morbid? motherhood & mortality

“Mommy, I don’t want to die.”

His big blue eyes stare up at me, full of – what? Worry? Seriousness? Wonder?

We’ve been revisiting this conversation for months, variations on a theme: Mommy, I don’t want to go to be with God. Mommy, I want to live to be 100. Mommy, I don’t want you to die.

He hasn’t yet brushed with death, not in the aching loss of one he loves. But he’s a curious child, and his love of numbers and wonder about God swirl together to stir up questions of how old God is and how old people can be.

All of which added up in his head to a budding realization of finitude in the face of the infinite.

What do I say? Blunder through the typical lines about how I hope he’ll have a long life, and then when his life is done, he’ll get to go be with God in a new way, and God loves him even more than any person ever could, so wouldn’t that be amazing?

Except, of course, it’s all strange and skeptical enough to make wise adults anxious.

So why would any precocious preschooler accept it at face value either?

. . .

Every year on my birthday, I find myself genuinely astonished to still be here.

I only realized in the past few years that most people don’t share this stark sense of mortality, not at the tender age of thirty-something anyway. And while I wouldn’t say that I wake each morning eager to stare my own death in the face, whenever I think about the length of my life I only see so far ahead of me.

So each March I honestly marvel at how I’ve been blessed to have these many years to my name.

You can analyze it easily as any armchair therapist. My older brother died of cancer when I was 10, so I grew up living with death and loss and grief in a way that many children do not. All of that made me who I am, shaped my faith and my worldview in unmistakable ways, here endeth the college admissions essay.

But now as a mother to young ones waking up to the strange and sad ways the world works, I wonder what I should pass on to them from my own sense of mortality and what I might need to set aside.

Keeping death daily before our eyes is St. Benedict’s healthy advice to his brothers, but how helpful is this for preschoolers?

Mystery is good. Morbidity is not.

IMG_6075

So we talk about not being afraid of death, because it is part of life. We talk about the love that is waiting for us in whatever comes next, because it is full of God who is love.

We talk about how some people might live to be almost 100 like Great-Grandpa, and how some people might only live to be 21 like Uncle Jay. We talk about how we can’t know everything that God knows or make everything happen in the way we would like. But we can trust that God will take care of us.

Is that enough? For now, perhaps. If my wee ones continue to be blessed with a childhood free from trauma or loss, unlike so many children in the world.

But if they are not – if death or sickness or suffering enter into this home as an unwelcome guest, the darkest thoughts that only the thin, lonely hours before dawn tempt me to imagine – will any of that make sense? Or sustain them?

Motherhood is supposed to be about life: its nurturing and nourishing. But is there a place for death in this daily work and love, too?

. . .

Lent is a grateful time to practice all this death-talk, all this suffering-preparation, of course.

In small ways we choose to die to our own whims and wants, setting our sights on the deeper growth that comes from drawing further from our fears and nearer to God.

As with our own short lives, we know that death lies at the end of this liturgical journey, too. There it is on the calendar, Good Friday in all its starkness: church stripped bare, silence echoing in an empty tabernacle.

But beyond this loss lies a truth equally baffling to comprehend: an Easter reversal of everything we thought we knew, a game-changer of existential expectation, a flip-side resurrection of death itself.

Every day we are walking towards Friday’s death-as-we-fear-it. But we also edge towards Sunday’s life-as-we-dare-to-dream-it.

And children are a part of this journey, too.

This is my favorite part of Ash Wednesday. That for once we don’t banish babies to the nursery or preschoolers to the Sunday School classroom. We all walk up together, regardless of age or status, and someone smears dark grey ash on every forehead and tells us that from dust we have come and to dust we will return.

Every tiny curl of a newborn, every wide-eyed toddler, every curious kindergartner – their mortality stares us smack in the face, too. Tiny crosses of truth on softest skin.

Maybe this is part of Lent’s gift. Reminding us that these beautiful beginnings of youth are part of our shared journey toward death.

Be not afraid.

. . .

I started this post several weeks ago and haven’t known how to finish it.

