Monday, October 5, 2009

The Song of Simeon and Visions of Johanna

When Simeon was born the idea of naming him after a wizened old man didn't seem so strange. He frowned, had a mole with a black hair squarely in the center of his head, and a double chin. He looked world worn and wise. We had just experience a mesmeriznic Christmas and this grand, post Christmas Saint was on our mind. Moreover, I truly have always loved the story of Simeon and Hannah who in the context of a Lukan account where no one seems to understand nothing--they get it! Moreover, I was reading the works of T.S. Eliot and loved his poem "Song of Simeon." But, to look at him now. Well, it just seems absurd. He is the most joyful, boyish, squirrel-ly little squirt. It is hard to imagine him growing into a name with such gravitas. But, there are times when I realize that there is more to Sim than meets the eye and that he has this deep, inner life that is hidden from me. I remember how much thoughts of God, Hell, Jesus, and Eternity animated my mind starting as a small child and I am intriqued to know what he thinks.  

Johanna was named in part after my Father, in part after the Apostle, in part after the Dylan song Visions of Johanna, and in part after Hannah in the Bible. (Doug always says she was named after Hannah Arendt as well, but I don't remember.) She might have been named Davita if she looked more serious or had darker hair. But, from the start she was blonde, blue eyed and fair and seemed to favor her parents Scandinavian side.  In the Dylan song, Johanna haunts the singer.  She is his Beatrice.  
I can imagine Jo in such a role.  I'm in love!  But, of course she is too young to be some poet's muse and much too young to finish up Arendt's final section of Life of the Mind, and it also might take a few more years before she can tell a story as well as her Grandpa John or craft a stunning prologue about the Word made flesh.  Although she can tell a good story and can wax eloquent about the peaceable kingdom--a topic that John could have perhaps expounded on a bit more in the book of Revelation.  

What a lot of hope is embedded in these names.   What if Simeon grows up to be an Industrialist and Johanna a fashion model?  What will we do?  What does it mean that we have put our hopes into these forms so frail but who possess the dynamo of their own wills and intellects.   I am not sure?  

In another sense, I feel ill equipped to pose this question.  We did give the names filling them with meaning and significance and a bit of an unspoken prayer.  But, it isn't the case that we are pushing them in any particular direction.  We are not placing babies in Sim's arms to see if he can make predictions or having Johanna read Aristotle.  In fact, we are pretty low key in general.  (See post below on parenting philosophy)  But, I hope that they will at least grow to love their names and to treasure the meanings that they have.  That they will know that the were given in love and that the names at least resonate with them--speak of things that they value--that they are proud of them.  

 T.S. Eliot
      A Song for Simeon
      Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
      The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
      The stubborn season has made stand.
      My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
      Like a feather on the back of my hand.
      Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
      Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
         Grant us thy peace.
      I have walked many years in this city,
      Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
      Have given and taken honour and ease.
      There never went any rejected from my door.
      Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children's children
      When the time of sorrow is come?
      They will take to the goat's path, and the fox's home,
      Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
         Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
      Grant us thy peace.
      Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
      Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
      Now at this birth season of decease,
      Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
      Grant Israel's consolation
        To one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.
         According to thy word.
      They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
      With glory and derision,
      Light upon light, mounting the saints' stair.
      Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
      Not for me the ultimate vision.
      Grant me thy peace.
      (And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
      Thine also).
      I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
      I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
      Let thy servant depart,
      Having seen thy salvation.

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