Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of my father’s passing. I have felt the day approaching for a few weeks now. I have also been reflecting on why I feel it so poignantly. The truth is that we know a parent in a unique way, indeed, in a manner that differs even from that of our siblings. What we know is never really the person as they stand, fully themselves. We know them as they stand within us. Thus, much of what I feel about my father is rooted in the experiences of a young boy and of that stranger/man standing inside me. Depending on the nature of those experiences, it is possible to spend years (or a lifetime) working out this primal relationship, remembering, understanding, disentangling, blessing, mourning. I think it is never truly resolved, for the simple fact that we ourselves are a moving target, a dynamic line through time that never fully resolves itself, perhaps until its end.
This is the witness of the Scriptures:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”(Colossians 3:2–4)
Who we are, what we shall be, is unknown to us, a mystery hidden in Christ that will be revealed only at the end. St. John offers the happy promise that “we will be like Him,” just as St. Paul says that “we will appear with Him in glory.”
I have also thought long and hard about the reality of the self that is being saved in this manner. Who I am is hidden with Christ in God, but it is also the hiding place of so much more (or so many more) as well. I know that “who” I am cannot be understood without reference to the boy who carries his father inside him (or some small part of his father). At the same time, the boy/man carries mother, brothers, wife, children, and so many others. We are not, strictly speaking, individuals, but a village occupied by so many others, or some small portions of them. In short, I cannot be saved without them, nor can my being saved not save them in some manner.
St. Silouan wrote about what he called the “whole Adam,” meaning, the whole of humanity throughout time. He seemed to have a profound sense not just that we are in a relationship with others, but that we ourselves are the others – all of them. The story of our lives is always in the plural.
The last few years have seen the passing of a number of my friends, people from my past who were significant in my life, people who would have to be included if I were trying to tell someone about who I am. I have found that when I pray, their names come before others, together with that of my parents and grandparents and at the head of a list that grows year-by-year. That I can name only a few seems to me to be a measure of the smallness of my heart. I cannot, like Silouan, speak of the whole Adam without passing into abstraction. I can, on the other hand, imagine what that might mean, should a heart be so enlarged.
This, I think, is the heart of Christ who prayed for us all (“Father, forgive them”) from the deathbed of the Cross. He alone could say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and He alone is fully and completely the whole Adam. That He can be named the “Second Adam” by St. Paul is a profound thing in and of itself. God incarnate takes the name of another man (Adam) in order to name Himself, and in doing so takes the name of every man, every woman, that all might be saved.
All of this is hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed at the last day. At that time we will at last know who we are (who all of us are) and come to see what this long journey has been about. But today, I ponder just a small portion of that journey that bears my father’s name, just as he had to ponder his father’s name.
After my grandfather died, my mother called me with a concern. She said, “Your father goes to the grave every day and sits there. I’m concerned.” I assured her that it was normal. After some months, he stopped going every day, and things returned to what seemed acceptable to her. I do not know what conversations passed between my father and his father at that graveside. That they covered many hours suggests a lot.
Gathering the whole Adam into Christ is the work of a lifetime, perhaps the work of all time.