Ontology is the philosophical study of being; existence; what makes a thing what it is. I first heard the word in seminary. It was a challenging word then and it still is today.
It came into play in discussions about God: theology and ontology are intertwined. How does one know that God exists? When we are changed from within, to what extent is that God’s action? How do we speak of this new existence?
It’s amazing to me still that I made it through the rigorous four years of such heady discussions. I remember in my first seminary class, my legal pad at an angle, my blue pen scribbling, trying to capture every word from my professor’s holy lips. When he hit the word, eschatological, I gave up….put my pen down and just listened.
Today is Chase Montana’s 19th birthday. He is my youngest son. His brother, Adam Emery will be 25 on March 29th.
A few hours after each boy was born, I remember listening to the monitor beep in my room, and watching them sleep. Both times, I felt like we were encased in a bubble, my baby and I. Nurses came in and out of the room. Visitors brought onesies and flowers. Dinner trays clattered in the hall; the neon light above my bed buzzed quietly.
There was action, activity…rejoicing. But the thing I remember most vividly all these years later is that from the moment I first laid eyes on my child, I was changed…ontologically. The very fibers of my being shifted. The sensation was as palpable as if my skin and hair had both been brushed with a wire brush: it was not painful, but I could still feel the bristles after the brushing stopped.
It would be easy to attribute that sensation to the anesthetic and subsequent medication. Except that sometimes, I feel it still today.
I remember a chilling scene from the movie, Midnight Express, in which a boy is arrested in an airport in Istanbul. His mother, in the United States, is taking a carton of milk out of the fridge, and suddenly she freezes, dropping the milk on the floor, because she can sense in her very being, her son’s arrest and imminent persecution.
What binds us to one another is difficult to describe. It is not only present between parents and children, but it is very present in those relationships. It has been said that people are not bodies with a Spirit, but rather Spirits, in possession of a body.
Maybe that’s why we can feel physical changes when life-threatening or life-giving experiences happen to those to whom we are so intrinsically connected.
I thought when my boys were born that they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I think it still today. And I also remember thinking, in the quiet of the hospital, when I gently brushed my hair and looked in the mirror, that once they arrived, I looked different. A part of me was literally transferred into my children when they were born. And I’ve never looked the same since.
Maybe that’s why those who study God talk about how we are ontologically changed in life. There are things that happen that change us from within. We can see it. We can feel it. We did not anticipate it; we cannot deny it.
Some events are so sacred that they produce resurrection: a part of us dies, and new life begins.
As I write this, Sarah and Jon, the grown children of our dear friends, Pam and Mike, are awaiting the birth of their first child. I watch my phone for news. I listen to the quiet in awe. I smile imagining the transformation that is about to take place in each of them. The holy shift that makes room for new life.
We don’t need big words to explain it. It is a universal experience, and yet it is unique. So holy we speak of it rarely, and then, only in the hushed tones reserved for describing a miracle. Like love. That changes us.