a round-up of labor day thoughts

How will you celebrate your work today?

Here are a few ways to honor the labor you do, whether out in the world or behind closed doors:

Look at laundry in new light to see how every day is a labor day.

Remember the ordinary, extraordinary labor that brought each of us into this world.

Consider how God works, too: bakingsweeping, washinggathering, or hosting.

Take a page from my pastor on making room for kids in the midst of our work:

It’s adorable, of course, to watch a tall man in flowing robes lean over to talk to a tiny toddler. But sometimes I wonder if we let these interactions change us, if we who are parents let ourselves learn from our pastor.

I admit that I don’t always make such gracious space in my work for my children.

They pull over chairs to the counter in the middle of my dinner prep, and I sigh because little hands will now make a mess in the flour and steal veggies off the cutting board.

They show up at my elbow while I’m writing and ask to sit on my lap, and I grumble because I’m in the middle of finishing an important project with a pressing deadline.

They appear in the middle of folding laundry or sweeping floors or washing dishes, and I mistake the real work for the chore at my hands, not the moment unfolding in front of my eyes…

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com

Check out our suggestions of hymns and blessings for Labor Day from the Collegeville Institute Seminars.

And these awesome Labor Day prayers written by my friend Genevieve at the USCCB.

Finally, treat yourself to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer on the holiness of everyday work. I’ve loved her music for a long time, but the beauty of her voice and words have become healing for me this past month:

Holy is the dish and drain

The soap and sink, and the cup and plate

And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile

Shower heads and good dry towels

And frying eggs sound like psalms

With bits of salt measured in my palm

It’s all a part of a sacrament

As holy as a day is spent

take two: working (and praying)

The second half of the series on How We Spend Our Time. Following each author’s insights, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. Cathy writes about work as prayer. Here’s my take:

The easier way, of course, is not to let my work be prayer.

It’s far simpler to zone out while doing the laundry or the dishes than to move through the motions mindfully.

It’s more satisfying to grumble about paying bills or cutting kids’ hair than to approach it as a loving act of service.

It’s even easier to jump into the email inbox and the day’s to-do list than to honor the professional work I do as sacred.

But the stubborn truth is that it’s all holy, this everyday mix of action and reflection, creation and repetition. God already blesses work as good; it’s up to us to see the same.

Maybe we miss it when we call it “work,” when we file it under obligation or drudgery. Maybe if we called it all “prayer” – making breakfast or giving baths or compiling spreadsheets or sitting through meetings or running errands or mowing the lawn – maybe then we would begin to understand how God’s eyes see us.

Maybe.

. . .

I noticed a few weeks ago – while stuffing the day’s umpteenth load of laundry in the washer, then scrubbing all the pots from last night’s dinner, then hustling upstairs to help the potty-trainer in the bathroom – that I had marked each of these spaces with a gentle reminder. A small shimmer of beauty next to each place of dirty work.

Maybe I needed to remember that each one was holy.

In the laundry room, two postcards from the L’Arche community where I worked in France.

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I remember cutting carrots with Daniel, washing dishes with Monique, bathing Claude and dressing Bernard. And I’m overwhelmed at the memory of how holy that hard work was, how I knew God was there, too. I re-member myself back into the way of small things with great love.

In the kitchen, a print of Saint Therese lifting high the plates of the monastery as an offering to God, letting the steam rise like incense.

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Washing dishes is a dreaded household chore for me, so I need a nudge to see the prayer in this necessary work. I remember all the plates that have been washed so that I could eat – in restaurants or cafeterias or homes that welcomed me as a guest. And I load the dishwasher with a lighter heart, grateful for a kitchen full of food to eat and hungry children around my table. I re-member myself back into the faith that breaks bread and shares with the hungry.

In the bathroom, a picture of Saint Joseph cradling his newborn son, a father immersed in his late night work.

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Whenever I’m pulled from warm bed and soft sleep by a boy with soaked sheets or a hacking cough, our trip to the bathroom is bathed in more than the nightlight’s glow if I glance at the kindred spirit on the counter. I remember all the nights that my parents sat up with me when I was sick and surely rocked me back to sleep a thousand times before my memory sealed it to heart. And I wipe my boy’s nose or bottom or feverish forehead with more compassion and less impatience at my own rest lost.

I re-member myself back into the love that washes feet and touches the sick.

Because maybe all this work is prayer, too.

how we spend our time: working (and praying)

You Are Already PrayingToday I’m delighted to welcome the Rev. Cathy George for the latest in the How We Spend Our Time series!

Cathy is an Episcopal priest and the author of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work - a collection of stories about people from all walks of life who have come to see their work as prayer.

