Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share a few favorite images around each sacrament. Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament. Let’s start seeing sacraments together…
Confirmation is one of three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church (along with baptism and Eucharist). Sacred anointing with holy chrism oil. Laying on of hands by the bishop. Sealing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Most Catholics receive the sacrament of confirmation as young people. (Too often it becomes a graduation from faith formation.) Others receive it as adults in the RCIA process. Either way we only “get it” once.
But do we ever get it?
This Spirit stuff is slippery. Scripture tells us of the Spirit’s gifts: wonder and wisdom, reverence and right judgment, knowledge and courage and understanding. But how do we live out these gifts? How does this sacrament shape our lives as Christians?
How do we see and taste and hear and feel confirmation every day?
. . .
I see confirmation in the way my children start to chase after their gifts.
I taste confirmation in the day’s unexpected glimmers of grace.
I hear confirmation in my callings, trying to listen to the Spirit for guidance in this holy work of parenting.
I see confirmation in the ways I try to lift my gaze heaven-ward.
I feel confirmation in the softest flutters of encouragement to share gifts.
Where do you sense confirmation around you? What does this sacrament mean for your life?
Catholics believe there are seven sacraments. These are the capital-S sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders.
But there are plenty of small-s sacraments shot through our everyday, too. Moments of grace where we encounter God. And the stuff of daily life – water and oil, bread and wine, forgiveness and healing, relationships and work – glistens with the fingerprints of the divine.
This is what my book is all about. Grace in the mess. Extraordinary in the ordinary. God in the Everyday Sacrament.
Since my siblings convinced me to try Instagram this summer, I have been captivated by finding small, sacred moments to capture. I love that this outlet of social media, more than any other I’ve tried, seems to be about sharing glimpses of joy and beauty.
And if you’ve been following me (@thismessygrace) and you’ve wondered why on earth I keep hash-tagging photos with #baptism, #marriage, #reconciliation or #anointing?
It’s because this Instagram lens on my ordinary world provides a perfect way to start seeing sacraments.
Where do you see sacraments in your everyday? A quick kiss from your spouse before work. A cold drink of water on a warm day. A to-do list packed with good work for those you love. A cupboard full of food.
Sacraments are all around us, if we have eyes to see.
(Yeah, I went there. You can only stare at so many bumper stickers about motorcycles without getting inspired.)
If we start to limit where we see God, our vision of the whole world narrows. But if we open our eyes wider, then we might marvel at what we find.
Baptism at bath time. Eucharist round the dinner table. Reconciliation after sibling squabbles.
What we celebrate in church is reflected at home. What we live at home is honored in church. And God is present, everywhere and always.
“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.
You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.
Only, who could have the courage to see it?”
Let’s have the courage to see it. Let’s start seeing sacraments together.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Every week until my book is published, I’ll share a few favorite Instagram images here around one sacrament. Starting today with baptism, of course. Where our Christian story begins:
First, thanks to all of you who sent so much love with my big announcement last week! I’m floored by your support and can’t wait to share my “baby” with you very soon.
Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions on the details (apparently cryptic reflections on liturgical feasts aren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity?) so I wanted to answer the questions I’ve been getting via email and social media.
What’s the title? What’s it all about?
The book is called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
I call it a spiritual-memoir-meets-parenting-memoir with a twist. It takes the seven Catholic sacraments as a lens for looking at life with little ones in a whole new light. So it’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the sticky, Lego-strewn, does-anyone-ever-mop-this-floor? ground zero of parenting.
But the book can perhaps be best summed up by this hysterical – unofficial! – trailer that my brother made me. (Ok, actually it’s nothing like this, but I can’t stop laughing when I watch it.) If anyone can catch every single pop culture reference upon first viewing, I will send you an autographed copy of the book:
Who’s the publisher? When is it coming out?
I’m delighted to be working with Liturgical Press, and the book should be out by early fall 2014. Will keep you posted!
And finally, the #1 question I seem to get regarding the book:
How did you find time to write this???