Because there isn’t an easy ending, of course. There are no pat answers when it comes to talking about death. So many of the rote responses and tired clichés we use to wrestle our arms around such a vast and thorny subject are just that – rote and tired.

Theologically unsound, pastorally maddening.

As in so many dark corners of this strange land called motherhood, I find myself flinging wide my arms and releasing my fears, partly in hope, partly in despair.

I do not have the answers, and the questions will only become more complicated.

All I am learning to do is letting my babies go, day by day, into the arms of God who is love.

where we Sabbath

We went to church on Saturday evening instead of our usual Sunday morning. The promise of good gardening weather and the weekend’s plans all pushed us towards the deviation from the norm.

But the boys were even squirrelier than usual, wrestling out of our arms, racing towards the altar steps, squawking during the consecration. One innocently inquired after communion whether there would still be church donuts since it was Saturday, and I seethed through clenched teeth that No One Was Behaving Well Enough For A Donut So It Didn’t Matter Anyway.

#parentingfail

So Sunday morning found me instead at the park with the boys, whom I soaked up like perfect angels in the bright sun, cringing at my own Mass-time behavior of the night before. We laughed on the slides and ran down to the river and chased each other on the playground paths.

Which is when I noticed: we weren’t alone.

The park was full of families enjoying the clear June day – biking, fishing, walking, jogging. I’ve never seen our favorite haunt so crowded. But it made perfect sense: Sunday can feel like a Sabbath moment whether you go to church or not. A time to pause and play together before the busyness of another week begins.

I have a new piece at Practicing Families on the struggles of Sunday services with little ones, so I’ve been pondering questions of church and family lately:

donutsEach Sunday I eventually discover that I’m grateful we’re there, again. Even when we’ve flunked the Time Trials, botched the Nursery Negotiations, caved on the Bribery Battles, and stand ready to lose the Donut Debate, I still find that God finds us there.

Some small moment arises – a line from the priest’s homily, a stranger’s smile at the sign of peace, a favorite song that makes my boys clap their hands – and I fall in love with church all over again.

It’s good to be here, even when it’s hard to be here.

Click here to read more about our Sunday Morning Fight Club

Weekends like this one, I start to wonder if the park was the place for us to find God and celebrate together as a family.

But I also know that when my kids grabbed each other’s hands to say grace at dinner tonight, I remembered how they had grinned at each other for the Sign of Peace at Mass on Saturday – how they kept shaking each other’s hands and wouldn’t let go, how their happiness was contagious and made even the most curmudgeonly adults around them (ahem) stop and smile.

Church has a grip on me like that, too. I want to be there, even when it’s hard to be there.

How do you choose to spend your Sundays as a family? What brings you the most joy together?

parenting hacks of faith: what are your tips for church?

We were gathered around the table in our parish’s fellowship hall, and the boys were ready to tear into their donuts: the long-awaited, long-promised bribery for behaving themselves decently at Mass.

When it hit me: we could do something more here. Everyone finally quiet and happy? Ready to feed our rumbling tummies? Together at last after another morning of trading off the toddler?

It was a perfect moment to seize.

“Hey,” I began, my own mouth full of cinnamon sugar. “While we’re eating our donuts, let’s each say one thing we liked about church today.”

My husband’s eyebrows went up. I shrugged and mouthed why not?

To my surprise, our oldest jumped in immediately. “I liked the drumming. And I REALLY liked when that baby got dunked!”

I laughed. Me, too.

We went around the circle. The youngest declared he liked donut. (Big surprise.) The adults agreed they liked the music, since they both missed the homily. (Big surprise.)

Instead of scarfing down our treats and hustling to the car, we lingered for a change. And thanks to the beauty of baked goods, I actually got my family to participate in one of the forced “what did you do today?” conversations I futilely try to inflict over dinner.

It made me realize that the simplest changes are often the best. Take what works and try it in a new light. The brilliance of parenting hacks.

. . .

We all have hints and helps we learn along the way to make life easier. Even now when I have no time to read a cereal box, let alone an entire magazine, I still tear open Parents to read the monthly “It Worked For Me!” round-up of clever tips from crafty parents. I love these handy hacks, and I’d love to hear yours.

