“Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world - the Fairies Dance and Christ is nailed to the cross." says the philosopher Whitehead in Process and Reality. He might also have said the babies sleep and the prisoners are tortured. The point is the same. Both are real.
The danger of our time is to neglect one for the other. Of course, some people focus only on the sleeping babies. They cannot face the suffering. They must always "think positive" and sometimes their positivity is toxic. But others focus only on the tortured prisoner. They cannot face the softness, the tenderness, the beauty. Their negativity can be toxic, too.
The news of our time inclines some of us to fall into the negative toxicity. We forget the sleeping babies. William Blake, no stranger to the multifariousness of life, has written a beautiful poem about sleeping babies called Sleep, Sleep, Beauty Bright. Martha Redbone puts it to music. Both can be antidotes to the negativity.
When it comes to reducing suffering in our world, we need all the scraps of light, all the moments of beauty, we can find. Watching babies sleep are well among those moments. We sense what it might be like to trust the great Around, the consequent nature of God, in which the whole of creation finds peace.
Truth be told, even as babies sleep there is so much going on in them, as with all of us. The multifariousness finds its way even into the depths of our unconscious lives. Blake writes: "O the cunning wiles that creep in thy little heart asleep."
Still, there is something beautiful in the sleep itself. Perhaps it is the quiet trust that the world is safe, and life belongs to something more than meets the eye, maybe even something divine.
Sleep, sleep, beauty bright.
- Jay McDaniel, 9/21/22
Sleep, Sleep, Beauty Bright
by William Blake
Sleep, sleep, beauty bright, Dreaming o'er the joys of night; Sleep, sleep, in thy sleep Little sorrows sit and weep.
Sweet babe, in thy face Soft desires I can trace, Secret joys and secret smiles, Little pretty infant wiles.
As thy softest limbs I feel, Smiles as of the morning steal O'er thy cheek, and o'er thy breast Where thy little heart does rest.
O! the cunning wiles that creep In thy little heart asleep. When thy little heart does wake Then the dreadful lightnings break,
From thy cheek and from thy eye, O'er the youthful harvests nigh. Infant wiles and infant smiles Heaven and Earth of peace beguiles.
Watching Babies Sleep
A primary practice of open and relational theology is to collect scraps of light: chickadees taking turns at feeders, a brother lifting his mother from the car and placing a shawl on her lap, a neighbor taking her husband's hand, cars stopping for an orange cat crossing the road, and babies when they are sleeping.
To collect the scraps is to pay attention to them and be nourished by them. We can collect these scraps to help mend the world. They give us energy for life. But the very act of collecting them, of noticing them, has a richness in its own right. Light collection is not simply a means to an end; it is an end in itself. When it functions in this way, the light itself, whatever its source, is a sacrament.
In open and relational theology even the heart of the universe - even God - collects scraps of light and is enriched by them. Sleeping babies must be especially beautiful to the Holy one. They remind God of the seventh day, when God rested. Perhaps they also remind God of God's hopes for the world, that we, too, might return to innocence, of a paradise lost. Or at least move toward a future in which, despite our fallen state, we learn to trust again, to give things back to the Holy one. In any case, sleeping babies are sabbaths for us, too. When we watch them, feeling their feelings, we have a momentary respite from hurried days.
Process theology is especially helpful in showing how we can indeed feel the feelings of others, literally. There is a process of osmosis by which we share in the subjective states of others, happily and sadly, pleasantly and painfully. Sleeping babies are mostly happy sharing. In their sleeping they become, in that moment, our mentors. They remind us what it can be like, lost in sleep, to feel safe and secure. To trust that we are enveloped in something so deep, so tender, that there is nothing to fear.
- Jay McDaniel, 9/20/2022
Collecting Scraps of Light
by Deborah Cooper
I see the way the chickadees take turns at the feeder. I watch a neighbor take her husband’s hand.
I see the way the sun will find the only interruption in dark clouds to toss this amber light across the pines.
I see a row of cars stop on the road until the orange cat has safely crossed, then take off slowly, should she change her mind.
I watch the way my brother lifts our mother from the wheelchair to the car, the shawl he lays across her lap.
I save up every scrap of light, because I know that it will take each tiny consolation every day to mend the world.