People always want to know how I do this. (I know I’m far from the only mother-writer who gets these baffled looks.) My guess is that it’s the same way any of us make time for the passions we love: stealing spare moments and carving out corners.
But here are five ways I able to write this book (while raising two young kids, working part-time, and surviving a challenging pregnancy or two in the past year):
1) I slacked off elsewhere. I cancelled my gym membership after our second son arrived, and I’ve felt guilty about the lack of exercise ever since. But something’s gotta give in every season of life, and in this stage with little ones underfoot, working out is what I let go. Physically? Not so healthy. Emotionally and spiritually? I’m much happier if I spend my free time on writing. I know someday I’ll have time for regular exercise again, but for now chasing preschoolers and squeezing in yoga will have to suffice.
Also, housekeeping chez nous took a sharp nosedive in early 2013 when I started seriously working on this project, and it has barely recovered. Don’t look too closely at the bathrooms next time you come over. Trust me.
2) I had lots of help. Being blessed with a supportive spouse who sees my writing as a calling makes this work possible. I took a lot of Saturday mornings to write at coffee shops, and he regularly took on the boys’ bath/bedtime routine solo to give me extra hours to write at night. I couldn’t have done this without him.
But I also asked for help from others when I needed it: I paid for a few extra hours of childcare with our sitter when my schedule allowed it, and I leapt at my parents’ offers to watch the kids whenever we were visiting them. Writing a book is a team effort.
3) I learned when I work best. Once I started paying attention to the natural rhythms of my mind and body, I figured when the best times are for me to do creative work: before dawn, between 10 am and noon, and after 9 pm. Now I don’t try to force myself to write during other times of the day, and I find that flow comes much easier.
Of course, my life doesn’t always align with my creative energy. So I stock up on caffeine and chocolate to work during naptime when I’m home with the kids, or I stick to editing tasks during my “off” hours. But knowing when I find flow helps me stop banging my head against a wall when things aren’t going well: I check the clock and decide when to start again later.
4) I organized against my nature. This might contradict my own advice in #3 (know thyself). But I am not a type-A person. I’d much rather enjoy a lazy day, go with the flow, and act spontaneously. Most of the time that doesn’t jive with running a household or raising kids. So over the past year I’ve forced myself – with gritted teeth – to develop some type-A habits.
I methodically meal-plan every week so I never have to come up with dinner ideas at 5:00. I charted all our household chores and made a weekly/monthly schedule so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done. I still bristle at sticking to these uber-organized systems, but they’ve freed up enough precious moments for writing every day to make it worth it.
5) I stuck to a schedule. This is what happens when a humanities major meets an engineer: one person delights in work plans, the other rolls their eyes. But when I got serious about finishing this book in one year, my husband sat down and helped me make a weekly calendar that would allow me to write and edit every single chapter within the allotted months. (I guess this combines #2 – team effort – and #4 – unnatural organization.)
Bless his heart, he hoped I’d track every hour I spent on the project so that I could know exactly how much time it took to write the book. But I will say that knowing exactly what I needed to work on every week, rather than following inspiration’s whim as is my fancy, made it possible to pull off pregnancy + book in a way that surprised even me.
So there you have it: what it is and how I did it. And what a gift this opportunity has been – I am so humbled and excited by how everything has worked out. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring…
I jostle one boy on my hip and nudge the other a step closer to the front of the line. Herding cats, I think as he wanders into the neighboring line of communion-goers.
Using my one free hand I gently guide him back by the shoulder and whisper in his ear about trying to stay near mama. We’re only a few people from the front when the toddler in my arms lunges away and starts kicking his feet in protest, demanding to walk, informing me in no uncertain terms that he does it himself.
When we reach the priest at the head of the line, I ready myself with a smile – maybe even an apologetic one for my motley crew – but he’s nowhere to be found.
Instead he’s already crouching low to smile at my boy and ruffle his hair before he blesses him, in words just at his level and his own name added at the end as a kicker.
Then he stands up again and does the same for the child in my arms: a welcoming grin, words of love and blessing.
