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Out of the Mouth of Babes: One Man’s Telemachy

Last week I had the privilege of attending the first annual CiRCE Summer Institute up in the rolling green mountains of Blowing Rock, NC. We spent the majority of our time reading and discussing (even singing!) Homer’s The Odyssey, interspersed with eating good food, conversing with friends new and old, and admiring the beauty of the surroundings. It was a momentous event for me—in many ways—and I left feeling refreshed, hopeful, and, most significantly, somehow changed.

During one of our sessions, I was struck by the first four books (known as the Telemachy) in which Telemachos, the son of godlike Odysseus, begins his own odyssey, one that weaves and interweaves with the odyssey of his missing father. Telemachos’s entire inheritance is at risk due to the haughty and reckless suitors who disregard custom and propriety in their unwanted advances on Telemachos’ still-grieving mother, Penelope, who still waits for her long-absent husband. She has never failed to remember him. But Telemachos has never had a father, since Odysseus left for Troy when Telemachos was only an infant, and he cannot by himself face down the hundred-some-odd suitors who eventually plot to kill him. So, prompted by the goddess of Wisdom Athene, Telemachos travels to the kingdoms of Pylos and Sparta in search of news of his father—and in so doing begins a complex journey from childhood into manhood. In his mini-odyssey, Telemachos begins to learn how to be like his father—and thereby becomes worthy to take hold of the inheritance that is rightfully his.

I was drawn in by this passage of the poem, I think, because in so many ways I am Telemachos. I find myself also struggling to lay hold of the inheritance that I am called to in Christ. Too often I am guilty of the sin which, in The Odyssey, is arguably the worst of all sins: I forget. I forget that I am a sanctified Son of God, I forget that I have a Father who is—even now—preparing his Homecoming. I forget that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, that the God of gods resides and dwells within me, and that he bids his home be one that is pure and holy. I am Telemachos because I too am a boy on a journey, desperately trying to become a Man.

I left the mountains a different person than I was when I arrived; something momentous changed deep within me. And although the week at CSI was something that, in some ways, I wished would never end, my homecoming back to my family in Charlotte was sweet indeed. I embraced my wife, and she, after five long days of dealing with our three children (under the age of three) without me, was (needless to say) glad at my return. I sat on the living room floor with my two boys while my wife fed our daughter, and I drank in their infant voices and thrilled at the smell of their hair as I hugged them tightly to my chest. It was good to be home.

I was changing my two-year-old’s diaper so we could go to the store for some milk together, when he suddenly looked at me and out of nowhere said, “You’re getting bigger!”

He is learning language so fast right now, and I marvel at the personality that is being revealed more and more every day as he grows in imitation and opens up his soul through the gift of language. I thought that he was repeating back some new phrase that he had heard somewhere, so I agreed with him, saying, “Yes, Ransom, you are getting bigger!”

But he shook his head at my misunderstanding and replied, “No, you are getting bigger—you are growing up, too!”

His words cut through my heart, and like Telemachos, like Penelope, like Odysseus, I wept.

I do not know if he understood how truly he spoke, or if it was even him that was speaking. What is certain is that I am learning to remember my high calling in Christ – who lives and dwells in me – and by this remembering I am being daily changed into His image.

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