Friday, May 18, 2007


Last night was D.A.T.E. night with Hannah. D.A.T.E. stands for “Daddy And The Elf (Princess).” Before you object to me calling my daughter an elf, realize I’m not being mean because 1) She is pretty petite, 2) Lord of the Rings proves elves are both beautiful and strong, 3) she has a great sense of humor, and 4) I call her an elf princess.

Back to the point, last night for our D.A.T.E. we went to see Iolanthe, an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan first performed in 1882. Hannah had decided that she didn’t want to know what was going to happen beforehand and instead wanted us to talk about it afterwards. I think this might have just been a ploy to get me to take her out for ice cream.

I kept notes throughout the opera. She occasionally would lean over to let me know about something she wanted me to write down (“Where did Big Ben get its name?”).

As we were watching Iolanthe, the thing that really struck me was the contrast between the laws of nature and laws of man. This plays out in the sparing between the members of the House of Lords and the fairies (or, as the subtitle of the opera refers to them, the peer and the peri…not quite so clever over a hundred years later).

The theme of laws of nature vs. laws of men plays out in a rather interesting way in a conversation between young Strephon and the Lord Chancellor, each who want the hand of the beautiful Phyllis in marriage. The Chancellor wonders why Strephon has continued pursuing Phyllis despite being ordered to desist:

LORD CH. Now, sir, what excuse have you to offer for having disobeyed an order of the Court of Chancery?

STREPH. My Lord, I know no Courts of Chancery; I go by Nature's Acts of Parliament. The bees--the breeze--the seas--the rooks--the brooks--the gales--the vales--the fountains and the mountains cry, "You love this maiden--take her, we command you!" 'Tis writ in heaven by the bright barbed dart that leaps forth into lurid light from each grim thundercloud. The very rain pours forth her sad and sodden sympathy! When chorused Nature bids me take my love, shall I reply, "Nay, but a certain Chancellor forbids it"? Sir, you are England's Lord High Chancellor, but are you Chancellor of birds and trees, King of the winds and Prince of thunderclouds?

LORD CH. No. It's a nice point. I don't know that I ever met it before. But my difficulty is that at present there's no evidence before the Court that chorused Nature has interested herself in the matter.

STREPH. No evidence! You have my word for it. I tell you that she bade me take my love.

LORD CH. Ah! but, my good sir, you mustn't tell us what she told you--it's not evidence. Now an affidavit from a thunderstorm, or a few words on oath from a heavy shower, would meet with all the attention they deserve.

STREPH. And have you the heart to apply the prosaic rules of evidence to a case which bubbles over with poetical emotion?

LORD CH. Distinctly. I have always kept my duty strictly before my eyes, and it is to that fact that I owe my advancement to my present distinguished position

Ultimately, of course, Strephon’s view of love is vindicated. Love is a force of nature, not bound by the stuffy peerage. In fact, {SPOILER WARNING—although I’m not sure if it’s possible to spoil an opera that is over 135 years old} it is interesting that at the end of the opera, all of peers turn into fairies. There is an ultimate victory of nature and passion over reason.

I find myself echoing the Chancellor’s words: “It’s a nice point…but…”

On our way to the Ice Cream Shop, Hannah and I talked about this understanding of love. I asked her what it meant to love someone. Hannah replied, “I think it means you really, really like someone.”

“Do you think Strephon is right? Can you help loving someone? Is it something that is outside your control?”

{Long Pause} “No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, Hannah, what happens if you don’t feel like you love someone anymore? Is that something you can control?”

“Yes. You should love everyone.”

“Right. So think about what it means to love someone. How do you know your mommy and daddy love each other?”

“They do nice things for each other.”

“Yeah, that’s one way. Hannah, how do we know that God loves us?”

“Because He takes care of us. And because He sent Jesus to die for our sins?”

“That’s exactly right. So love isn’t just really, really liking someone. It is deciding to do what’s best for them.”

“O.K., Daddy.”

“How do you know Strephon loved Phyllis?”
“I’m not sure.”

"Me neither. How do you know that Iolanthe loved her son?”
“She was willing to die for him. That was my favorite part.”

“Yeah, mine too. What do you think love really is?”

“Putting other people first.”

“I think you’re right sweetie. It's deciding to do what's best for someone else.”

I think it was important to talk with Hannah about this view of love because it is the default view of our age. And, what's more, it is far easier to view love as Strephon does than Scripture describes it. It is almost comforting to think that Nature herself wields the power of love as she will and we have no choice but to be swayed by her.
But this view of love will ultimately bring heartache. It was G.K. Chesterton who said something to the effect that meaninglessness in our modern lives does not come from being weary of pain but rather from being weary of pleasure. Meaning in life will not be found in indulging my desires but rather in fulfilling the needs of others. I pray that my little girl and my sons learn how to truly love.

1 comment:

Grammy said...

Dear Grandson,
What a truly wonderful tradition!
It pleases us so greatly to see first-hand how you and Whitney are instilling knowledge of how to love others in your children.
We love you all,
Grammy and Gramps