Only then does he turn to me, the one waiting with outstretched hands, to offer another broad smile and the Body of Christ. I gratefully accept both.
I love that this is our parish’s practice, to bless the babies and offer words of communion to the children before they are old enough to receive. But once in a while I find myself restless, wanting the minister to hurry up so we don’t delay the line behind us, or wanting to get communion myself and get on my way.
Exactly the moments it does me good to have this sacrament interrupted.
What is grace if not given freely, not deserve by the one who waited patiently but poured out on every face that comes forth to a welcoming table?
What is sacrament if not shared first with the least, the forgotten, the neglected?
Maybe all sacrament is interruption. God breaks into what’s most ordinary – bread, water, love, forgiveness – and blesses human attempts to make holy. We’re jarred into remembering that wine and oil and candles and rings clasp truth to our hearts in ways more powerful than words. We need the ritual, the rite, the action, the sign. We need it spoken to us personally, like Christ pulling one child onto his lap, and communally, as a church trying to re-member ourselves back into one body.
And we need it to keep interrupting our expectations: that we are in charge, that we control faith, that this life is ours for the taking.
Every Sunday now, as I herd the cats back to our crayon-strewn pew, I hear them plead with a hungry look back towards the line we’ve just left: “I want Communion next time! Why don’t I get bread, too?”
This is how our restless hearts come home, I think.
Learning to long for the love they see extended.
Wanting to receive the blessing they are promised.
In a week when marriage made headlines, the quiet moments will be the ones I remember.
Glimpsing small cousins plodding down the aisle in tiny tuxedos, child-sized versions of the grooms they may one day become.
Chasing an exasperating (yet still adorable) toddler around the back of church while the priest asks if the couple will accept children and bring them up with love.
Catching only one line from the homily in its entirety, words quoted from Bonhoeffer that it is not the love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.
Hearing a father with a golden voice singing for his daughter as she lit a candle with her new husband.
Saying yes to the bright-eyed boy who asked to take his off his too-tight dress shoes and run free through the lush grass of the golf course green.
Spinning my baby on my hip as he tipped back his head and belly-laughed with glee, wondering whether he’ll ever spin me around another mother-son dance some day.
Late-night mugging for the camera in the photo booth, catching my husband on the cheek with a kiss as so many couples have done before us.
Watching one last burst of fireworks as we pulled out of the parking lot with two tired boys fading fast in the back and a squeeze on the hand from the spouse who knows I love summer night surprises like a six year-old child.
Beyond the headlines, the everyday work of marriage goes on as before. Work and joy, children and responsibility, forgiveness and laughter.
It is a seemingly impossible promise, to choose a covenant with another flawed human being for the rest of your days. But quietly behind the scenes, millions make it happen without fanfare.
Every wedding we attend, ever since our own, I watch the high hopes of the couple at the altar, standing together in contrasting white and black, and I wonder how fitting it is to pledge love in a place of sacrifice, of lives laid down and broken in gift for each other. We are pointed towards the mystery and crucible of the sacrament long before we can glimpse the long view of what we have promised.
It’s tempting, once you’re no longer newlyweds and have reached the point of settledness—having set up house and established careers and had a few babies—to start sounding more like the seasoned old-timers, whispering while we watch them take their vows: “They’re just kids! They have no idea what’s ahead of them.”
It’s partly true: they don’t. We didn’t. No couple who commits themselves on a wedding day can fully grasp what that covenant will mean or what life will throw their way. We all hear “for better, for richer, in good times, in health” and breeze over the second half of each couplet: the wise and cautious reminders of the sufferings this calling will inevitably encounter.
Yet whenever I’m tempted to run the risk of clucking condescension for the fresh-faced kids standing on the altar, I remember this: we, too, had no idea what was ahead of us. But we, too, knew just enough for that day.
(Click here to read the rest of my latest post at CatholicMom.com)
This weekend’s was one of those weddings when everyone agrees – over glasses of Chardonnay and cocktail hour Sinatra and children shedding suit coats underfoot – that They’re A Perfect Match, that We Couldn’t Be Happier For Them.
