like a mother and child

I was 12 years old and away at summer camp for the first time. She was the counselor assigned to my cabin. I remember her long dirty blond hair, wavy and wild. Her weathered hiking boots and the lilac shirt she tied around her waist each morning.

Her birch-bark name tag read Marion, but we all chose French pseudonyms for our two-week cultural immersions. So I never knew her real name.

She was blessedly kind, with that standard-issue camp-counselor caring heart. She let me sniffle into her shoulder one lonely night when I was feeling homesick. She probably did the same for every girl in our bunk, though we were all too cool to admit it in daylight.

She didn’t care when we giggled our way through quiet time. She ignored our whispering in English when we were supposed to be practicing French. She laughed when we gossiped about the boys in the bunk next door.

And every night she sang to us.

Like a ship on the harbor
Like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness
I’ll hold you awhile

Who know where she got the song. Whether her mother cooed into her own ears as a baby, or a beloved grandmother hummed while they rocked together. Who knows why she chose to sing us a child’s song, when every other counselor crooned camp ballads or classic oldies or old folk tunes to wind down their charges for the night.

But she sang us a lullaby. And even though we were awkward and eager girls on the cusp of adolescence, we let her.

We’ll rock on the water
I’ll cradle you deep
And hold you while angels
Sing you to sleep

Last night I crooned these words into Joseph’s ears as he screamed and fussed. By the fifth time through, just when I thought my head would explode if I didn’t get back to sleep soon, he was silently sucking his fingers and staring up at me with those unblinking round owl eyes.

The song had worked its magic again. It always does.

the mystery of mothering unfolding

Is it odd that one of my favorite lullabies comes from not from a beloved relative, but from an almost-stranger I once knew for two weeks? I have sang this song to every child I baby sat. Every niece and nephew I rocked. Every newborn of my own.

And each time I hum its melody, I reach back to this young woman, singing softly to a cabin of girls tucked into the settling summer woods, distant loons calling to each other on the dark lake beneath our windows.

I don’t know what happened to Marion. I wrote to her eagerly the rest of that summer and into the fall. She sent me one letter from college, short but kind, postmarked from Madison. I came back to camp for three more summers. She never returned.

She probably never knew that the song she sang each night at lights-out would imprint itself on the mind of a young teenager and carry into her own motherhood. But she taught me something about being a parent. Even when I was miles away from my own family, even when I was only twelve years old.

She taught me that tenderness is an offering, an openness, a gentle hospitality to whomever needs our love. She gave this gift that sweltering summer to twelve girls tucked into creaky wooden bunk beds.

Maybe one day, a child will remember I shared this song with them. Maybe it will be one of my sons. Maybe it will be a niece or nephew or neighborhood kid I babysat growing up. Maybe they will sing it to a child of their own. Lullabies are sung to be shared, after all.

My hope is that they (and I) will remember how sharing these small holy moments – when day meets night, when waking meets sleeping, when cry meets comfort – can shape us over time into gentler people. People who make space for what is tender and vulnerable and in need of love.

Like a mother and child.

. . .

I discovered that this lullaby was written by Cris Williamson in 1977. I’d love to know if any of you ever heard of it before today?

Here are a few more musings on lullabies: finding a song for each child and singing to babies as a spiritual practice.

the gift of ordinary time

I have a sneaking suspicion this is what matters most.

Not the anticipation of Advent, the celebration of Christmas, the long journey of Lent, or the exuberance of Easter.

But the everyday of Ordinary Time.

Lately our kids have been grumbling about the Christmas decorations being packed away. The house looks so plain, I hate it.

And they’re right. There is something melancholy about tucking away the trappings of such a happy season.

At first glance we see only absence. The gaping space where the tree stood. The empty mantel where the creche was displayed. The bare door frame where grinning faces of friends and family beamed down at us from Christmas cards.

But there is welcome relief in slipping back into the ordinary, too.

Rediscovering the beauty of what was already around us, hidden behind the holiday lights and ornaments. The walls and windows of our own world. The places and peace that we had already worked to cultivate.

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I have noticed over the past few years a stirring within myself. Pulling away from the excitement of The Big Events and drawing towards the quiet everyday.

Part of this awakening came with motherhood, which taught that I am an introvert. A solitude-seeking soul who craves calm. Someone who needs to cultivate space for silence, even in the midst of this good work of raising a busy family.

But part of this shift came from stepping back from the whirl of our culture, its constant reaching for The Next Big Thing, its frantic need to fill the stores with the next holiday’s decorations the second that the latest over-hyped celebration ends.

