"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Call Me "Da"

Watching now-eight-month-old Clara develop has brought joy and awe. More specifically, watching her discover. It’s not just about height and weight or common developmental milestones. It’s Clara’s own experience of discovering something new about herself, about others, about the world.

I’m relatively weak on child development and psychology and hope to take a course at UC Berkeley in the next couple of years to enhance my understanding of child (and adult) development, in connection with my research interests in the area of Christian Spirituality. So I’m a little sheepish about speaking too firmly of Clara’s self-awareness and potentially misinterpreting what’s happening to and in her. But I don’t think it takes a comprehensive knowledge of the matter to discern her journey of discovery.

I mention this because last night, while holding her on my lap, Clara looked me in the eye, gently brushed my nose with her right hand, and said “Da.”

Now that I’ve reconstructed my heart into one unified whole after gathering its shattered remains last night, scattered about the living room due to explosion from an incapacity to contain the sweetness of that moment, I feel I can think clearly enough to reflect on this tender experience.

I am deeply involved in Clara’s life but also a spectator, observing a steady stream of basic discoveries. I recall her discovery of the P-sound, which sounds more like farting and is continuously funny, because, I’m twelve years old. The discovery that we still exist even when she can’t see us (object permanence). The discovery of new preferred foods, some initially met with reticence but eventually embraced and enjoyed. The discovery of her toes. The discovery of laughter and the way such laughter has evolved and multiplied. 

The discovery of my face and glasses (and that these glasses can be removed). The discovery that she can be interested in two objects at once but not look at them at the same time if placed in opposite directions, causing much back and forth turning of the head. And the discovery that I, the one with the deeper voice, the one who doesn’t produce milk, the one with grab-able chest hair, the one who sings “Clara, Clara was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine...” to her when I change her diaper, the one who has been second-most present with her in her eight months out of the womb…the discovery that I am “Da” (for my old English students, “Da” is short for “Daddy”).

I find Clara’s journey of discovery not only beautiful in itself but also a reminder and a challenge. A reminder that I too, despite being an adult, am still on my own journey of discovery, the character of which obviously looks different from my daughter’s; and a challenge to be open to such discovery and not become closed or static but, rather, perpetually open and exploring.

Discovery—and its implication that I’ve not yet fully arrived or mastered all—is a constant in my life. I discover new foods. New stretches. New routes. New personality quirks, some fun and some harmful. New theologians and perspectives. New people. New questions. New answers. New likes, new dislikes. New longings, preferences, desires. New fears (or new understanding of old fears). New doubts, and new hopes. Like Clara, I continue to discover what it means to be specifically me, Matt, and what it means to be more generally a human person in community with people, with creation.

A theological suspicion I have: God enjoys our human process of discovery. I suspect that God, who I don't wish to simply anthropomorphize yet who I believe to be deeply personal, responsive to and affected by humankind, is pleased with the journey of self-discovery of the human community, at least where such discovery is good and beautiful or where it leads to the bringing of goodness and beauty to where these are lacking.

I don’t think human ignorance is our primary predicament, an evil to be overcome; I think the human journey of discovery is the way God wants it, probably the best way. A journey perhaps not best understood as one from perfection to sin to salvation, as it’s often been framed, but rather, from child to adult, from seed to fruitful tree, from seeing partially to seeing more and more fully. I suspect my experience of Clara's discovery, to some extent, echoes God's experience of creation.

Clara has already discovered much but will discover more; “Da” will soon be superseded by “Dada” and “good morning” and “get the hell out of my room, I hate you.” But for now, I will savor “Da” and this particular moment in our shared journey.

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