Jo and Will have called him Isaac. I love that name. Its root meaning is ‘to laugh’. In Genesis, God promises that Sarah will have a child by Abraham. She laughs because she can’t imagine conceiving at her great age. But when the promised son is born, Sarah makes a beautiful little speech: ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me…. Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age’. To begin with her laughter was scornful. How different it is now; for even if it’s a joke on God’s part, it’s a happy generous joke that against all odds a life has been promised and now it’s arrived.
Every birth represents hope, and every birth brings laughter into a family – at least, we want to believe so. And like Isaac of old, our Isaac has brought happiness and laughter to our family. He has already been loved and cherished for many months, laughingly called Pancake in the womb because he was due on Shrove Tuesday. Now he has been welcomed into our family. St Benedict says in his Rule that we should welcome every guest as if he or she were Christ himself. As I held Isaac barely 24 hours old, I thought how hard it is not to see the infant Jesus in the face of a tiny child.
There is a lot more that Genesis says about Isaac. As a boy perhaps no older than a chorister, he and his father take a long walk to a far-off mountain in the biggest ordeal either of them will ever have to face. I wrote about Abraham and Isaac in my book Lost Sons, though I doubt that I did it justice: the Aqeda or ‘Binding’, as Judaism calls it, is a profoundly mysterious story. And if I tried to write about it now, I would not be able to keep my grandson Isaac out of my mental image of the narrative.
But standing back from that particular text, I am safe in saying that for little Isaac, life will mean journeys he or we cannot possibly foresee. Most of these, we pray, will be filled with happiness and hope and Isaac-like laughter, for who does not wish for every new-born child these God-given blessings? But inevitably, some paths will take him into hard and difficult places where there is more shadow than light; and at those times, we pray all the more that he will know that he is cherished by God as a beloved child, and be kept safe from harm.
And who knows whether even in infancy, he does not already intuit this for himself? Who can say whether his little heart isn’t already responding to the everlasting heart of Love which framed and fashioned him in his mother’s womb and brought him into this world? Cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart in ways that don’t need words. Childbirth is one of the joyful mysteries of life, a sacrament where laughter and human love evoke the Love that, as Dante put it, moves the sun and the other stars. I like to think that this is something all children know deep within themselves. Sadly, for many, growing up is an act of forgetting.
So we are now officially old. But we are going to enjoy being grandparents.