We nod and affirm, without ever saying it, that they do know enough for today.
And that the rest of us – jostling babies on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over linen tablecloths to hear grandparents tell stories, clinking forks against glasses to embarrass the newlyweds into a kiss – we are still slowly learning our way into our vows, too.
For over a year, our oldest son switched “I” and “you” whenever he spoke. So he sounded like an overly compassionate child, always concerned with what “you” wanted and what “you” needed, constantly volunteering that “I” should help the crying baby and “I” should clean up the mess. His malaprop-kid-ism was cute at the beginning. But after months and months of ignoring our corrections, his habit got grating for those closest to him who were constantly being asked whether they wanted a diaper change.
With help from his teacher and sitter, we recently redoubled our efforts to help him learn. And over the last month, he’s started to switch, slowly. Now we hear a hybrid of “I” and “you,” but trending towards full claiming of self-hood when he speaks. Today when we pose a question, he responds carefully and proudly – “I do!” – the words still new, fresh and powerful in his mouth.
. . .
Last week we were talking after Mass about baptism, about the babies who had been dunked in water and blessed with oil and dressed in white. My boy pondered this thoughtfully, remembering what he had seen when he gathered around the fount with the other children. Then he posed me a question:
“Do you say ‘I do’ at church?”
I paused, surprised. I’d forgotten to talk about the “I-dos,” the vows we all renewed before the babies were baptized. But he remembered.
I started to correct his I/you confusion for the zillionth time, but then I stopped. In fact, we had both said “I do” at the morning’s baptism. And I have spoken these words at church many more times than he has. When the priest asked my husband and me if we were ready to give ourselves to each other in marriage. When our pastor asked if we knew what we were doing when we brought each of our boys to be baptized. We speak these words often at church, whenever we renew baptismal vows or attend a wedding: I do. I do.
. . .
Lately I listen to my son sing-song his new words around the house, talking himself while he plays or responding when I ask him questions. He is learning to claim and assert himself, to stand as a separate and independent entity, one who understands who he is and what he wants. And by recognizing who he is, he better understands who others are as well. The lines become less blurry each time he states clearly, “I do.”
Baptism sounds like this to my ears: I do, I do, I do. It is the sacrament of self-hood, the claiming and christ-ing of each child of God, the initiation into a family and a life of faith. This morning when I watched two more babies plunged into waters of new life, one silent and wondering, one shrieking and wailing, I thought about the sounds of baptism.
Sometimes baptism sounds like a splash, a squeal, a seal. The pour of water, rub of oil, spark of candle. But over time baptism sounds like the long learning of “I do,” growing into identity and understanding, claiming for ourselves what the church and God believe we can become.
It’s a big step, learning to say “I do.” I’m still trying to figure out how to do it every day. But I’m proud of my boy for his awakening, and grateful for journeying on his gradual realization of what it means to be “I” and what it means to “do.”
It takes all of us a long time – maybe a lifetime – to get there.
How could I help but notice? She flapped her fingers in front of her face as the choir sang, waving her hands spastically, tilting her head to the tune. When the singers paused during verses, she stopped and slumped forward, dark hair falling over her eyes. But each time the piano picked up and the voices rose again, she perked up and lifted her gaze in wonder, coming alive as the church sang around her.
It’s not polite to stare. We learn the lesson young, in scolding. Yet curiosity captures us even as adults. When someone acts slightly different from the norm, we naturally notice.
But what caught my eye this morning was not the girl lost in her own world in the pew. It was her parents. Not ashamed of their daughter’s behavior, not trying to shush her into silence; quite the contrary. Her mother swayed her shoulders to the music’s beat, smiling ever so slightly. Her father nodded his own head in time with the singers.
A family in tune, in love.
I used to be embarrassed of my people-watching at church. Noticing who laughed and who cried, who was there and who wasn’t. Stealing glances at the lines filing up to receive communion. Sneaking glimpses of cute children in their parents’ arms. I chided myself for the lazy habit, distraction from spiritual discipline.