What “hacks of faith” do you use with little ones at church? Not only to keep kids quiet, but to keep them engaged.

A hack is by definition an inelegant yet creative solution, and I can think of a handful I’ve learned from friends along the years to make our faith life infinitely easier with the under-5 crowd:

  1. Sit in the front. If you slip in the back, it’s all too tempting to slip out. Kids can’t see a thing if they’re staring at adult backsides. But in the front pews, there’s always action to grab their attention. It doesn’t work all the time, and we often end up walking the youngest out anyway. But it works enough to make me muster confidence to walk all the way down the aisle even when we’re rolling in at the Alleluia. Kids love to be front and center to see what’s going on.
  2. IMG_2970Stack the deck. My youngest boy’s godmother made the coolest holy-cards-on-a-key-ring toy for her son, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to copy it. I am not crafty in the least, but this clever project took me about 5 minutes and cost about $5. Perfect. I get tired of trying to listen to the Gospel and whisper-read books about farm animals, so I figure if the church toys offer at least a couple connections to what’s going on around us, it’s better for all of us.
  3. Make your own. The best busy book I’ve come up with for church is one I made myself. (I repeat, folks: if my un-Pinterest-worthy self can hack it, so can you.) I took a bunch of pictures around our parish one Sunday after Mass and stuck them in a small photo album. (A top ten Target purchase of my life, for all it’s bought me in return.) IMG_2966It’s a great tool to help toddlers point and name what they see. And a picture of a statue, a stained glass window, or a station of the cross offers plenty of possibilities for going deeper with preschoolers. Over the years I’ve added photos from both boys’ baptisms so we could remember them whenever a baby gets baptized at Mass. I’ve also slowly taken pictures of how the church looks in each liturgical season so that we can talk about the colors and environment change. Easy as pie. (Or church donuts.)

They’re hacks, not perfect solutions to be sure. (Ain’t much elegant about wrangling squirmy boys in the front pew, I’ll tell you that much.) But more often than not, they work.

And I am all about helping things work.

What clever tricks are hiding up your sleeves? Let’s share some ideas for sanity next Sunday!

gospel, interrupted

How I heard Palm Sunday:

When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles.

Mama, I need Polar Bear. Read Polar Bear. Read. Please.

I tell you, Peter. Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear? I hear a lion roaring in my ear.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.

Big Trucks and Diggers! I need Big Trucks and Diggers!

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.”

The wheel loader scoops and lifts and loads – oops, no, don’t pull the pages too hard or the dump truck part will break.

But they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Can you use your quiet voice in church? Shhh…no. Quiet. We use quiet voices while we’re listening.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Mama, do they have donuts today? Should we go check to see if there are donuts?

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Shhh. Use your QUIET VOICE IN CHURCH. If you cannot use your quiet voice, you are going to have to leave aga – ok, that’s it. You’re leaving. Here, take him.

And when he had said this, he breathed his last.

Mama, home. Let’s go home. I’m hungry. I’m tired. Home.

. . .

A mother’s distraction? Maybe.

But aren’t all our hearings of the Gospel interrupted?

We pick up the book after making the coffee and before loading the dishwasher. We squeeze in church between breakfast and a birthday party. We listen to a sermon while plotting our to-do list and planning our errands.

We are always humans trying to hear the divine, listening with half an ear amidst all the chatter and clutter. We are never gods ourselves, with undisturbed attention, uninterrupted time, undistracted minds. We are creatures of distraction, people of interruption.

But might this be precisely the point?

Incarnation was interruption: God breaking into our world, becoming human. Resurrection was a wrench-in-the-works of reality, too: death becoming life, transformed and brand-new.

The Gospel was always meant to interrupt us. To interrupt injustice with truth. To interrupt guilt with forgiveness. To interrupt violence with peace. To interrupt ambition with humility. To interrupt selfishness with love.

No wonder it still interrupts today. Even this holiest of weeks is still full of work deadlines and school drop-offs and vacuuming and vet visits.

And the little ones can’t sit silent for the sacred mystery of holy days. They still fidget and squirm, whine and yawn. (So do adults sometimes, if we’re honest.)

