Sunday, January 13, 2013
Poop, Pee, and Monastic Wisdom
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other” (Rom. 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters and brothers; to God, reverent love; to their prioress or abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.
– “The Good Zeal of Monastics” from The Rule of St. Benedict
It’s entirely appropriate, I believe, to categorize the birth of my firstborn as “world-altering”. And given this newfound state of existence, and given my propensity to seek wisdom from dead monks when my world is altered, I’m cracking open my copy of St. Benedict’s Rule, right on cue.
I’m finding it difficult to describe the joy, happiness, and chaos of these last three weeks. Jude Lawrence Adams was born on December 26th 2012, a day into Christmastide and also the feast day honoring St. Stephen the Protomartyr. And life since then has been ordered in an entirely different way than it was ever before.
By the way, I intentionally used the word ‘ordered’, because life certainly has become ordered. Whereas time used to be my own possession, bent to my will as I watched sci-fi on Netflix or read Tolkien on my couch late into the evening, suddenly my time belonged to another. Like clockwork, every three hours Jude lets out small cries that become large wails, all the while sticking out his tongue like a little lizard. I've even given Jude a nickname as he growls for his food: “Judeosaurus Rex”. First he gets the breast, then he gets a bottle. Little man is already a big eater! And in between these feedings, he might sleep, or he might stare longingly into Karen’s eyes, or he might poop and cry. A lot.
Like I said, my time is no longer my own. It belongs to another. I suppose it has always been that way. Speaking theologically, my time belongs to Christ. But even that reality often feels distant, or more theoretical then actual. But when I’m beholden to a helpless baby, waking to the volume of his cries or the warmth of his wet diapers, that which I’m doing for myself stops. It’s all about Jude.
The first few nights Jude was home were brutal. Like, up all night brutal. In between slamming Dr. Pepper’s, I’d pick up my copy of The Night Offices, a little prayer manual that follows the “Little Hours” rarely kept in parish ministry but often kept in monastic life. After I put Jude to rest, I’d read from The Night Offices and finish that feeding session with a brief prayer. I haven’t been consistent with this practice, but I often find myself praying somehow as Jude is in one hand and his bottle is the other.
So when I read this bit from The Rule of St. Benedict, it made sense to me. Sure, St. Benedict was talking about monastic life in the cloistered sense. But is his description of the “Good Zeal of Monastics” much different than what it means to be a father who seeks to embody the good man Jesus in this new vocation of parenthood? Jude’s little body is weak, eating at odd hours and sleeping most of the day. He has no control of when he poops or pees, and he doesn’t even bat an eye when he spits up on his fancy lion pajamas. And yet I am called as his father to be patient in these moments that most certainly try my patience.
I’ll be the first one to say I don’t like cleaning up poop. I hate it. And, if an adult ever wakes me up to ask for a glass of milk at 3:17am, I just might throw a punch. But with Jude, I set myself aside and seek his health, well-being, and wholeness. As St. Benedict says, “No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.” In a very real sense, I didn’t ask for this vocation. But, as vocations tend to do, it thrust itself upon me anyhow, and God’s grace is always there to meet me even as I learn what it means to be a father.
I may not be a member of the Order of St. Benedict. But now, I’m definitely a member of the Order of St. Jude. And I couldn’t be happier.