Enormous Bliss

When Micah was born we received a gift from a favorite aunt, a “Rainforest Peekaboo Waterfall Soother.” Designed to be hung on the side of the crib, it’s a sort of magical jungle scene in plastic. There’s a swinging monkey, bubbling fish, and a fluorescent blue glowing waterfall. Along with the sound of crickets and croaking frogs, it plays soothing music in a tranquil flute-like tone. Recently Micah’s taken to ramming his head against it as if he wants to crawl right inside. I can’t say that I blame him — the gaudy plastic thing has this captivating and practically heavenly quality, as if it’s some Garden of Eden we’ve universally been ejected from.

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It calls to mind a passage from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to enormous) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but of desire for what? Not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past—and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing which had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.

He makes the case for God with this unnamable yearning. I wonder if that’s what Micah feels as he tries to climb into the Fisher Price dreamland – an urge to return to some lost peace, a heaven he has so lately come from. Or maybe he just wants to get to the monkey and play. But it reminds me of the magic of C.S. Lewis’ handmade moss-filled terrarium. It’s beautiful but somehow lost to us. It’s fantastic but inaccessible. Whether the soother is spiritual or sensual, the fact that I’m seeing either of those things in it seems a clear indication that my life is lacking both.

Micah is my spirituality these days. His is the best kind of nourishment of soul: pure, joyful, sweet. His smiles melt me. With him life is wonderful and simple. His laughter comes easily and lifts me. I hold him and he holds back.

But this week, hoping to find some balance to my post-baby, way-too-jam-packed life, I resolved to seek out a more conventional mode of spirituality. I decided I’d go to church. I have a long, and fettered relationship with organized religion, so the idea made me uneasy. I’d go to Holy Ghost Church, because it’s got a long history, and if any church has more likelihood of God’s presence, it’s probably one He’s known about awhile. (Since 1879, as a matter of fact. Think of all the worshippers and soul-seekers who’ve walked through that door!) I told David what I was planning to do a couple hours before mass and he looked at me like I was insane. But it wasn’t about repenting or being good, or even rekindling any relationship with God. It was about nourishing my spirit in the non-Micah holy way. I decided while everyone else was singing and listening and partaking of the sacrament, I would do what is communal with the spirit to me: breathe in and feel calm, breathe out and feel happiness.

To start this experimental Sunday, I decided to go for an early dawn run. The sound of my feet on the pavement and deep, steady breaths filled my ears. The clouds glowed golden in the horizon. Breathe in, feel calm, breathe out, feel happy. I went around and around listening to my breath and feeling small yet peaceful under a majestic sky, and later in the morning when it came time to go to church, I saw all those cars in the parking lot, and drove right past. I wasn’t going to find what I’m seeking there.

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