Dad

On the mountains at the farthest border of the world,

Snow-capped and calling,

I felt my way to the thin line of the edge

And looked down into outer space

 

Where I could see the winds of stars fall asleep

Below my scarlet knuckles

As the northern lights, with their tin flame of foil fire,

Green and white diamond, filmed the midnight sky.

 

They told stories like my father,

Full of heroes and the beauties they fought for,

As every scene of laughter and of sorrow,

Played at once along the measures of their gleaming.

 

Then I balled a few rags of snow in my grasp

And clenched them hard enough for the cold to slide

Into my chest and crack my pounding heart alive

As I rose to my feet and steadied my shaking lungs.

 

I remember those tales well,

My father sitting by my bedside, holding

Oceans and sailing ships with the strength of

His love for me.

 

And I would follow him anywhere,

Through the forestry of childhood,

Keeping close to his heels as he

Showed me where to go,

 

Well into the iron winters of adulthood

As my stride slowly grew stronger, and

He taught me how to breathe

The mountain air of becoming a father.

 

For now, as I stand at the peak of this universe,

Filled with ice and the sweep of shooting stars,

I turn and see the faces of my own children and my beautiful wife,

Looking to me with the smiles of home,

 

And I know it is time to tell my own stories,

To hold their hands and lead them onward

As they keep close to my heels, and I show them

Where to go.

Together

A poem for my daughter, Julianna…


In the dream,

You and I were seated,

Side by side,

In the bench seat of a borrowed golf cart,

Touring the cracks and

Sparkling asphalt of our neighborhood

As the sun began to set.

 

Together,

We hummed through the endless turns

And quiet stretches,

Never bothering to circle back

(if that’s what one does in a winding subdivision),

And I laughed as your cheeks tightened

From smiling

And your blonde hair giggled in the wind.

 

I think we drove for hours,

You and I,

Always whirling around another corner,

Discovering the horizons that lilted with purpled light.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

I looked over at you

And your bouncing knees,

Clapping hands,

As you climbed the little ladders in your eyes,

Gazing into futures,

Wondering,

Eyelashes swept with spring.

 

The warm pull of our small motor

Rose into the sky

As you colored the clouds with your singing,

Like fingerpaint against infinite sheets

Of 97¢ construction paper.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

But then,

Slowly,

Our magic cart

Reached the end of the dream,

Our swirling atmosphere slurred to a stop

Like chalk,

Our wheels sticking on the fermata,

The song sustaining, the pedal dampened,

As my brain began to wake my body.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

I stumble through the early light

To open your bedroom door.

 

“I love you,” you sing.

“Good morning, Julie,” I respond,

 

And we both hear the click of the

Automatic coffee maker,

Heralding the dawn,

As we walk down the morning stairs

 

Together.

Goodnight Nobody

Goodnight Nobody

“Goodnight nobody”

So says Margaret Wise Brown’s narrator in the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon, a book that was read to me countless times as a child and is a favorite in the current rotation my wife and I are reading to our children. In the midst of the goodnights rendered to kittens, mittens, combs, brushes, and mush throughout the book, this particular sentence is quite startling.

I can’t help thinking of the phrase “Goodnight nobody” as one of the saddest utterances that many today unconsciously whisper as they lie down to sleep. Our American culture, so flooded by the New Atheism, is at war with the thought that there may be a God who built this ship and is sovereignly at the helm. They believe, as C.S. Lewis once did, that there is no God and they are mad at Him for not existing. As a result of this militant atheism, we have seen a noticeable rise in loneliness, meaninglessness, isolation, self-centeredness, and bitterness. Truth is no longer a concrete cornerstone but rather a confetti-gun explosion — everyone gets his own tiny piece of colorful “truth” upon which to build his house. And we all know what happens when the big, bad wolf blows on those houses.

To borrow an analogy from Douglas Wilson, the atheist’s creed is in accordance with John Lennon’s “Imagine”:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today”

There is no Heavenly Father for us to say goodnight to. Above us only sky. No eternal, sovereign justice awaiting anyone down here. Above us only sky. Above Dachau? Only sky. Above Ground Zero? Only sky. Above Syria? Only sky. We have certainly imagined, as Lennon desired, all the people living for today, and what we have gotten is a frenzied attempt to freeze time, to stay young forever, to be wealthy forever, to invest more in our online selves than our material selves. Our homes are selfish, our relationships selfish, our conversations selfish. We have exchanged the rod of Moses for the selfie stick of man. We are wound tight around our own axle, constantly getting what we have always wanted, and it’s making us so sad.

So when we lay ourselves down to sleep, we do not pray the Lord our soul to keep. We pray nothing. We say goodnight to nobody. When one of my daughters tumbles down and begins to cry, I swoop her up in my arms and softly say, “Daddy’s got you. It’s okay.” But for the modern atheist, he has no such comfort. For him, there is no cosmic Dad to hold onto, to cry to, to talk to. He has imagined Dad right out of the room and wonders why he feels so alone. He has shut his eyes tight to the notion of a Father God and questions why his world is so dark. In the ultimate analysis, his life is a blank page bearing the tragic inscription: “Goodnight nobody.”

As Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, the men and women merely players.” We are all most certainly acting out a grand story (see my discussion of Hamlet). Yet, the atheist must also adopt the bleak words of the Player, the lead actor in a traveling theater troupe in Tom Stoppard’s great play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

“You don’t understand the humiliation of it, to be tricked out of the single assumption that makes our existence bearable: that somebody is watching. We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people […] We need an audience.”

sisyphus_by_o__v-d66ox90If we are all actors in the cosmic theater of life, then the notion nobody is watching must be the most harrowing of all. Our tragedies and our triumphs would ultimately amount only to the enlargement or diminishment of the boulders that we, like Sisyphus, simply push up the mountainside. Unfortunately, the best the atheist can tell us in response to this horrendous thought is that we must imagine Sisyphus to be happy.

As Christians, we must constantly affirm the existence and presence of the Almighty God who not only created all things and sustains all things but cares for all things. Our lives have meaning because we are playing to His audience. We are seeking to glorify Him. We have received His divine approval. We have purpose. We are not marbles in a box, moving about aimlessly on this pale blue dot in the universe to no eternal or meaningful end. We are children of God. We say goodnight to Him as He lays us down to sleep. We are forgiven when we sin. We are raised to our feet when we fall. And when we come to die, we may echo the words of Christ and commend our spirit not into a blank oblivion but into our Father’s hands.