I’m tired of being bombarded with Valentine’s pinks and reds as soon as New Year’s hats are whisked off the shelves.

I want to savor the spaces in between.

So at home, I’m growing grateful for bare windowsills and sparse shelves. For the glow from a single lit candle. For the quiet dark of winter nights.

And at church, I am remembering how much I love Ordinary Time, too.

I am whispering thanks for the wisdom of a tradition that knows our human need for time and space in-between.

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Jesus did most of his living and working in ordinary time. Thirty years before his ministry became public. We don’t know the ordinary stories from those decades, but they must have been filled with the regular routines that fill our own lives: work, family, learning, growth, rest, repeat.

All of Jesus’s ordinary time added up, slowly over seasons and years, to make him who he was. A son, a friend, a neighbor, a prophet, a healer, a teacher, a leader.

I wonder who we are each becoming in our ordinary time, too. As we wash the dishes, dry the laundry, do our work, love our families. How are we shaped by the routines and regular living of each day?

They are something to celebrate, these unassuming weeks of Ordinary Time. They shape us, slowly over seasons and years, into the people that God dreams we will become.

I suspect this ordinary time matters most. Do you?

. . .

A normal day! Holding it in my hands this one last time,
I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel.
In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In times of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this. . .

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky,
and want more than all the world your return.
And then I will know what now I am guessing:
that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel,
but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth
in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.

- Mary Jean Irion, from the essay “Let Me Hold You While I May”
in the book “Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation” (1970)

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turning a corner

Tomorrow I’m giving my first presentation on my book, Everyday Sacrament.

We’ll be talking about spirituality of parenting and simple practices to connect with God in the chaos of life with children. The sacrament of parenting.

This morning I’m brimming with energy: a little nervous and a lot excited. Tomorrow will be a whole new way of sharing my book with the world, all these hopes and ideas and dreams I’ve pondered in the late-night hours while nursing babies and washing dishes and folding laundry.

Pouring time and energy into writing about everyday parenting as a spiritual practice is a solitary way to spend one’s days.

Lots of stolen moments holed up in my office. Lots of late nights curled around a cup of tea. Lots of wondering – amidst the wildness of chasing three little boys – how God speaks to us in ordinary moments.

It’s not the slickest subject for a blog, not the sexiest subject for a book. But this work resonates so deeply with who I am and what I believe that I know it is a worthy way to spend my time. I know it is a calling.

So I’m eager to make this move now, to shift for a season from writing to speaking. Hoping to invite more people into conversations about the deeper meaning of our vocation as parents.

I’m ready to turn this corner.

. . .

I was so relieved to turn the calendar page to January this year.

2015 feels like fresh air. Deep cleansing breaths. Every slow and simple metaphor that reminds me to pause and take stock of where we have been and where we are going.

The end of 2014 was frantic and frenzied. No child care, lots of work, husband abroad, everyone sick, holiday rush. We lived at an unsustainable pace, and our minds and bodies paid the price. We limped into New Year’s knowing that we needed January 1st.

Maybe more than ever.

Ever since we hung fresh calendars on the kitchen wall, I have felt the turning. We rounded a welcome corner, and we are all better for a new start. The kids are calmer after the holiday sugar-fest has ceased and the presents are put away. The house is settling into sparser, simpler space as we take down decorations.

And I’m relearning the power of inversion. Starting with the important, not the urgent. Catching myself before I slip into old, agitated ways. Watching with wonder as life falls into place more peacefully than when I wrestle with anxious desire to control.

I’m turning habits inside out. Putting people ahead of tasks. Trusting that God will provide the time and space for good to happen.

And it feels so right. Like the awakening inhale of cold morning air that clears the head and opens the eyes.

. . .

We all need to turn corners.

This is why resolutions resonate with us, year after year, isn’t it? Our shared dream of carving out more space to become the person we hope to become.

Sabbath offers us a weekly turning, too. A reminder that we are made for rest, not rush. A call back to God’s ways, not our ways.

I hope you are finding spaciousness in your new year. I hope you are settling into January’s clear horizons with hope.

I hope you are turning corners, too.

The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along – to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.

- from “New Year’s” by Dana Goia 

P.S. I’ve also freshened up the blog’s look for the new year! For all you lovely email subscribers, I hope you’ll click over and tell me what you think…And if you haven’t yet subscribed to Mothering Spirit, sign up to receive new posts right in your inbox!

there will be so many years

There will be so many years, she tells me, of nights so quiet you don’t know what to do with yourself.

