Grandparenting as a mystical experience

"Learning anew"

Grandparenting as a mystical experience

There were birds in the air but I never heard them singing…


The  first time I held my granddaughter Taryn I knew I had never felt as I did in that moment.


I knew I had never had that feeling holding my own four children. Hoping I had been and was still not a particularly bad parent  but never having experienced that same feeling as I was having holding my granddaughter Taryn.


Then I looked at Siobhan and Trevor and realized that, as a parent of a young child, I had been as tired as they were now.


It was not about being able to enjoy the good times knowing I could hand Taryn back to Siobhan and Trevor anytime. It was about being in, enjoying, experiencing the moment with Taryn (the cynic might say because I knew I would be handing her back to her parents)…


And this was got me started on experiencing grandparenting as a mystical experience. I didn’t realise that my granddaughter was inviting me to become a mystic until I stood in the next urinal to Matthew Fox at the American Catholic Council in Detroit over Pentecost 2011.


I suppose that requires a little explanation. I first met Matt Fox in the mid 1970s and brought him to Hamilton, Ontario to speak to the teachers of the Hamilton-Wentworth CDSB at Mohawk College in 1978. This was in the days when supervisory officers like John Grosso, Pat Brennan, Peter Burns and Jim Hanson supported Catholic teachers being exposed to theologians who would challenge and support them on their journey from children to adults of God.


Well since that time I have heard both Matt and Brian Swimme on a number of occasions, read their books and watched their videos. They sent me back to Teilhard and dragged me struggling to Thomas Berry, Diarmuid O’Murchu and the new cosmologists as well as to Michael Morwood and other adult educators who invited Catholics to mature belief and to Miriam McGillis, Heather Eaton and the many women who simply lived their Catholicism as 21st century adults and left the priests and hierarchy to worry about cappa magnas and Latinized liturgy.


But back to our urinals in Detroit. I bent Matt’s ear talking of my grandaughter as I have to anyone and everyone I have spoken with since March 23rd 2010 when Taryn joined us one month earlier than expected.


Matt listened and suggested that I write a paper on grandparenting as a mystical experience and in that simple suggestion helped me name the blessing my granddaughter was to me. Karl Rahner said that Christians would be mystics and my granddaughter began the process for me.


The grandparent mystical experience can only happen after you become a grandparent…you cannot hothouse it. I don’t believe you can fast-track it.


Looking at this from the perspective of history Nora and I had the same concerns as Siobhan and Trevor 30+ years earlier as we began our family with Corey, followed by Siobhan, Dan and Kevan.


Mysticism is about getting in touch, enjoying the moment, staying in the moment, recognizing the moment.


Parenting, and particularly parenting of young children (i.e. boys up to 35, girls maybe up to 25) gets you out of touch with getting in touch and “is happy” to keep things moving along. Getting in touch means stopping the “moving along” and relishing the moment.


Let me give a concrete example. Taryn is almost 2 and a half years old. She wants to do everything for herself. As her biblically three score and ten year old granddad I have nowhere to go and can let her do what she wants to do.

Let me be even more specific. Taryn wants to fasten herself into her car seat. She is very proficient at doing this. But even so she still sometimes has difficulty and can take quite some time before she asks for help. When she first wanted to fasten herself into her car seat it could take, 10, 15, 20 minutes and as a grandparent not only did I have the time to let her do it and was lost, fully immersed in her doing it.


I reflected that as a parent, working, with places to be, appointments to keep, shopping to get, meals to make, I did not have the time to let her do it and become lost, fully immersed in her doing it.”


Benedict had his monks take time out from their working day (the Hours), Ignatius invited his Jesuits to make their actions prayer but neither group had children. Perhaps this is the only legitimate reason for voluntary celibacy and perhaps why it is grandparenting and not parenting that is the mystical experience, at least for most of us.


As a retired old fart I read as many books as Taryn wants, sing as many lullabies as her ear can take and have her fall asleep on my shoulder for as long as I want because I don’t have dishes to wash, carpets to clean, laundry to fold, essays to mark or lessons to plan.


And because I am learning slowly to live in the moment and celebrate that “it is very good”.


With more to come.



POEM OF THE WEEK: This poem by Edward Hirsch, taking place in a dusky snowfall, might cool you off on a hot summer day even while it sets the heart aflame.



I Am Going To Start Living Like a Mystic


Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater

and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.


The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,

each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.


Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies

are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.


I will examine their leaves as pages in a text

and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.


I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel

and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.


I shall begin scouring the sky for signs

as if my whole future were constellated upon it.


I will walk home alone with the deep alone,

a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.


–Edward Hirsch

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