It’s been a while since my last blog post. Here’s why: our son Ian Longhurst-McClellan is nearly two weeks old. I am biased, to be sure, but he is the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen. With large and curious blue eyes, he soaks in color and movement, mommy and daddy—everything new. He gropes and grasps with his tiny fingers. My favorite moment: after sleeping, he throws his stubby arms overhead and gives a yawn and stretch.
These two weeks of fatherhood have me reflecting on three themes in particular from Christian spirituality: chaos, kenosis, and community.
Parenting is chaotic, as most Canaan newsletter readers will know from experience. The house becomes messy and laundry loads multiply. Bodily fluids overflow. I walk to one end of the house hoping to accomplish something, and by the time I arrive there, my tired mind has lost that thread of purpose. We who are Christians know, however, that chaos does not mean abandonment by God’s presence. In fact, just the opposite: chaos in Scripture can be a productive space of creation. Remember the opening scene of Genesis? “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (1:2). According to Clarke’s Bible Commentary, the Hebrew terms for void and darkness (tohu and bohu) convey confusion and disorder—chaos. But what happens to this confusion, disorder and chaos? The next line of the verse tells us: “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Chaos becomes creation, a new universe. With the Spirit’s help, what could easily become an overwhelming and anxiety-ridden time of new parenting transforms into a time of creation, abundance, and joy.
The chaos of parenting invites me into kenosis, which is the New Testament Greek word meaning self-emptying love. The word is used in Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Writers like Cynthia Bourgeault claim that kenosis sums up the basic energy and thrust of Jesus’ entire ministry. His whole ministry, Bourgeault claims, is a demonstration of kenosis. She writes in her book The Wisdom Jesus, “In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher” (p. 64).
In my brief two-week experience of parenting, it seems to me that loving parenting is all about kenosis. It means that I will rise in the middle of the night to change his diaper, even if I’m getting up at 5:30am to visit hospice patients. It means that if Faith needs a break to breath the air outside the house, I will gladly hold and bounce Ian in my arms. It means that if he’s crying I will find out why he’s crying and attempt to soothe him. It means that my agenda and desires do not come first—they are forsaken, emptied for a larger loving purpose. This is a tall order, and let me be the first to admit that I fail utterly at it (as Faith will tell you). A crying baby and sleep-deprivation pushes at my emotional trigger points. Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I become impatient. But reflecting on Jesus’ ministry as a ministry of kenosis provides an inspiration and spiritual call for those 3am moments of quick and less-than-compassionate response.
Finally, and a bit less esoteric: new parenting requires community. This is humbling for both Faith and I. We like to think of ourselves as “do-it-yourself” people. Strong and capable. But we have by necessity needed to lean on others to make it through this transition into parenting. The Canaan Church so thoughtfully stocked us with blankets, baby clothes, cash, and a solid changing table (which is getting a lot of use!). Personal friends have brought home cooked meals by at just the right times. Our parents have stayed with us to provide support in ways that we needed: taking a midnight feeding or diaper shift, going grocery shopping, even doing our laundry. We are filled with gratitude to have such a supportive community, and we are humbled by the generosity that has sustained us. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Chaos, kenosis, community. These three themes run through all aspects of our lives, whether we are parents or not. Our jobs, relationships, commitments, caregiving, volunteering, and family lives offer us the opportunity to respond with kenosis in chaotic situations, all while relying on the support of community. May it be so, and may Christ’s witness and the Spirit’s presence be our guide.