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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post: “Thy Nursing Fathers,” Some Thoughts on Priesthood and Motherhood

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Robbie Taggart is the father of four wild, holy children. His marriage to his radiant wife, Julie, has taught him more about joy than an other mortal experience. He is a teacher and a lover of good music, good poetry, good books, God's good earth, and good folks everywhere. He keeps a blog celebrating the holiness of the everyday.

Image via ChrisK4u

What does it mean to be a nursing father? This question has swirled around my head these days, eddying in and out of my consciousness. Nephi and his little brother loved the phrase. How many times does one of the prophet-brothers mention Isaiah's brief prophecy about Israel being brought home in the warm arms or on the sturdy shoulders of the Gentiles? "And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers." It's a tender image, and it's no wonder to me that Lehi's boys loved it so much. But what does it mean?

My mother-in-law tells that when she was a young mother, she used to say to her husband when she was pregnant or nursing: I wish you could feel this, experience this. The shiver of joy when you sense the first fluttering movements of another life bound within the walls of your rib cage. The iambic movement of another heart thrumming beneath your own. The true first communion, the connectedness, the at-one-ment of breastfeeding. I wish you could know. Perhaps some men would cough uncomfortably and look away, but I perceive the holiness of it all, the striking beauty of these miraculous gestures of love. And I sometimes wish I could know it experientially.

Last Sunday I stood shoulder-to-shoulder-shoulder in what became a wide ring of men in a sacrament meeting. Our left arms each rested lightly on the shoulder of the man to our left. With our right arms we each reached toward the center of the circle, our limbs becoming the small branches of a human nest, our fingertips gently brushing the white dress of my cousin’s baby girl—this small white bird who recently came flapping into this broken, holy world from some other reality, who nestled and cooed, eternity-eyed in the center of our whorl. An unspoken signal set us raising and lowering our arms rhythmically and in unison, as if to convince the child that a slight breeze was brushing the tree in which her safe nest lay, a calming, gentle ruach. This virile tenderness mixed with the slow pour of emotion pleading forth from the father's lips—prayer, petition, blessing—taught me of God. What God is like. How I can be like God.

I wish my wife could experience that, could know it experientially. Just as I wish I could know firsthand what it is to mother. So I think I understand why some women in the Church think that the priesthood should be offered, at least, to women. I understand that they have their reasons, all of which I don't pretend to fully comprehend, but I can imagine. There is a beauty and a strength and a grace to the priesthood. It is a surpassing gift. It is a wonder. It is, I feel, my tutorial in holiness. It teaches me to minister. I am grateful to be a part of it, to be held by it as much as I hold it.

I was thinking these thoughts tonight as I watched and listened to the exquisite local band The National Parks spill their songs into the evening air. What makes these songtellers—these storysingers—remarkable is their male/female harmonies. Sometimes the lilt and tilt of their melding voices made me feel like crying, the sheer loveliness of it. Harmony is a strange and wonderful thing: two voices singing the same thing, but singing differently. The combination is a synergy of sorts, a communion. And it struck me that life is a duet, or sometimes a whole rollicking polyphony of music. Remember how Hopkins puts it in his poem "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flames"?
AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
He writes about the unique glint of a kingfisher's feathers as it flies through the sunset night, the flash of a dragonfly's wings. He notes that each stringed instrument sings out its own name as it's played. There is uniqueness in the essence of all things. He goes on:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
It is the nature of all created things to be themselves, to declare or manifest their distinctiveness through their actions. But Hopkins has read his Paul; he knows the letter to the Corinthians, has probably contemplated the body with many members, the divine oneness of diversity:
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Christ plays in ten thousand places. He plays in the eyes of every mother watching over her child. He plays in the hands of every father blessing his sick baby. In a soaring harmony men and women can act in God's eye what in God's eye we are—Christ. There is no more honor in a guitar than a violin. Together they create a commingling that can be sublime.

I have heard women say, "But fatherhood—and not priesthood—is the equivalent of motherhood." Perhaps. But I feel like my priesthood encourages me to participate in the sacramental elements of fatherhood in a way I might not have opportunity to do otherwise. The ordinance of birth comes naturally (which is not to say easily) to women. Its mirror ordinance, the re-birth of baptism, is learned and performed at the sometimes shaky hands of a father. For a mother, the acts of nourishing, of feeding, begin moments after the mewling babe is strewn helpless and holy on this planet. And those feedings never stop. That sacrifice to sustain another is sacred. Boys have to learn, step by step, the process of preparing and passing a meal to a hungry group. The breaking of bread. The pouring of water. Every mother is a healer of broken hearts and broken skin. Her kiss is an unction of charity. Washings and anointings take place in bathtubs daily as mothers bend over their small ones, cleaning their lithe bodies. And every day, each naked child is clothed. These are the acts of godhood, of saviorhood: to give life, to feed, to heal, to wash, and to clothe. In a well-known statement Matthew Cowley asserts, "You sisters … belong to the great sorority of saviorhood. You may not hold the priesthood. Men are different, men have to have something given to them to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. You are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls. You are the co-creators with God of his children. Therefore, it is expected of you by a right divine that you be the saviors and the regenerating force in the lives of God's children here upon the earth" (Matthew Cowley Speaks (1954), 109).

Now, I don't pretend to understand the prodigious, mysterious thoughts of God. But I can conceive that perhaps He allows His boys to hold something almost tangible, something definable and solid like the priesthood so that we might learn to become not just dads but nursing fathers, godly, ministering men. Maybe He has His reasons. It might be that He needs gentle, strong sons to sing side by side with the gentle strong daughters who grace this radiant green planet. I can imagine that. My prayer is that I may be allowed to be a part of this work. I want to sing my part with feeling and with joy. And I want to sing it in harmony with the stunning women who have taught me the graces of mortal melody.

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