But today I started to see it as a spiritual practice in itself. Trying to see Christ in the Body of Christ.
Today I glimpsed the young pregnant woman behind us stifle her laugh as my sons threw books at each other. I saw the middle-aged man in front of me frown and shake his head during the sermon, leaning over to whisper to his wife. I watched a woman on the other side of church weeping quietly during the communion hymn, and no one around her noticed.
I stared after Mass as a woman laid her hands gently on the shoulders of an elderly man and began to speak soft words of blessing over him. I caught a glimpse of a young man scribbling in the parish prayer book. I watched a trio of toddlers splash their hands in the baptism pool while pairs of white-haired couples shuffled into the pews, already early for the next service.
When I wonder what it means to come to church, week after week, I think about people-watching. I love that church makes me jostle up against people who are like me and nothing like me. I love that standing shoulder to shoulder in a noisy, restless, laughing, coughing crowd pulls me out of my solitude of prayer. I love that every time I feel I’ve got something pegged about the divine – or the church or the world or my own place therein – the Eucharist breaks me open again, in humility and hope. Because of what I see around me.
Maybe my people-watching is simply noticing the nudges from God whispering, See that? I’m like that, too.
Maybe this is what means to be the Body of Christ. Unashamed by the differences. A family in tune, in love.
One whole trip around the sun. That’s how long he’s been a Christian.
A year ago we gathered with old and new friends, family from near and far. My mother and I dressed my six-week old son in the baptismal gown that four generations of my family have worn.
And a young deacon, an-almost priest we met as he journeyed through seminary, rolled up the sleeves of his alb, nervously took the squirmy baby from my arms, and plunged him deep into the waters of new life.
He came up wide-eyed and gave a small yelp. We all smiled.
Everyone likes when the baby cries, my mother whispered. That’s how they know the baptism “took.”
Last weekend we watched a baptism from the back of church while that same boy, now a year old and a thousand times squirmier, crawled around the gathering space. I listened as the pastor asked parents and godparents the old familiar questions we’ve heard a thousand times before.
What name do you give your child? What do you ask of the Church for your child? Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
The priest chuckled at the last question, paused and turned to the congregation. “I always laugh when I ask parents that one. As if they have any clue at all what they’re getting into.”
I looked down at our boy. I thought about the letter I wrote him one year ago. Do I clearly understand what I am undertaking? Trying to raise him in this church, trying to raise him in any kind of faith when all the headlines scream that it’s becoming more unpopular by the day?
Not at all. Maybe none of us do.
But I’m trying. Deep in my bones I believe this is the most important thing I’m trying to do as a parent, to awaken my children to the possibilities of faith and a life lived for others.
And isn’t that what most mothers and fathers do – parent towards possibility? No matter our child’s age or ability, no matter their stage or situation, we always dream of the possibilities, what they might do and achieve and become. Baptism’s like that, too. We are welcomed into a community that has great hopes for us, called by God who dreams of all we might become.
But baptism also celebrates the simple fact of being beloved. Of knowing that we need not achieve to be worthy nor succeed to be faithful. My hopes for what he comes to believe about his faith rest between this tension: I hope it will inspire him to do and remind him to be.
When I think on my boy’s baptism anniversary of what it means to have smeared that chrism on his forehead and named him a child of God, I wonder what knowledge his own bones hold from that moment. None of us remember the first year of life. And yet he knows many things, deeply.
He knows he is loved. He knows the people he loves. He knows he has always been cared for. All of that will help him learn how he is beloved by God, no matter where he goes or what he does. I hope the memory of that belovedness is his lasting gift.
That will be how I know the baptism took.
It started off as a lovely morning. Until.
Isn’t that the way it always goes?