Proof of all the human he came to save.

. . .

In case you missed it, I’m now a contributor at CatholicMom.com. Click here to check out my first post on how to live Lent as a busy mom. 

May you have a peaceful, prayerful Holy Week! (Amidst the chaos and craziness of daily life, of course.)

on surprises: lenten and papal

For over a week, half a post for Ash Wednesday sat waiting for me to finish it. And it started like this:

Anyone else feel like the gentle green of Ordinary Time just got yanked out from under their feet, and now they’re sitting plop in the purple of Lent, scratching their head and wondering how we got here so fast?

Is it even allowed to be Mardi Gras before Valentine’s Day?

Or am I the only anxious one who still has Christmas thank-yous on her to-do list?

From whence it wandered into ramblings about how maybe the fact that the dates for Easter and Lent change every year keeps us on our toes, on edge even, makes us more mindful or less likely to lull into complacency.

Which bumped into Scriptural allusions about how you know neither the day nor the hour.

(Which was apparently going to wrap back round to parenting or family life or something else that this blog claims to be about.)

But then we all woke up to the papal game-changer of the century (or rather, six centuries) and the looming start of Lent seemed even more surprising as we all sat around puzzling and pontificating (ha) about how we could possibly have a new pontiff by the time these forty days finished.

So now what are we supposed to do, I wondered. I thought about scrapping this post completely. But then it struck me that if this news is the Hayley’s Comet of ex cathedra announcements, I better scrape together two words about an all-points-bulletin Catholic news story that will surely never come again in my lifetime.

And that was precisely when it hit me:

Perhaps the early Ash Wednesday and the unexpected announcement from Benedict aren’t so far apart after all.

Both remind us of mortality, a sobering reminder that we are all dust and to dust we shall return.

Both mark the beginning of a time of great change, a season of renewal.

Both capture the popular imagination in surprising ways.

Ever try to find a parking spot at an Ash Wednesday service five minutes before it starts? Good luck. Catholic churches are crammed on this unofficial holy day. Every year I notice more and more people packed into the pews. Something about this simple penitential practice, this smear of ash on foreheads, touches us deeply.

Ditto Benedict’s decision. Sure, yesterday was full of ignorant chatter and conspiracy theories and snarky Catholic jokes. But it was also full of surprising resonance, of reporters and religion professors and regular church-goers agreeing that resignation could be wise, that retirement could be well-deserved, that respect was due to a powerful leader who knew when to step down, when to take leave of a calling that was ending.

It’s the eve of ashes, and it all feels surprising. But it’s always jarring when death interrupts life, isn’t it? When reminders of mortality upend our neatly planned calendars of The Way Things Are Supposed to Go?

Weren’t we were just waving our palms to welcome him in? Are they really so quickly burned to ash again?

ordinary time

It was an ordinary moment, during an ordinary day, in an ordinary week.

(Which, in the midst of life with littles, means complete chaos.)

Ordinary is never boring, never dragging these days. Our ordinary is unexpected, our mundane is a mess.

With each new dawn, schedules get shifted and plans get changed. One boy rises early, the other sleeps late; one naps like a dream, one wrestles like a nightmare; one gobbles three plates, the other shoves the spoon away. The next day they switch roles and everything changes again. Never a dull moment.

It was one of these everyday-crazy moments that I paused, my attention caught by turning leaves on the tree near our window, flashing orange in afternoon sun. Ordinary, I thought, such an ordinary day.

Even in the midst of mania – one child spilling CDs from the cabinet, the other pulling paints from a drawer – my thoughts tended theological, as they often do.

I thought about ordinary time, where the church spends most of its year. I thought about all of Jesus’ ordinary time, the years before his public ministry. So much of what matters is ordinary – the regular season, the everyday work.

In a season of life when so much seems ordinary, preparation for what’s ahead or maintenance of what’s right now, I sometimes think about all the ordinary years that Jesus spent. Scripture goes silent on the subject; the Gospels skip from twelve-in-the-temple to thirty-in-the-desert in the flip of a page. But those long lost years must have held quiet growth, careful learning, hard work, cultivated relationships, deep prayer. It made all the difference how Jesus lived his ordinary years.

