"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

On Spiritual Fatherhood

The idea of spiritual fatherhood is an important one in Eastern  monasticism--and spirituality generally. There have been a number of hefty scholarly treatments of spiritual fatherhood, including one on St. Symeon the New Theologian and another on the practice in Romania. But I mean something quite different when I use the term "spiritual fatherhood" in connection with a new book by Tony Woodlief: 

Somewhere More Holy: Stories from a Bewildered Father, Stumbling Husband, Reluctant Handyman, and Prodigal Son (Zondervan, 2010), 208pp.

I have followed Woodlief's droll blog for several years, having stumbled upon it after reading one of his pieces in the Wall Street Journal. He is always interesting to read, perhaps especially recently as one watches his evolution towards Orthodoxy, a well-trod path among Protestants.

So of course I had to order his book at once and read it when it came out earlier this summer. It is a short but searing book, and in reading parts of it I was put in mind of the frequent counsel of the Desert Fathers to their sons: hold nothing back, but reveal all your struggles to your spiritual father. Woodlief's struggles are on display in this book, but not in a salacious way--though I couldn't help but wonder if he might not have written some of this if he already had access to sacramental confession with a priest. In any event, this book contains some very felicitous spiritual insights derived from fatherhood.

Being a biological father of young children raises spiritual questions and gives rise to theological insights--tiny anabatic glimpses, to be sure, but no less valuable because of that--into the nature of the Father's love for His children. Children are, quite without intending it, theophanies in their very being. Our love for them gives us some small glimpse into the ineffable gift of God's love for us in Christ. Their love for us, in turn, can be a source of great healing to our souls. As Charles Ryder, the narrator of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (read the book first, and then see the original 1981 British mini-series--not that ghastly 2008 sodomy-and-incest-as-sacrament film which is fit only for burning): "to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom." It is to Woodlief's considerable credit that he is able to manifest this lesson to us so winsomely.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...