Waking up to the sweet smell of burning effigies reminds me primary season is upon us. If this were a normal year, I’d dust off the ‘ol Facebook Commenter 5000 keyboard and start spending all day on the Internet. It would be a lonely life but a worthy sacrifice for the crusade against [insert political candidate here].
But this year, I’m hoping, will be different.
I’m coming to see the roller-coaster ride of politics might need to be toned down a little. My life has shifted; at any given moment the word on my mind is no longer “Trump” or “Biden” or any such thing.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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See, I recently had the privilege of privileges of witnessing a new life entering this world. Such an everyday sort of miracle—but an extraordinary moment for me and my wife. Memories of birth stick with us in the decades that follow the first time we meet our children, kept alive every year by the repeated cake and presents of their birthday anniversary. And that’s all for the best, I say, and not just because of my love of cake and presents. The moment of birth is the start of a lifelong relationship with an immortal soul; and that is worth remembering.
Yet in the weeks that immediately followed my son’s birth, I was struck by another lesson which I hope lingers in me just the same—a deep reverence for the gift of simplicity.
Like the primaries, pregnancy is a busy time. Organizing the baby shower, setting up the nursery, endless doctor’s visits, and financial planning—all good and necessary preparations for a human’s arrival. But once at the hospital, everything grinds to a halt. There is no longer any worry in the world except the immediate contractions, the flurry of doctors, and the little babe soon to come.
The world suddenly becomes very small, but it appears all the larger for it. Prior preoccupations with what’s going on in Washington, D.C., (or Vatican City) vanish. I could care less when faced with what’s going on in that 12-foot by 12-foot hospital room. Arguments about theology evaporate; God is here, in the quasi-Incarnation of another human soul, and words will no longer do. Formerly lengthy novenas or complicated debates are instantly replaced by heart-wringing pleas to Heaven outside the operating room or desperate cries for just thirty minutes of sleep, please.
And still nothing seems lost. To hold your child or your wife again; to bow before the mystery of life; to feel the limits of your body and yet find God still there with you. These explode upward to reveal themselves as the very fabric of humanity and, in a flash, order the entirety of your existence.
This is the beautiful simplicity of a newborn. Of course, children (and eventually parents) need to grow up. Upon further reflection, it might be that what happens in Rome or Washington actually impacts the people in that hospital room. A baby must soon encounter the world himself; and our theologies, politics, and formal prayers turn out to matter after all.
But they never will matter in the same way.
In our age, we’re pulled into ideologies, news cycles, and competing tribal allegiances. We are urged to always have an opinion just to have an opinion. Everything matters, we are told—certainly everything about our potential candidate, at least! If Trump or DeSantis or Biden or [etc.] doesn’t win, the world will crumble into an endless hell of corruption and train derailments.
The simplicity a new life brings is a remedy to our frantic age. Not everything the media tries to sell to us really matters. Some things matter, but only because of what they mean for what’s ultimately important.
And sure: primaries and elections are worth something. But not, I charge, as much as we are told.
They are not the ultimate end of life; nor even of public life. The cult of candidacy is no match for the cult of the saints; and our great political families are no substitute for our own flesh and blood.
This is the lesson taught to us by babes. They have a single-minded focus on the one important thing of growth and survival. And they force us to have singled-minded focus on them. We need such simplicity to order ourselves properly. Life, relationship, and most of all God—these are what our hearts seek. All the rest will fade away.
I will still engage with politics this primary season, but I’ll do so now with a new light. The next time I find myself in the comments section, I can pause—let my blood pressure settle—and call to mind what all this is for.
Only then can I turn on caps lock and tell “unionsupporter1965” just what I think of him with clear eyes.