Tucking in my three-year-old Godson the other night, I reminded him of the fact that I am his Godfather. His immediate, passionate response at once brought me to laughter and convicted me.
“You’re not my Godfather! (long pause) Jesus is my God-Father!”
Let the reader understand, my statement had incredibly upset, even angered this child. I imagined a miniature Caiphas rending his clothes at my seemingly grave blasphemy. In his mind, I had called myself God. He couldn’t abide the outrage. Little does he know the humor behind his ironic misunderstanding and conflation of the term Godfather with the common prayer phrase “Father-God.” At the same time, the gap in his understanding exists from my own inept God-parenting. I have not given him a good enough category for what “Godfather” means.
Why mention this anecdote? The story is instructive when considering my own relationship to God. Consider…My higher viewpoint and greater knowledge made my Godson’s ignorant rejection humorous and endearing. His rejection kindled the desire to reach out to him more and better. I wonder if, in God’s providence our own rejections and foibles are as humorous for their being so ill-informed and weak. I was not threatened by my Godson’s rejection, in part because of the near inevitability of his eventually understanding the distinction between “Godfather” and “Father-God.” When it comes to God, however, our returns are by no means inevitable, yet God remains unthreatened by our passionate rejections, pitying my ignorance and patiently giving me (and other poor sinners) every opportunity to return to his kingdom. God’s patience is all the more incredible in light of the fact that my own rejection of God stems from sin rather than ignorance. While my Godson decried me due to a lack of knowledge, whenever I sin I reject God from a lack of love that amounts to contempt.
The whole episode reminded me, furthermore, of the second part of Evelyn Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisisted. Waugh aptly titles part two, “A Twitch Upon the Thread,” (a reference to one of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories [1911, The Innocence of Father Brown]). For those who haven’t read Brideshead, I will say that it tells the story of the Flyte (Marchmain) family, including multiple members’ flight from and eventual return to God and his Church. At the end of part one, Cordelia’s dialogue with Charles Ryder suggests the higher viewpoint from which to see the wanderings and spurning many of the characters offer to God:
"They've closed the chapel at Brideshead, Bridey and the Bishop; Mummy's requiem was the last mass said there. After she was buried the priest came in -- I was there alone. I don't think he saw me--and took out the altar stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday. I suppose none of this makes any sense to you, Charles, poor agnostic. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn't any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can't tell you what it felt like. You've never been to Tenebrae, I suppose?" "Never." "Well, if you had you'd know what the Jews felt about their temple. Quomodo sedet sola civitas . . . it's a beautiful chant. You ought to go once, just to hear it." "Still trying to convert me, Cordelia?" "Oh, no. That's all over, too. D'you know what Papa said when he became a Catholic? Mummy told me once. He said to her: 'You have brought back my family to the faith of their ancestors.' Pompous, you know. It takes people different ways. Anyhow, the family haven't been very constant, have they? There's him gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won't let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk -- I mean the bad evening. Father Brown said something like 'I caught him' (the thief) 'with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.'"
Each of the wayward Flytes feels God’s twitch upon the thread, quiet, almost imperceptible to any outside observer. For each of these family members, God’s gentle twitch came as an experience of great loss. For Cordelia, it’s the loss of the Eucharist from her home’s chapel; For Julia, it was sudden loss (at her brother’s strong word) of the ability to silence any longer her muted conscience ; for Sebastian, God’s twitch was the unjust loss of a poor soul whom he had learned to care for in time of need; and for the family patriarch, the twitch came at the loss of his battle with the flesh, realized in the humility of inevitably-approaching death. In their raging, their railing, their rejection of God, the Lord’s patient providence saw the ever-present opportunity for grace. Especially interesting is the twitch God makes upon the thread of the agnostic, Charles Ryder. With no conscience, no beloved, and no paralyzing fear of death, God twitches his soul by the loss of beauty and the loss of culture he sees in the destruction of the art and structure of Brideshead mansion and estate at the hands of the military. In their effort to protect the nation, they have, for Ryder, killed her soul to make room for a new generation of vacuous men without experience of transcendent beauty. The moment of conversion then requires a moment of loss, because only in the loss of our idol (be it rebellious pride, inconstancy, confidence in the power of the flesh, or aesthetic culture), do we discover that God is our portion. He is the truth, goodness, and beauty each of us seeks.
Returning our wanderings, then, to where this blog started…Here, then, is my confidence as a parent, as a Godparent. There’s nothing I can do to make sure my children and Godchildren reign with the Lord in his coming Kingdom (pray God they do), but I must remember my role is to attest to and witness to the invisible line between their soul and their maker, between my soul and my maker, to invite them to be watchful and sensitive for God’s gentle twitch. Sever not the line, Lord, and twitch us back to Thyself, as deep cries out to deep.