I’m perched on my knees, rolling my green yoga mat into a tight spiral, facing the brick wall of the studio so she can’t see my smile when she wishes the class “a peaceful evening.”

You can’t believe it now, I know, she laughs.

Mine are 23 and 25. And the house is quiet. So quiet. 

I tell her I believe her.

. . .

There will be so many years, she tells me, of whole days where you can do whatever you want.

I’m washing dishes in the sink, staring out the water-splattered kitchen window while she finishes her cup of coffee before the boys drag her into another board game because “Grandma, you promised!”

Can you imagine it now, she smiles. Whole days to do whatever you want?

I can’t imagine. I tell her I believe her.

image

There will be so many years.

Of calm Sundays at church. Lazy Saturday mornings spent reading the whole newspaper. Spur-of-the-moment Friday nights when we decide to see that show or try that restaurant or watch that movie.

When we do nothing more to prepare but pull on coats and flick off lights as we leave. No planning, no pumping, no prepping the babysitter on everyone’s bedtime routine. We will forget all these details.

We will watch films first-run, take weekend getaways, catch art exhibitions before they close, go to that jazz club whenever the mood strikes us.

We will do laundry once a week instead of twice a day. We will grocery shop with one basket instead of two carts. We will listen to whatever we want in the car. Or we will simply drive and listen to nothing at all.

There will be so many years.

When little boy laughter does not bubble up from downstairs. When bright baby smiles do not greet us from the crib to wake the morning. When they don’t sing silly songs or dance in the kitchen or build basement rocket ships or cuddle onto the couch to read stacks of books.

For most of the years I will know my children, we will all be adults (God willing).

We will still laugh and joke and enjoy each other’s company. But we will also be serious. We will talk about politics and money. We will disagree. They will have their own addresses. We will make plans to meet for lunch. They will insist on picking up the check.

And all I have to do?

Let these years be these years. Let those years be those years.

Refuse to escape the privilege of another present moment with them by reaching ahead for what is not yet. Or longing behind for what was.

All I have to do is be present. To the gift of right now.

. . .

There will be so many years, I will tell her, when you don’t get to carry a baby all day. Believe me, I don’t mind.

She will stand near my elbow, holding another blanket and burp cloth ready, trying not to hover but still hovering because that’s all you can do when your baby is still shockingly brand new.

Can you believe it now, I will ask her as I breathe in that fuzzy warmth again, that there will be days when you don’t hold anyone?

Her eyes will be glassy from one of those painful nights of naps. All she will see are the heaps of laundry shoved in corners before I came over, the mess of bottles waiting to be sanitized once I leave, the dishes in the sink she should have scrubbed, the hair she didn’t wash, the clothes she didn’t change.

She won’t be able to imagine. But she might try to believe.

There will be so many years.

and mary kept all these things

dawn

Originally ran last year at FaithND on today’s Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God:

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.

(Luke 2:16-21)

She must have heard so many cruel words, slurs muttered under breath as she passed, pregnant before marriage. Maybe she was strong enough to let the lies roll off her back. Or maybe each insult wounded deeper than the last, her cheeks burning from shame and a mystery she could not explain.

But here, finally, were words of wonder and hope—from the mouths of people just like her. Here were shepherds who stopped their daily work to bring her stories of angels singing glory. Here were strangers who asked to see her baby and marveled at what his birth might mean.

Of course she treasured their words, turning them over and over in her heart, wondering what they might mean. While she learned to care for her child, as squalling and sleepless and hungry as any newborn, she gathered strength from their promise.

The world kept buzzing with the busyness of life with a new baby—the long nights and the blurry days and the naming and the rituals and the settling in as a new family once all the visitors finally went home. But contemplative as she was, she kept wondering.

What did their words mean? Who was this child? How would her life unfold?

Perhaps this prayer practice was what sustained her as a mother: to treasure and to ponder. To remember, as parents try to do amidst the endless work of raising children, why she started on this path in the first place: to serve the God she loved, to give of herself that life might be born and be forever changed.

And as she pondered, she became transformed by the gift she held: a treasure of words that would glimmer hope for centuries, an angel’s song that echoed long after the shepherds left.

