Tony Woodlief | Author

The forever yearning

Yesterday morning Isaiah came to our bedroom, enacting his self-appointed role as Mr. Rise and Shine. He stepped on our knees and ankles and flopped about with sharp elbows until he staked a position between us. Isaac followed. Wife rose to roust the rest of the household and begin her daily routine of re-establishing the precarious order without which we would all perish, or worse, descend forever into the land of untucked shirts and ill-bred speech.

After she left the room, Isaiah decided that he missed his mother. “I want Mama!” he wailed. Isaac and I rolled our eyes and shushed him. The sickly vein of melodrama runs deep among our family roots. On both sides.

“I want Mama!”

“Shh. Shh. She’ll be right back.”

Isaiah noticed Isaac’s stuffed lamb, tucked safely under his brother’s elbow. He reached out his arms. “I want Lamby!” cried the little coveter.

“No Isaiah. It’s my Lamby.”

“I want Lamby!”

We do not, as a rule, allow overt confiscation of property in this home. National economic policy be damned, on this spot of land that is ours, a man still has rights. So Isaiah was told he could not have Isaac’s lamb.

His eyes wandered over the room. They settled on a diptych I keep in my window, except when I am traveling, when I tuck it into my luggage and ferry it to otherwise godforsaken places like Washington, D.C. It has a small icon of Christ on one side, and Mary on the other. Isaiah again threw out his arms. “I want Jesus!” Isaiah cried.

So I gave him Jesus. He kissed His face. He kissed Mary’s face. Since then Isaiah has not parted with Jesus. He sat with the diptych open in front of him at breakfast. He brought it to the restaurant where I met them all for lunch. He took it to bed. He had it with him again this morning.

“Dad,” Isaac asked me, “did you just give Jesus to Isaiah?” He is a firm believer in property rights.

And I don’t know the answer to his question. Can any of us give Jesus? Can we not? I am sure there are very logical, soul-killing theological answers that are unimpeachable to the scholars who peddle them. Did I give Isaiah Jesus? I certainly would if it were in my power. Even at the cost of my own tattered, darkened soul, I would.

But I suppose Christ is no more mine to give than He is yours, or even His own. Instead He watches over all creation, ignored by the urbane and the overly educated, espied by the weeping toddler, making fools of kings and princes of paupers, poured out for all and yet eluding many.

I pray the eyes of my sons, like Isaiah’s that morning, go to Him. Not to me. Not, please God, to me. Would I give them Christ, if I could? Will I, if I can?

Take this icon. Take this cross. Listen to these words. Bow beside me now, child, and quiet your spirit, and listen past the mumbled prayer, not with your ears but with the center of your soul. Look with the eye of your heart, not at me, not at me. I cannot give Him to you, son, but I can point you down this path, and perhaps you will tread farther than I, and as you go, don’t look back, not for anything, but press on past reason, past logic, past fear, past hurt, past the sins of your father and his fathers before him. I cannot give Him, child, but it is He Who gives Himself to you. As soon as you cry I want Jesus, He is there, and your small heart knows this, which is why you clutch a fragile piece of wood covered in paint, not because this is Christ but because you don’t know better than to clutch it, because you were crafted a physical being and not knowing better, you still believe you can hug Him to you. I pray to God you never lose this yearning, that instead it stays in you like a hunger, hurtling you along that path to a place your heart knows as Home.

I want Jesus, you said. May your prayers, child, come always back to this.

On Key

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