Trig Palin: For my strength is made perfect in weakness.

October 13, 2008

Against the gathering darkness of the Left’s resurgence, as the wolves outside in the dark sniff and whine closer and closer to the firelight, the cultural Right is nevertheless warmed and lighted by an iconic tableau: the simple, powerful image of Gov. Sarah Palin carrying her infant son, Trig.

Little Trig, as everyone knows, was born with Down Syndrome.  So this tableau is iconic in the sense that it figures the unqualified, compassionate love of a normal mother for her child, especially one who’s weak or vulnerable.  But this tableau is also iconic in the religious sense, for it strongly, almost uncannily suggests another icon loved by millions, both living and dead, for nine hundred years: the Theotokos (Our Lady) of Vladimir:

Here is more on the Vladimirskaya icon.

What is it about a mother’s compassion and love for her helpless child that, in the form of the Vladimirskaya, has for a thousand years lighted the minds and lifted the hearts of Orthodox Christians (and others who honor the Theotokos)?  And what is it about a mother’s compassion and love for her helpless child that, in the form of Gov. Palin and her infant son, has darkened the minds and filled the hearts of the American Left with a spitting, hissing frenzy of malevolence?  (You can often hear their teeth, set on edge, grinding right through their blog posts.)  The answers to these questions are closely related.

I recall the second epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, in which the apostle candidly admits his powerlessness, like an infant’s, to preserve his own life — and yet his very debility is, paradoxically, what he secretly shares with the Source of life: “And lest I should be exalted above measure… there was given to me a thorn in the flesh… For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (12:7-9)  What does this mean?  St Paul acknowledges that even he is debilitated and weak, like Trig Palin and all the other little children who, except one receive the kingdom of God as one of them, he shall in no wise enter therein (St Luke 18:17).  In this, the apostle tries to imitate the God whom he believes had, by descending to Incarnation and Crucifixion, Himself experienced the most appalling weakness: human birth and death.  St Paul had for years prayed to be healed of his personal, unnamed chronic debility — but at length he understands that the “thorn in the flesh” he first thought a disability, is in fact a means of keeping him from a false (and deadly) sense of security.  Compare here Kallistos Ware’s observations on fasting in The Lenten Triodion:

The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us, that is, to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). If we always take our fill of food and drink, we easily grow over-confident in our own abilities, acquiring a false sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The observance of a physical fast undermines this sinful complacency. Stripping from us the specious assurance of the Pharisee – who fasted, it is true, but not in the right spirit – Lenten abstinence gives us the saving self dissatisfaction of the Publican (Luke 18:10-13). Such is the function of the hunger and the tiredness: to make us ‘poor in spirit’, aware of our helplessness and of our dependence on God’s aid.

And by Trig Palin’s very palpable “helplessness and… dependence” on his loving parent’s aid for life, by the instinctual love for her that moves his wordless heart despite his mind’s simplicity — indeed, because he exists at all, because his mother proudly cares for him in the course of public appearances — this tiny baby is a sharp, glowing stick in the eye to the big men of the secular Left: materialist professors, abortionist senators, journalist hypocrites.  Simply by nestling in his mother’s arms, Trig Palin is a particularly vivid rebuke of their culture of death; just resting together, he and his mother give the lie to modernity’s cult of the self, with its bestial rebellion against every form of self-restraint and self-sacrifice.

These cruel utilitarians are eager to kill people to help them: the unborn, the disabled, the gravely ill.  But mercifully their homicidal urges extend no further than their fellow human beings.  Many of the same far Lefties who hate Trig and Sarah Palin are right now spending millions of dollars in California to pass Prop. 2, a measure that would mandate chickens receive a two-bedroom condo and a yard on the farm.  Chickens.  But no surprise here — whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.  And weeping for the plight of poultry while affirming that there’s a Constitutional right to stick a fork in a baby’s head provided he hasn’t been born yet, to borrow from Ann Coulter, is mad.  But for the secular Left abortion is of course, again in Coulter’s phrase, the holiest sacrament.*  To recur to Biblical imagery, recall the allegory of the woman clothed with the sun, her unborn child menaced by a seven-headed, ten-horned “great red dragon,” which “stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” (Revelation 12:3-4)  The child is miraculously caught up to heaven, but “when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.” (12:13)  Indeed.

But one can and should express Trig Palin’s iconic significance for a culture of life in positive terms too.  I choose the first stanza of “The Salutation,” a poem by the Anglican priest and poet Thomas Traherne, still dew-fresh after 350 years:

These little Limmes,
These Eys and Hands which here I find,
These rosie Cheeks wherwith my Life begins,
Where have ye been? Behind
What Curtain were ye from me hid so long!
Where was? in what Abyss, my Speaking Tongue?

(Here’s a link to the complete poem in plain Jane layout — a free site, you get what you pay for.)

Little Trig Palin, his little limbs and rosy cheeks, as yet without a “Speaking Tongue,” is the very picture of strength made perfect in weakness.  He is a living reminder to the hedonist Baby Boomer generation that love of family ends in new life, but love of self ends in nothing.

In passing let it be recalled, however, that far and away most young people, let alone all people, during the 1960s were much more Nixon’s Silent Majority than Bill Ayers’ bomb-planting scum.  Scholarly historiography’s only now coming to grips with this fact, since the tenured radicals who’ve hitherto written the history of the ’60s had their gazes lovingly, unshakably fixed on their own linty navels.  In aid of redressing this imbalance, just out from Harvard is The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade by Gerard DeGroot, who teaches at St Andrews, Scotland.  (Hat tip to Septimus Waugh who reviewed DeGroot for The American Conservative‘s Sept. 22 number.)

But as for Humphrey’s Yelling Minority: they thought it would never happen, that self-absorbed and self-pleasing generation of ’68.  But the spoiled college kids who burned draft cards and bras, raised in and rotted by postwar prosperity, are shocked to look up now and find themselves graying, stiffening, bending every day, bit by bit, toward the grave.  Because they have worshiped strength, they are only made weak in their weakness; because they have loved what is corruptible, themselves, what they love vanishes and is forgotten.  What is at the same time more hilarious and more obnoxious than an untidy old hippie, still stinking in his tie-dyes, stringy, greasy hairs now turned white?  Compare this decayed old Berkeley special — mighty pretty, no?

But he and all his kind are fading, fading fast.  So smile and sing!  “‘Tis well an Old Age is out,/ And time to begin a New,” as Dryden said.  In the clearing cultural current that’s flushing out the flotsam and jetsam of the Sexual Revolution both hippie and yuppie, a wholly-other generation’s coming on strong — and there are signs that unlike its materialist predecessor, it’s awake to the freshness and wonder of life, especially innocent life, and compassion for it.  From Aledo, Texas (outside Fort Worth as I learned) comes today this charming and affecting story of strength made perfect in weakness:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/101208dnmetqueen.39be68a.html

Who says there’s never any good news any more?  Hurrah for the students of Aledo High School — and for little Trig Palin and his mother.

[* If you don’t already own it, buy Coulter’s laugh-out-loud funny and endlessly quotable Godless: The Church of Liberalism.]

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