do it, you will not grow. If you do not do it for a hundred years, you will be a hundred years old and a hundred years wasted. There is no other way to grow up.

Until you have come as far down this road as I have come, I hope you will be able to look at me and know there are good things ahead, that the thin little road is worth taking, in spite of the steep ascent, and the tight, mysterious curves.

But if you obey soon and do not wait long to do the thing that is given, you will fast leave your childhood behind and grow into my brother, my sister. I hope you will not be satisfied with that. For I did not do as well as I might have done. I left so much undone, and took such a long time to do anything at all.

Fix your eyes on the Master. Make him your ambition and your finish line, your homecoming, your resting place. Together we will run the long course. We will race.

Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

After all, we are only little children walking through the snow and rain.

I tell you the truth,” said the Master, when he was walking among us to bear witness to the truth. “whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter.” For this reason, we need someone who will call us “child” as long as we live.

Child! What I want to say to you is as near to me as my own breath: stay young, little children. But grow up.

The Hunting of the Dragon

Hunting of the Dragon
THE HUNTING OF THE DRAGON
(by G.K. Chesterton)

When we went hunting the Dragon
In the days when we were young,
We tossed the bright world over our shoulder
As bugle and baldrick slung;
Never was world so wild and fair
As what went by on the wind,
Never such fields of paradise
As the fields we left behind:
For this is the best of a rest for men
That men should rise and ride
Making a flying fairyland
Of market and country-side,
Wings on the cottage, wings on the wood,
Wings upon pot and pan,
For the hunting of the Dragon
That is the life of a man.

For men grow weary of fairyland
When the Dragon is a dream,
And tire of the talking bird in the tree,
The singing fish in the stream;
And the wandering stars grow stale, grow stale,
And the wonder is stiff with scorn;
For this is the honour of fairyland
And the following of the horn;

Beauty on beauty called us back
When we could rise and ride,
And a woman looked out of every window
As wonderful as a bride:
And the tavern-sign as a tabard blazed,
And the children cheered and ran,
For the love of the hate of the Dragon
That is the pride of a man.

The sages called him a shadow
And the light went out of the sun:
And the wise men told us that all was well
And all was weary and one:
And then, and then, in the quiet garden,
With never a weed to kill,
We knew that his shining tail had shone
In the white road over the hill:
We knew that the clouds were flakes of flame,
We knew that the sunset fire
Was red with the blood of the Dragon
Whose death is the world’s desire.

For the horn was blown in the heart of the night
That men should rise and ride,
Keeping the tryst of a terrible jest
Never for long untried;
Drinking a dreadful blood for wine,
Never in cup or can,
The death of a deathless Dragon,
That is the life of a man.

Desdichado

Desdichado, Having Decided To Stay, Bryana Johnson I came upon this lovely piece by Dorothy Sayers over at Noel’s blog. I find the title especially fascinating, as it appears in Ivanhoe when the mysterious knight appears at the tournament, identifying himself as ‘Desdichado.’  The book claims the term is Spanish for ‘Disinherited One,’ (although a more literal defintion is ‘unfortunate’).

DESDICHADO

Christ walks the world again, His lute upon His back,
His red robe rent to tatters, His riches gone to rack,
The wind that wakes the morning blows His hair about His face,
His hands and feet are ragged with the ragged briar’s embrace,
For the hunt is up behind Him and His sword is at His side, . . .
Christ the bonny outlaw walks the whole world wide,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Lie among the bracken and break the barley bread?
We will see new suns arise in golden, far-off skies,
For the Son of God and Woman hath not where to lay His head.”

Christ walks the world again, a prince of fairy-tale,
He roams, a rascal fiddler, over mountain and down dale,
Cast forth to seek His fortune in a bitter world and grim,
For the stepsons of His Father’s house would steal His Bride from Him;
They have weirded Him to wander till He bring within His hands
The water of eternal youth from black-enchanted lands,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Or sleep on silken cushions in the bower of wicked men?
For if we walk together through the wet and windy weather,
When I ride back home triumphant you will ride beside Me then.”

Christ walks the world again, new-bound on high emprise,
With music in His golden mouth and laughter in His eyes;
The primrose springs before Him as He treads the dusty way,
His singer’s crown of thorn has burst in blossom like the may,
He heedeth not the morrow and He never looks behind,
Singing: “Glory to the open skies and peace to all mankind.”

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me?
Was never man lived longer for the hoarding of his breath;
Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking, . . . why, how small a thing is death!”

(Dorothy Sayers)