Sunday, February 02, 2014
The End of Christmas
Today is the last day of the Nativity season. Today, our Nativity scenes will come down. We play Christmas carols and hymns for the last time. It is the 40th day of Christmas, the day the Virgin Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem to be purified and that both she and St. Joseph brought the infant Jesus to be presented in the temple and to redeem Him as the first born son - the male who opened the womb. Jesus was the "Author of the Law accomplishing what was laid down by the law."
Our priest at the church we attend here gave a most excellent sermon drawing from the gospel reading for the Purification:
And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
"Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. - Luke 2:22-38
Father preached about how even though Jesus was God, and St. Mary and St. Joseph knew that, they still fulfilled God's law. That it wasn't simply an option to them. Yet, how easily we make excuses, and dispensations for our own disobedience. He went on to explain the obligation to attend the liturgy, and how easy it is to stop after that first lapse. He contrasted the ease of using contraception with the challenge of using NFP and charting. We really appreciated how he contrasted the actual opposites, rather than contrasting contraception with lots of children as our society does. He focused on how both Mary and Joseph went to present Jesus, not just one of them. The faith is transmitted when both parents share in it themselves and share in teaching it to their children. He closed by discussing how Jesus was not consulted as to whether or not He wished to do this. They did not wait until He was old enough to make a decision Himself. Their role as parent and guardian was to provide His most essential needs, such as food and shelter, clothing, education, but spiritual grace, belonging to the faith, was the primary need of any child. They, in modern terms, "forced" Him into the faith. The faith of the parents is what provides for their children's faith, and it was their job to provide it, just as they provide the other necessities to their children. Rich and I were thrilled to hear such a direct and true teaching.
This is the end of the infancy narrative of Jesus' life in scripture and in the liturgical year. We are moving now toward preparing for Lent and the Resurrection. We will live out His life and the lives of the saints throughout the year so as to experience them ourselves and grow more deeply in love and knowledge.
In our life this past year, we experienced a little of this on a more comprehensive level with Nejat. The Orthodox Church imposes (as did the western Church until the middle of the last century) a time of rest and recuperation on mothers. For 40 days she is to stay home with her baby, not even going to church, caring for herself and her child. She is brought back to church on that 40th day, to be purified and churched again, welcomed back into the assembly. Again, God shows His wisdom in guiding His Church. This is an excellent way to allow the woman to recover from childbirth in health, and a way to protect a tiny infant's immunity. An Orthodox friend of mine shared that her pediatrician, on learning this practice, said that she wished all churches taught this.
Since Nejat had a weakened immunity, we decided it would be wise to look to Mother Church for guidance. We had already come to the place that we wished to start this practice, but now, it was essential for her health. It was just to risky to introduce any other germs, bacteria, or viruses to her. So, I took 40 days of rest with her at home. I did miss much. I couldn't go to the girls' ballet recital (but we bought the video, and Rich took pictures for me), Jerome's t-ball games, Alexander and Dominic's fencing picnic. We couldn't allow even our own children to hold her until this time was over (and they scrubbed up as though entering the NICU/ICU before even going in the room with her). We were told not to allow anyone outside our immediate family to hold her until after she was six months old, and even then, only if they had not been exposed to serious illness.
It was a time of fear. It was a time of rest. It was a time of expectation. It was a time of weakness. It was a time of quiet. It was a time of learning. It was a time of creativity. Eventually, it was a time of strength. We had to lean on God each day. We had a brutal schedule of feeding her every two hours, which required waking a sleepy preemie newborn, sometimes stripping her naked to get her cold enough to wake up to eat, and since Rich had used all of his sick leave and vacation time with me in the hospital, he had to return immediately to work when we got home. Our other children had to do almost all of the cooking and cleaning and managing of our home, and Nejat had no margin of error. We were weighing her daily. She had been nursing so well, but was burning too many calories nursing, so we had to go to pumping and bottle feeding for the first three weeks or so. She was born at 4 pounds, 13 ounces, and by the time we brought her home from the NICU, only four days later, she was 4 pounds 4 ounces, well below the comfortable 10% weight drop. The day we were able to let her sleep through one feeding was a miracle. I learned hard lessons of literally crying over wasted milk, milliliters of it. A lack meant our daughter didn't eat. Even when I was permitted to nurse her directly (for two feedings a day), my supply was lower from the inefficiency of even a hospital grade, high end pump, and it was hard for all of us. Poor Rich woke one morning to his crying wife and tiny daughter who were on the couch having trouble nursing and me terrified of what it meant if our daughter couldn't gain enough weight to regulate her own temperatures and to develop. He told me to get him the next time, but more than that, he asked me to let go of my fear. He held my hands and prayed with me and pushed me to pray and give my fear to Him who casts out all fear. It was a time of refining.
I learned to lean on God in ways I never had to do before. We were watching for weight gains in half ounce increments. She grew, and she was able to nurse completely again, my supply came up, she passed her birth weight. She is doing well, though she is still much smaller than even our skinny babies are at this age. We've heard that she won't really catch up to her potential size and development until around two years old. Although she was born only a month early, since the trauma happened at two months prior to her due date, and we watched her growth and development in the hospital, we suspect that her body went from growth to development so she'd be ready to be born at any moment. She was so little, but she was able to do almost everything she needed to at birth. In some ways, though, it is like she was born two months earlier, so her development seems to match that. At first, she had excellent neck control from birth, she could nurse like a full term baby, she smiled right on time, rolled to her back on time, laughed close to on time, so I had hopes she'd just develop at a normal rate, but at nearly nine months, she still can't roll from he back to her stomach, though she's close and she can get on hands and knees and rock and scoots like nobody's business, she cannot sit up on her own, though she's getting there. At around 11 pounds, she just doesn't have the body mass to do this. We've only started her on tastes of some solid food because of this.
So, this year, as we walked through the Nativity season, we had a more intimate understanding of that time of separation and the time of purification. The first words Nejat heard from us were "I love you," and "Christ is risen!" They were the two most important things she needed to know. The first food she ate was the Eucharist, which was the most important food she could receive. A medicine for the soul and the body. Having lived through this experience has drawn us closer to God, to our faith, to each other, and as a family. It has distilled what is truly important and necessary about life and our faith to us. We are so much more dependent on the sacraments now, as those are truly the things that matter. We realize the reality of them in a way that we didn't before, even though we believed it before. So, coming to the Purification this year has been a deeper and richer experience, a more meaningful understanding of the faith that we hold.
I understand the weakened immunity and the need for great care in contacts only too well. My small granddaughter, just nine was sick just before Christmas and was diagnosed with leukaemia on New Years Day.
She was in hospital for two weeks and allowed home. That lasted just a few hours before she had to return having picked up a massive infection somewhere. I have not seen her for a month as I have had coughs, sneezes etc hanging around and I would hate to pass anything on. All up, she spent a month in hospital but has now been home for two days. Loads of special treatments and chemo and bone marrow biopsies etc. I stay at my place praying and knitting chemo caps as hair fell out a few days ago..
She too lost a lot of weight and she had none to spare to lose. Steroids are now making her eat a bit more, but have given her pancreatitis and diabetes.
Your little one will thrive on love and good care. I have known tinier, more premature babies come through and finally catch up.
Prayers for your whole family at this time. Especially for patience as you all work your way through this. God knows and cares.
I will remember to pray for your little granddaughter as well. What a hard road to walk for her, and her parents. God bless all of you.