I’m lucky enough to know Cathy in person, since she is a member of our Collegeville Institute Seminar on vocation and profession, so I have gotten to admire up close her passion for helping people see their work as prayer.

(Full disclosure: I’m also a fan because she graciously invited me to share my story of my work as a mother as prayer – which you can read in her book!)

I hope Cathy’s book and her wise thoughts below will help you to see the way we spend most of our time – at work – as prayer, too.

. . .

1) What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?

Time passes quickly. It doesn’t feel like it when we sit in the dentist’ s chair, or our days are dedicated to the care of a child’s needs, but it is fleeting. A child is no sooner born, than done nursing, and out of diapers and walking into kindergarten.

Being in the present moment, as fully as possible, is the one truth that I find worth practicing, day in and day out. Its fruits are abundant.

2) What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?

Not waiting for the perfect time. Rather, stopping to ask myself if I really need to do this (email, phone call, laundry, cooking, etc.) or could it wait so that I could seize the time to write or read?

Setting expectations for myself that are reasonable and that don’t discourage me but take into account all that is on my plate that no one else might notice or acknowledge. Remembering that it is good for my children to see me at work on my work. It does not diminish my devotion to them, but shows them my whole life.

Letting go of writing goals when I was immersed in nursing, napping, feeding a child when the exhaustion was too depleting to expect myself to also be creative and instead to use writing as a joyful getaway, as a time to write, or vent in a journal for the joy of it and not expect myself to produce during a chapter of my life when I was already being productive.

3) What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?

I wrote the book because I wanted to encourage people of faith to see their whole lives as an opportunity for prayer. I learned, from those who shared their stories, and from those who are reading the book, that it is a message people need to hear.

Reading themselves into the stories of a mother at prayer, or a realtor, or painter, their lives open up before them as ceaseless moments to be in the presence of God in the tasks, work, play and challenges that make up any given day.

I learned that the sense of taking prayer into one’s actions, and workplace and family is not far off, not something to work hard at understanding, more like an “oh, yeah, I am already praying, now I know what to call it, now I can pray in and out of my whole day and not think of it as less than real prayer, but another form of prayer.”

I learned that we all want to be whole, to have a center to ourselves and our days that everything else revolves around, like the spokes of a wheel that move from the center hub. God is the hub of our life, and there is not a place in our day that God wants to be locked out of.

How we pray in church informs the prayer that goes on unceasingly in us as we leave church. It does not lessen the vitality and importance of our prayer life in quiet, or in Scripture, our living prayer becomes an expression for our faith.

4) What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?

Laughing and relaxing. I love to be with my family when we are laughing at each other, ourselves, or something funny. I love when we are watching a Sunday afternoon game on television, making a meal, folding laundry, and we are in comfortable clothes and enjoying the company of each other.

. . .

revCHGYour turn to win! Cathy has generously offered one copy of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work for a reader of Mothering Spirit.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight (CST) on Saturday, July 27th.

And to learn more about Cathy’s book and work, check out this in-depth interview she did with our staff at the Collegeville Institute!

to gather a child on your lap

What I hold on my lap defines me.

Part of the day it is a child, whichever one of my boys needs a snuggle or a story or a shoe pulled on his foot.

And part of the day it is a computer, the aptly named laptop which nestles on my knees as I work or write or (let’s be honest) waste time.

Today I’m posting at Catholic Mom about what it means to gather a child on your lap, to make space for someone smaller than you who needs your love and attention:

September 2012 009Holding a child on your lap means bearing the burden, the interruption and even the annoyance of all they will ask of you.

It is bending low, stopping and stooping, being weighted down by what matters most. It is opening yourself up to the love that will be demanded from you.

Parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, caregivers, relatives and friends—we share the sacred weight of holding these least among us. When we let a child sit with us, we clear space for what matters most. We honor the gift of their presence.

We accept and embrace that they belong to us.

Click here to read the rest…

Some days I’m torn between what I hold on my lap, whether it’s two boys fighting for my attention or the back-and-forth of work-and-kids that parents know all too well.

But some days I’m simply grateful that my life is so full, that God has plopped the proverbial good measure – pressed down, shaken together, running over – into my lap.

What fills your lap these days? What do you learn from what you hold?

how i nurture my mothering spirit – roxane

The Healing Powers of the Pot Roast

In the early part of November 2012, I experienced a profound moment of healing by spoon.

It functioned like salve on my weary mother’s soul – a bowl of pot roast made by my sweet mother-in-law.