So many days I dream, amidst the cries and chaos, about the years to come. When the house is finished. When my kids are in school. When I have more time to write. I often wrestle with the waiting, the reality of so much ordinary stretching out in front of me.

But when I stop, seized by an extraordinary ordinary like autumn leaves in October sun, I realize how much God must love ordinary. Because all of life is wrapped around it.

The sacred ordinary of every day.

where i saw christ: back pew, pink coat

I glimpsed her at the back of a long line trailing down the aisle, shuffling forward in the slow side-to-side dance of people waiting their turn.

She wore a bright fuchsia trench coat, hair coiffed in a cute side sweep. Behind her bobbed the heads of two bright-eyed daughters, brunettes like their mother. In her arms she held another girl. The smallest, hair pinned back with a pink bow to match.

Did you see them come in? he whispered when he saw where I was staring. She was pushing that little one in a tiny wheelchair.

The family made their way to the front of the line. She swung the tiny girl with limp legs into the wooden chair and knelt down at her feet. Took a pitcher of water and began to pour it slowly over her daughter’s toes.

As she washed, she looked up into the girl’s face and smiled, her eyes bright. Then she dried each small foot with a fluffy white towel and gathered the child back into her arms, setting her gently on the floor. One by one her other daughters eagerly jumped into the chair. Each one received the same wide smile, the same loving attention.

While her sisters’ feet were being washed, the smallest girl began to crawl back down the aisle, dragging her legs behind her. An older woman in the front pew frowned. Without the wheelchair, she was just another antsy child.

But without a word, the mother turned and smiled, bent down to sweep the girl up into her arms and led the group back to their places in the last pew.

That’s what she does all day long, I realized, tears springing into the corners of my eyes.

She washes feet.

stubborn alleluias

A few days before Lent, I sat my son down for a serious conversation over crackers.

“So buddy, Lent starts on Wednesday. Lent is a time when we get ready for Easter. And during Lent we don’t sing Alleluia. So we’re not going to sing Alleluia for a while.”

His sea-blue eyes sparkled up at mine. His milk-smeared mouth turned up at the corners, and he cocked his head full of curls to one side.

“Should we sing Alleluia?” he cooed.

“No,” I replied patiently. “I just said we’re NOT going to sing it for a while. Because it’s Lent. And we don’t sing Alleluias during Lent. We save our Alleluias for Easter.”

“Should we sing Alleluia?” “No.”

“Should we – ” “NO.”

“Sh-” “NO! I SAID NO ALLELUIAS DURING LENT!”

Snack and failed attempt at liturgical catechesis both met an untimely end. The cherub scampered out of the kitchen and raced up the stairs, warbling as he went: “AH-AH-YAY-YOO-YA, AHHHH-YAY-YOO-YA!”

The rest of Lent? You guessed it. Our house has been filled with Alleluias. Cranky Alleluias and cheerful Alleluias. New lyrics sung to Alleluia tunes. Alleluia lyrics slapped onto nursery rhyme songs.

You would think we were already stuffing our cheeks full of Easter chocolates the way Alleluias are resounding round here.

I was annoyed for a while. Ok, I foisted my Lenten disciplines on my child and it failed. I tried to teach a two-year old about the somber tenor of a solemn season and it was a total flop. I realize now that if I had never uttered the A word on Ash Wednesday, I probably would have had a Alleluia-free Lent. I get it.

Silly, silly new mama.

But in the dusty midst of spring cleaning last weekend, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor as I swept a pile across my desk. I picked up the small scrap, its edges taped and retaped, remnants of a journey from childhood mirror to dorm room wall:

Let nothing so fill you with sorrow that you forget the joy of Christ risen.

(Dear Mother Teresa. That little lady had a gift for summing up the Gospel.*)

I thought about the stubborn persistence of joy.

Scraggly green shoots that push up through concrete cracks. Bandaged children who squeal with delight as they play in bombed-out buildings. Cancer patients who crack jokes with their nurses.

