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Holding Henry

It’s bedtime for mom and dad, and so I go to Henry’s room to check on him one last time. Like always, I place my hand on his side so that I can feel him breathe while he sleeps. The longer I hold my hand against his side, the slower and quieter his breathing becomes. After a short while, I walk back to our bedroom, guided by Henry’s nightlight.

But something—perhaps a dream or the pop of my adult knees or the fact that I pulled my hand away—something wakes him up and he rolls over onto his knees and lets out a cry. I can tell he’s still not quite awake and his eyes are probably half open, and if I stand still for a moment or just leave the room, he probably will just fall back to sleep and all will be quiet again.

It has been only two hours since I last held him while I fed him his bottle. I watched him finish his bottle, close his eyes, purse his lips and drift off to sleep. Nestled in daddy’s arms with his tummy full, the stress of growing and playing all fell away and he was at peace. But now he is distressed. I go to him. Lifting him out of his crib, I hold him to my chest and he nestles his head beneath my chin. He sighs and presses his soft hair into my neck. I stand and slowly sway my body from side to side. His body becomes heavy again, his breathing slows and his arms relax. I feel his warmth glowing through his pinstriped baseball pajamas and I think about what it would be like to be held close again by my own father—and what it would be like to be held close by my Father in Heaven.

I’ve read His words, I’ve had them explained to me and I cried for joy when I watched the films, but still I wait to be held close to Him in the hereafter. I hold my son close and I think about how the warmth and the peace that I feel, in some way, connect me to my spiritual Father. It’s a sensuous experience and I drink it in, thanking God for the moment.

There are religious deep thinkers who might criticize me for connecting a sensuous experience with my faith. Transcendentalists, led in literary circles by Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, say that religion isn’t based on sensuous experiences, that the mind can apprehend absolute spiritual truths directly without having to go through the detour of the senses, and that a sensuous experience might somehow falsify religion.

Transcendentalism has had a significant influence on how we have come to view religion. Traditional rituals, such as slogging through a liturgy, repeating a creed or reciting a prayer no longer have the same credibility that they once had. These sensuous experiences no longer provide us with the same strong connection to God that previous generations might have felt. But I don’t think that we wholly subscribe to the idea that there are no sensuous experiences that connect us with God. Jesus wanted us to use our senses to connect with Him. During His last meal with His disciples, Jesus gave them bread and wine and said that they should eat them “in remembrance of me.” Feeling the grain of the bread against their tongues and the roofs of their mouths, and feeling the wine dissemble the bread and wash their mouths clean, the disciples communed with Christ. And now we do, too.

I’m holding Henry, but at the same time I’m embracing Christ. I do this in remembrance of Him.

[Ryan Christiansen is a technical writer for a major software development company. He lives in Fargo, N.D.]

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