She’d prepared the roast and its accompanying vegetables in her Crockpot the night before, the overnight simmering of soup and juices from the meat producing a scrumptious gravy that would have had world-class chefs swooning.

roxane potroast

While the rest of my family was occupied in other spaces – the youngest of them splashing in a nearby hotel pool – I’d found a moment to steal away into the quiet of our dining room to eat what was left of the roast, most of which had been nearly completely devoured earlier by hungry men.

Sitting in the dimly-lit room, breathing deeply, slowly now, I prepared to consume the first homemade meal I’d had in months.

Comfort food, they call it, and this moment made it true for me. With each delectable bite, restoration was beginning.

For nearly a year I’d been trying to do the impossible, working outside the home with five kids still needing so much more of me than I could offer with my attention elsewhere.

But now, after weeks of discernment, I’d made the difficult decision to resign from what had seemed, by all accounts, my dream job. It would mean giving up a paycheck that had lightened our financial load but brought extra responsibilities that weighed down my heart, causing my middle child to utter one day, “You’re not a being a mom anymore.”

I’d done what I could to rearrange the pieces of my life to accommodate all, but came up short. The emotional, spiritual and even physical effects were manifesting themselves, and I had to ask myself whether the job was worth risking an illness that could remove me from life altogether.

Ironically, the kitchen, which I consider the heart of the home, was a room I avoided like the plague during that year. I knew that if I entered, I wouldn’t make it out without depleting the extra energy I needed to push through my busy days.

Fast food had become normal; my oven, a neglected appliance. The dining room was a place to linger only as long as was necessary to gulp down a slice of pizza or a burger.

But sitting before that bowl of real food made with loving hands, placed gently in a warmer and transported 120 miles to our home earlier that day, had reintroduced me to the place where my heart longed most to be.

A few days after leaving the job, I prepared my own slow-cooked meal, and as I scooped out portions to each family member, a surge of love and joy took hold. I was ready now to feed my family, both in food and through my presence in ways that had not been possible for far too long.

And in the midst of it, I became aware that if not for that wonderfully nourishing meal several weeks earlier, the moment would have passed unappreciated. In that gift of warm sustenance, I’d been given a poignant reminder that we cannot offer others something we haven’t first taken in ourselves.

In doing whatever is necessary to create space in our days to ensure we’re nourished, we’ll have something to offer back those we love. And they, in turn, will give to others when it’s time.

A potato, a carrot, a tender chunk of meat – the healing powers of the pot roast.

A bowl full of love that wooed me back to life.

. . .

roxane headshotRoxane Salonen lives in Fargo, N.D., with her husband and five children, ages seven to 17. A church cantor, book reader and coffee drinker, she also works as a faith columnist and features writer for her city’s daily newspaper.

Roxane is the author of two children’s picture books – First Salmon and P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. Find her pondering on “faith, family and following the muse” at Peace Garden Mama: roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/

God of the gathering

How often have I desired to gather your children together

as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…

Matthew 13:37

Of course I love the days when they come back.
When dark drive floods with headlights,
tired travelers droop to baggage claim
and I leap up to greet them
bright-eyed, arms as wide as grin.
Soft tears springing right behind: You’re home!
I reach to pull them near and laugh
a muffled welcome into collars,
fall into the hug I’ve held in dreams,
remembering panged when phone would ring
from far away, quick update between worlds
and then goodbye, talk soon, take care –
empty that gnaws and grows
each time they leave.

When they were young, my wings
arched wide enough to hold them,
stretch around their needs, protect, provide,
make home.
But then they grew. I wanted
them to scurry off and run into the world
just as I hoped. And yet 
I never thought they’d drift so far.

Years went by when they did not return,
work or duty called, and travel hassles
at the holidays. I know
it’s life, I understand.
Still, one big brood under my roof is best:
Clucking, ruffling feathers (family after all)
the way I always dream.
Warmth of close reminding
love resides in flesh and bone.

Gathering is work. You’d never guess
the squeezing of the schedule
to make time and space for cooking, cleaning, 
organizing and awaiting, readying return.
And stretching of the heart, too 
wide enough to let back in.

Last night as I tucked blankets
into corners, smoothed the sheets for
now-guests in their childhood beds,
I thought of birds who pluck their feathers
to line soft their babies’ nest.
Always it is myself I give
to draw them home,
my loves that wander wide
then circle back to tell me
wisdom of the world
I’ve always known.

God of the baking

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21

Here’s why I love to bake:
You start with nothing –
an idea, ingredients
of possibility, a plan and hope.
You slowly start to mix
measure and pour,
the transformation stirring with your spoon.
And suddenly it starts to look
and smell and taste alive –
creation sticky in my hands,
smeared between my fingers,
streaked across my hair.

The baker’s art takes patience,
planning, careful watch of
oven’s heat, directions’ time.
Forgiveness, too –
for cake that falls, deflated;
recipes that failed to rise.