Something small and resilient within the human spirit seeks joy at any cost. Alleluia is a stubborn word to purge from our vocabulary. Our tongues ache for it during Lent: the forty days seem too long, and we’re cranky and tired by the end. We need more joy. Which is precisely the point: to do without so we remember how to do with.

This year, we’re plagued with an abundance of Alleluias, courtesy of one cheeky toddler. But I’ve given up fighting with joy. I figure God thought we could use an extra dose of delight in our days, and I’m done complaining. Aren’t all our Lents supposed to be lived in the light of Easter joy?

*For a little Lenten inspiration, check out these quick reads from some great theological minds on the Gospel in seven words or less

And if you want my spin?

“See those people?” God asks. “Love them.”

(Coincidentally, it also applies to parenting.)

ash wednesday: every parent’s nightmare

Last night I lingered in a long line of blinking tail lights to turn into the parking lot. I wondered about the growing crowds at each year’s Ash Wednesday services. What packs the pews this evening every Lent?

As I waited, I thought of four young girls killed in a weekend car crash. Freshmen roommates, victims of a mild winter’s rare snow storm. One was from our town. Another was our sitter’s co-worker. Shiny senior portraits show girls on the brink of adulthood, bright-eyed and smiling. Lots of ashes at their loss.

I looked around at faces, young and old, as I entered the church. Many at Mass knew and loved those girls. What does Lent mean when we’re staring at death?

Before I left home that evening, my husband had told me a story he’d heard about the American reporter killed in Syria. The night before she died in the bomb blast, she told of the suffering of women and children, often the focus of her wartime front-line reporting.

“I watched a little baby die today,” she told the BBC on Tuesday. “Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit. They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said ‘I can’t do anything.’ His little tummy just kept heaving until he died.”

“Stop,” I cut him off before he finished telling me the story. “Stop. I literally cannot hear that.” I scooped up my own 2 year-old and squeezed his squirming limbs to my chest.

“My love,” I whispered into his hair as he wrestled out of my grasp. Overwhelmed at the thought of losing life closest to my own.

I prayed about both stories in the pew. Death close to home and far away. Parents living my worst nightmare. Mothers watching their babies blown apart, fathers sobbing at their daughters’ death. I hated to think about it. But I made myself sit with the terror of such loss.

Who doesn’t want to flip the page when they see the news? Who doesn’t want to turn their head from the TV’s wail? We shy away from the horror because it is too much for us to bear. And yet each day parents wake to our worst nightmare. Cancer. Suicide. Car crash. Overdose. Babies born too early; teenagers gone too soon.

I stared up at the cross while people shuffled forward to get their ashes. I remembered that at the heart of Christ’s story, too, stands this terrible tension. A mother holding her dead son’s body.

We have to sit with this image, this terror and sorrow. And not only on Good Friday, the day of death that makes us squirm so uncomfortably in the pews. But also Ash Wednesday. Ashes on our foreheads, burnt and smeared, remind us that we each will meet death. Even the young and the lovely among us.

A family filed down the aisle in front of me. In the mother’s arms was a tiny girl with blond curls. She, too, was marked with dark ash. What did her mother see when she looked down at the sweet face smeared with soot? A reminder of her child’s mortality? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Why do so many people come back to church this night? Perhaps because Ash Wednesday helps us make sense of life’s fragility. We ritualize our own mortality to remind us to turn from sin to life-giving love.

Ash Wednesday gathers us together as a church and reminds us that our community cares about the deepest realities of our lives. It gently leads us to the edge of our fears and shows us a way to live through the suffering. It shakes us loose from the clench of loss and speaks truth of rising after dying.

A stranger smudges soot on our skin, and the traces tickle our nose. Teenagers elbow each other and snicker at the size of each others’ crosses. Wide-eyed children peer over their parent’s shoulder, innocent of the dark sign they now bear on their forehead, as mortal as the rest of us.

This sacramental sign holds us in tensions we’d rather shudder off – we’re sinful, we’re mortal, we’re human – and transforms them from terrifying to something holy. Something we can hold.

If even for one night.

learning as a family: the new translation

Bet you thought I forgot about this one…

Back when the new translation of the Roman missal was front-page news, I wrote about my struggles in coming to terms with the change. I celebrated words I loved and would miss. And I promised I’d turn to what I could embrace in the new prayers at Mass.