What words do we treasure? What gifts do we ponder? What practice will sustain us as a new year dawns?

the day after the first christmas

Here she is, only a day into motherhood. Her hands trying to figure out how to feed her crying newborn, human as he is. Maybe she has help from midwives who took pity on a poor girl far from home, no kinswoman of her own to care for her. Or maybe she feels so alone that her heart aches for her mother or cousin, sisters or friends, anyone who could guide her learning to nurse this baby, bring soft clothes to diaper him, serve her warm food for strength, help tend her healing body.

Here he is, only a day into fatherhood. His head still reeling from the panicked fear of not finding her a place in time, his face flushed from the shame of not being able to provide. He never dreamed any of this: witnessing labor only women do, caring for a wife he had never touched, staring while strangers showed up to a filthy stable to say they saw some sign of hope. And having to hold her in that darkest hour, the moment when the world split open between life and death and everything hung in the barren breathless balance of will the baby cry?

Here they are, only a day from the strangest night. Angels and shepherds and songs and strangers – everything foreign and far from what their familiar lives had known as truth. Here they are, together and alone. Starting parenthood smack dab in the middle of salvation history.

. . .

They hang in my mind today. As I nurse the baby in new Christmas pajamas, vacuum shreds of gift wrap from the carpet, scrub chocolate smears from holiday platters, haul cardboard boxes to the cold garage.

I wonder what they might have felt, worried, dreamed, laughed, cried. That first morning after.

It is dangerous to imagine ourselves into their shoes and stories. I know this. We call it isogesis. A technical theological term for that thorny tendency to read into the text with our own biases, agendas, presuppositions.

Safer and wiser to exegete. To keep a safe distance from the sentiment of the story, to let the author and the audience and the ancient context tell their own intended tale.

But it can be just as dangerous not to imagine. If we don’t let them come to life – messy, muddling, realest reality of life – then these far-off figures stay story characters, pastel pictures in soft light on smooth pages of children’s books. One-dimensional. Archaic. Dusty history.

If we don’t let her sweat as a hard-working mother, then Mary is only pictured in pious pose, swooning over the sleeping Christ child. If we don’t let him wrestle with fatherhood on terms he never would have chosen, then Joseph remains only the silent stalwart standing behind her in stained glass scenes.

If we do not let their stories leap to life with the dreaming minds God gave us, then their lives cannot become real to our faith. They do not struggle, stumble, wonder, wait, learn, love, forget, forgive. They do not grow into the people God asked them to become.

Her fiat changed the world. His faith did the same. What might ours do?

Here we are, only a day into a new Christmastide. How will we let ourselves be changed?

the blog book tour: day 7. fumbling toward grace

All good things must come to an end.

So here we are at the last stop of the Everyday Sacrament book tour.

EverydaySacrament_quote4To say that this virtual gathering of bloggers and friends has been a joy would be an understatement. Each one of them has inspired and encouraged me, and I hope they have affirmed the ordinary holiness of your own life, too.

November and December have been a stressful season chez nous. We’ve had big work deadlines, no child care, international trips, sick kids, broken appliances – you name it, and it feels like we’re floundering.

And in the midst of this already crazy chaos, here came this beautiful little gift of a book showing up on our doorstep. All at once I felt humbled and honored – and overwhelmed, to be honest – by the prospect of sharing this slice of my heart with the wider world.

So when all these kindred spirits, each of them mother-writers in their own right, agreed to help me share the news of this book, I was reminded again what a gift this community of bloggers has become in my life. I’m grateful that each of them let Everyday Sacrament into their homes and hearts. And I hope that through their words, you discovered some new kindred spirits, too.

Today Sarah from Fumbling Toward Grace offers a prophetic reflection on parenting, baptism, racism, and justice. 

I’m always inspired by Sarah’s honesty and heart for Catholic social teaching, and today’s post is a shining example of her committed, courageous faith. If you never dreamed that baptism had anything to do with Ferguson, click here to remember the prophetic roots of this sacrament.

And if you missed any of the earlier stops in the tour, check out the full list of reflections, reviews, and giveaways!

Day 1: Ginny from Random Acts of Momness
Day 2: Abbey from Surviving Our Blessings
Day 3: Lydia from Small Town Simplicity
Day 4: Nell from Whole Parenting Family
Day 5: Peg from Sense of the Faithful
Day 6: Molly from Molly Makes Do
Day 7: Sarah from Fumbling Toward Grace

[AND NOW, gentle reader, I PROMISE THAT I AM GOING TO BLOG ABOUT STUFF OTHER THAN SACRAMENTS AND THIS BOOK!]

When I find time again.

Which will likely be in 2015.

(Because let’s be honest.)

Love & light to you & yours this Advent-tide!