When Babies Are Impossible

Before we begin, I wish to tell you that mandrake may be used for suicide, as an anaesthetic, to abort a child, to conceive a child, and as an aphrodisiac.

Let us now begin.

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

Who penned these lines? I shan't tell you. At least, not yet. Only at the end of this post will I permit you to know. If you stay here with me, I will conduct you through verby halls built by men who knew that walls and roofs must be strong enough to support the meaning with which the world is charged everyday.

It takes a lot to live.

Here on Earth the air itself is so heavy that it can kill a non-tellurian. Despair is a common result of life in this atmosphere. But the words protect us, and then one day we are ready. We find the door, we are born, and the air is indeed meaningful.

Every day is charged and heavy, and in them things mean things. It's too much for some.

While you were sleeping your babies grew.
The stars shined and the shadows moved.
Time flew, the phone rang.
There was a silence when the kitchen sang.
Its songs competed like kids for space,
We stared for hours in our Maker's face.
They gave us picks, said "Go mine the sun.
Go gold, come back when you're done."
While you were sleeping you tossed, you turned,
You rolled your eyes as the world burned.
The heavens fell, the earth quaked.
I thought you must be, but you weren't awake.

-from Elvis Perkins' While You Were Sleeping

Do you realize what is happening when you're dead, or asleep, or not paying attention (which all amount to the same thing)? The world is being rearranged. Remade. That morning when you woke up new, you felt that way because all was indeed new. Your groggy draggy mornings are the false dawns; the days when you don't notice the weight or the glory are the days you are dying.

This is a world in which babies grow, stars shine, and shadows move. It's a world in which kitchens sing, and men mine the sun. Everything is a precarious miracle, precarious not because it is fragile, but because it so much might never have been.

It is the so much might never have been that this is about.

The song I quoted above is one that I'll loop into repeat every few months. I did that last week, and when I did it was reborn to me. Another lyric there from:

The oceans rose, sang about decay,
The witches flew, and the mermaids stayed.
Full of dreams you overslept.

Mermaids! A song about wonder, miracles, impossibilities, and death! Of course it has mermaids in it. Teach me to hear mermaids sing, I thought.

There was a man who seduced women but was then seduced by God. There was a man who ravished women, whom God ravished. In his time of seducing women he dwelt once upon impossibilities in the world. To him the greatest impossibility was finding a woman who would be faithful and true. Go and catch a falling star, he said.

If you journeyed ten thousand days and nights until age snowed white hairs on thee, still you would not find a faithful woman. And if you did, and we were to speak to her tomorrow, by then she'd already have allowed her fickle female herself to be turned.

Of course, the devil Donne, like the devil The Devil, could only see himself in others. The power hungry see power hunger, and seducers see only seduction. He was wrong, more on which later. But despite his false conclusion it will pay to examine Donne's list of impossibilities, in order backwards.

Things That Are Impossible, According to John Donne (Before He Found Love):

1. To find a woman true and fair.
2. To find what wind serves to advance an honest mind.
3. To keep off envy's stinging.
4. To hear mermaids singing.
5. To know who cleft the Devil's foot.
6. To know where all past hours are.
7. To get with child a mandrake root.
8. To catch a falling star.

John Donne found a Savior, and found a wife, was very poor, and had many children. Twelve in sixteen years, to be precise. When his beloved died, he wrote.

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravished,
Wholly in heavenly things my mind is set.

He had found a faithful woman, and been faithful, according to the will of his faithful Savior. His earlier conclusion untied, his evidences undone. If a woman might be true and fair, what other wonders might this world hold for us? Let us work through this litany of impossibility, then, but charge it with meaning.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing. A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven. Tongues of flame came and rested on each of them. The Holy Spirit is that wind. But they had everything in common, and there was not a needy person among them.

1. There are women true and fair.
2. The Holy Spirit is the Wind that advances the honest mind.
3. Grace keeps off envy's stinging.
4. One may learn to hear mermaids singing. You very well may have already; it's more common than many suppose. Odysseus and C. S. Lewis and I have.
5. Some say Pan, some say the Christ. This impossibility too is discoverable.
6. All past hours are here.
7. All women are mandrake roots, and they have babies all the time.
8. If the greatest Falling Star was caught and imprisoned, who's to say we might not imitate our Conquering Redeemer and do the same?

This is but one way to answer these impossibilities.

This world is a world of impossibilities. Of miracles. While you were sleeping, your babies grew. It is all precarious. It all might not have happened. What are the chances of finding a faithful woman? If you know women, then you know the chances are zero. And yet, it happens all the time. What are the chances of a mandrake root being got with a human child? Zero. And yet it happens all the time.

Miracles are so every breath that we treat them with dull contempt.

How hostile a place is a woman's womb, and yet how made like a home.

And this is that to which I was working. Every man is a sower, and yet so corrupt. Every woman is a garden bed, and yet so unclean. How could such a miracle as one single human child ever be? You know the answer. It could never be. And yet it always is, because the breath of the Lord sustains it.

This is a world of miracles. Every life is a miracle, and opens the door to a life of miracles.

How is it that we dare close that door? It is because we hate wonder. We hate to be amazed. To astonish ourselves, and be astonished. That would be to confess that the miracles are another's, that someone else is the greatest miracle-Maker. We madly deny that power exists in order to magnify our own power in comparison.

And yet to be astonished is to put little miracles in our own hands.

The lines printed at the beginning of this post were from G. K. Chesterton's By The Babe Unborn, the entirety of which I lay before you now.

If trees were tall and grasses short,
As in some crazy tale,
If here and there a sea were blue
Beyond the breaking pale,

If a fixed fire hung in the air
To warm me one day through,
If deep green hair grew on great hills,
I know what I should do.

In dark I lie; dreaming that there
Are great eyes cold or kind,
And twisted streets and silent doors,
And living men behind.

Let storm clouds come: better an hour,
And leave to weep and fight,
Than all the ages I have ruled
The empires of the night.

I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

They should not hear a word from me
Of selfishness or scorn,
If only I could find the door,
If only I were born.

The world, my brothers and sisters, is charged with the grandeur of God. It is all miracles. We sleep, we die, we tread, we tread, we tread. All we do is crush. And yet, for all this, the world is never spent. Christ ever renews the miracle.

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Every day is new. The deep down thing is life. Bring a sacrifice to the God of life, who requires not that you kill your babies, but that you offer living sacrifices. You yourself are a mandrake root.

Christ, have mercy upon us.


  1. Beautiful, brother. I knew Hopkins was coming. I could sense it. You jelly saying "charged". I love this post and will share it.


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