Until the baby smeared yogurt all over his third outfit of the morning. Until the preschooler dawdled away all our free minutes pushing strawberries around his plate. Until one child cried for help getting shoes on the right feet while the other tipped over my tumbler of tea and the dog howled for help and suddenly everyone was wailing and white-hot anger surged through my body, tight and hard and shaking and ugly, and I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs I cannot DO this, God I cannot DO THIS!
And finger-snap fast, the bright sunny morning is brooding and dark. We’re sulking in the car and I’m racing through stop lights and both boys are sad-quiet in the back and all I can think is this is not how I want to live. Yelling at my kids and running late and stress pounding in my temples.
I take a deep breath, two, three. I ask for forgiveness. I promise I love them. I sing a song to cheer the mood.
But all morning long the memory lingers.
I pray as I stroll the baby down sun-dappled streets. I plot ways to ease the morning crunch. I plunk down five dollars at the bakery for the big boy’s favorite loaf of fresh bread.
And then we’re driving home, and he’s full of school day chatter and the baby is babbling smiles and I am overwhelmed with the rush of love and joy and guilt and fear that sweeps over every day of mothering. God, I love them so much and they’re such sweet, small things and I hate my rotten temper and I hope I’m not ruining them.
Rare is the day that comes easy, but how I wrestle with the days that come hard.
At lunch’s end, I pull the loaf of still-warm bread from the paper bag. Something feels sacramental. I tear off a hunk and offer it to the boy I screamed at hours earlier. He grins and accepts. I do, too.
We both chew, quiet and content. I think about Eucharist. Does it help us forgive? Liturgy and sacrament classes swirl in my head; I can’t remember a single connection. But it feels good to slow down and break bread. That much I know.
Before nap time we’re snuggling over a pile of books. As he dives under the covers, he asks if we’re going to do prayers next. I start to say no, that prayers are for bedtime, and then I hear my own words. Of course, I reply. Let’s pray.
He launches into “Our Father…”and I hum along, half paying attention. Until.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses. As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Bread and forgiveness, I realize. There it is. I swallow back the lump in my throat, kiss his mop of hair as he turns away on the pillow.
What we need daily: bread and forgiveness. That much I know.
We’re on the cusp of the holiest of days.
For those who call themselves Christian, the Triduum is the most sacred time of the year. A truth often buried under piles of Easter candy, pink bunnies and plastic grass.
Each day has a distinct flavor. The earthy service of Holy Thursday: washing dirty feet and breaking bread with friends. The stark emptiness of Good Friday: lamenting death and sitting with suffering. The long stretch of Holy Saturday: wondering and waiting. And the brilliant delight of Easter Sunday: singing joy and celebrating life.
I love Triduum. Every year I slowly slip into a lackluster Lent, but always find myself on the eve of Triduum with childlike anticipation. Because the journey from Thursday to Sunday never fails to surprise as it draws me into the stories and the rituals, the sacred and the mystery.
Triduum sums up what I love about being Catholic: ritual, liturgy, Scripture, sacrament. I wrestle with my faith and my church and my God every other day of the year. But for these four days, I enter in deeply, willingly, openly.
That said, the prospect of multiple church services with a baby and a toddler in tow is practically laughable. I’m sure we’ll end up with good story material this year as we always do. And I know much of our Holy Week will be lived out at home, which is just fine, too.
To balance the mayhem we’ll bring to Mass, I’ve collected a handful of lovely reads and reflections to help celebrate each day at home, during those rare gems of quiet moments to myself. Perhaps a few will intrigue or inspire you as well:
Palm Sunday lessons from an unlikely Pontius Pilate by James Martin, SJ. “Because, as even a six-year-old knows, everyone roses from the dead.”
Strip.ped bare: Holy Week and the art of losing by Richard Lischer for Holy Thursday
Busted Halo’s excellent Virtual Stations of the Cross for Good Friday
What did Jesus do on Holy Saturday? From the Washington Post’s On Faith blog
And lest you get overwhelmed, take this advice and let one piece of the Passion rest in your thoughts this week. The whole is too much for any of us to hold.
(Especially without a good soundtrack to accompany the highs and lows.)
Happy holy week. We’re almost there.