And then life – and work and holidays and travel and illness and everyday chaos-with-kids – interrupted. And I never got to that third post, the hopeful one. Despite its persistent nagging at me every time we slid into the pew on Sunday.

But as the weeks passed and I guiltily thought of how I hadn’t made good on my promise, I started to see that perhaps it was better this way.

I needed time for the new words to bounce off my ear, roll off my tongue, rattle around in my head. I needed space to accept the awkwardness of “chalice” instead of “cup,” “consubstantial” instead of “one in being,” “was incarnate” instead of “born.”

I needed to grumble a bit. I’ll always miss “protect us from all anxiety,” among others.

I needed to stumble a lot. I still mangle the “enter under my roof” prayer every single Sunday.

And through my grumbling and stumbling, I came to realize something important about the new words we now say and pray at Mass each week:

We are learning them together.

It’s rare for a whole family to learn something brand-new. Usually the expert teaches and the novice learns. But as a young family in today’s Catholic Church, we find ourselves in the unique position of learning right alongside our children.

At this point I don’t know the words of the Mass any better than my toddler. We both scramble for pew cards: he pretends to read them, I pretend to memorize. He chimes in on the creed; I jump in late to stutter “and with your spirit.” We each make mistakes, and what can we do but smile? We’re learning as a family. Adults and children alike, back to the beginning together.

Our kids will never know anything but this Mass. For a while that brought me sadness. I liked the words I knew and I didn’t like the reasons behind the change. But now I find myself turning to hope, because that is our Christian calling. I hope that my children will come to love church: listening to Scripture, breaking bread, going forth to serve. I hope that our praying together as community will both comfort and challenge our family. And I hope that my wrestling with the new translation will give my kids a glimpse of what it means to be Catholic.

Our faith is beyond words. It is lives given in love and service to God and each other. You can call that by a thousand different names, but it remains truth. And yet all we have are words – imperfect, human words – with which to pray and wonder and celebrate and question. So without further ado, here are a few of the new words I’m learning to love.

We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father. The words of the Gloria have been inverted. We used to address God first (“Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father”) and state our praise second (“we worship, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory”). But now we explode into this exultation of verbs – praise! bless! adore! glorify! give you thanks! – which crescendos into an explosion of God’s names. I love the build-up of phrases, heaping glory upon glory.

I also celebrate, here and elsewhere in the Mass, the change from “worship” to “adore.” More loving, more intimate, “adore” reminds me of the way I love my husband and my boys: with such sweet joy I can’t help but grin. I like the reminder to love God like that, too.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. We used to respond to the priest’s opening of the Eucharistic Prayer by saying, “It is right to give God thanks and praise.” Which I always liked. Except that the addition of the word “just” has brought echoes of justice into the liturgy. We need more words that call us to justice, so I’ll take this small step.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I can’t be the only faithful feminist out there who noticed that every “he” in the Creed which referred to the Spirit got replaced with “who”? Probably not the translators’ intention (ha!), but I celebrate it nonetheless. I love Spirit as Spirit – creative, powerful, life-giving, beyond-gender Spirit – so I secretly delight in stringing together clauses of “who.” Leaves a little to mystery and imagination, which are the root of faith.

I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. At the end of the Creed we used to say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead,” which for me evoked images of running around the house, searching for my keys (“What are you looking for?” “THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD! I CAN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE!” “Well, where did you last see it?”)

One directional adverb later, and suddenly I switch from scanning the horizon to focusing on the attitude with which I search. I look forward: I anticipate, I hope, I eagerly await. I like looking forward to things – Christmas, birthdays, my youngest child sleeping through the night - much more than I like looking for my keys. So Amen to moving forward.

How about you? What words of the new translation are you coming to love?

(And does anyone else just love the new Mass settings we’re singing? All praise to those liturgists who slogged through tangles of translation to create beauty out of unfamiliar territory. Our parish’s settings of the Hosanna and the Mystery of Faith are simply gorgeous – I’ll have to find out the composer and note it here…)