Baking’s best as company affair:
Sometimes I cook with children –
grabbing cups and spoons to spill,
enthusiasm trumped only by sugar.
I sit and watch the wise work, too –
laughing, telling stories while they bake
with wrinkled hands,
forearms strong from years of kneading dough.

I ought to say that sharing is the best part –
breaking loaf and offering steaming slice in love.
But secretly I like to chew in silence:
taste alone the crunch of crust,
sink of teeth in softer middle’s heart.
Because creation’s sweetest in still morning
before the rest wake round me
greeting day with yawn and groan.
I love to feed their bellies,
but I need to rise alone.

God of the dishes

Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;

wash me, make me whiter than snow.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

Psalm 51: 4, 9, 12

Dirty dishes stacked so high,
porcelain towers on my right and left.
I take the sponge in hand,
wring out the water, squeeze on soap,
and crank the faucet hot.
Steam rises as the stream heats, steady
I plunge plates and cups
into the bubbles swirled below.
Swish, wash, rinse, repeat;
the stack grows smaller as I go,
plates now neat and nestled
drying silent in the rack.
My hands turn pink and bright in sink's hot bath;
my fingers pruned and white by end of night.

Long ago I ate alone:
the solitary rinse of single
spoon and knife and fork.
These days I’m elbow deep in pans,
scrubbing steel pots ringed
thick with soup, browned casseroles
of dinners passed with family, friends
all those who gather for my meals.

Cynics see the stubborn cycle
of the grimy, gooey junk
caked hard on dishes left to sit too long
(pardon my love of lingering one last glass)
as dirty proof of life’s depressing rut:
the endless drag of meals and mouths to feed,
a plate’s only escape the break
that sends it swiftly to the bin.

But I delight in dishes,
love the dirty and the clean:
how they slide in slippery hands
before I scrub in circles swift,
how they flash with water’s drip
each time I lift them up to rise,
inspecting both sides slick and sheen,
then dry them satisfied.

For dishes prove that someone shared the meal,
that there was food to pass,
safe time to spare.
Companions, plenty and a pause
are no small good
in world of loneliness, 
want, rush and fear.
And if I'd none to wash,
that would mean no one took the cup.
What a tidy, terrible mistake
that empty would have been.

God of the sweeping

Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Luke 15: 8-10

Every night I take the broom in hand,
both of us worn and tired
but still working.
As I stretch out arms
to reach the bristles’ brush,
the steady rhythm comes back easy,
drag of dirt across familiar floor.

Every day it slides the same:
crumbs, hair, dust, food 
all piled into tidy heaps
left waiting for the bin.
One swift dump, then goodbye.
But making clean is holy work –
refreshing for another day,
forgiving what is past and gone.
To gather, to release 
and then repeat
makes way, always
for one day more.

I know the time it takes,
the pattern of the pulling
corners into center,
how to turn and switch
the broom’s direction when the grit is stubborn.
Sometimes I even do my sweeping in the dark
when all the world’s asleep.

Only when I lose the precious
slipped under couch,
rolled into corner dark
or simply disappeared –
then only do I blaze the lights,
look steady as I clean, search
focused on the finding,
knowing work that will not fail.

But if I did not sweep each day,
memorize these floors,
their stains and scuffs,
then I could not seek what’s lost
when it’s the coin that matters most.
So thus it was and always must it be:
pull creaky closet door to find old broom,
swish brush, brush swish
reach pull, pull reach
and then again to rest.

God at work (and the rest of us, too)

Growing up, I never imagined God sweeping.

Or baking. Or gardening. Or helping deliver a baby.

For the past few months I’ve been writing a new program on work and calling for small groups in congregations. Since we keep learning that people’s challenges with vocation often stem from a lack of understanding about how God calls, I’ve been weaving in lots of Scriptural passages that broaden our image of who God is. So lately I’ve been living and working closely with God as worker: farmer, potter, metalworker, baker and midwife, to name a few. 

These biblical images of God at work are so rich and so relevant that I’m amazed to realize how easily we skip over them, so stuck is the white-bearded Father in flowing robes in our minds and in our churches.

Had it not been for graduate studies in theology, I might have missed many of these facets of Scripture’s portrait of God, too. I grew up with loving images of God – a tender shepherd, a caring father – but no one told me till I was much older that Scripture held more pictures of the divine than what I saw in my children’s Bible or the stained glass windows at church.

I love these images now: God as artist, molding us like clay. God as blacksmith, forging us in fire. God as gardener, planting and watering and waiting to harvest.

These are images of God that fire my imagination and make me believe differently – with depth, with creativity, with fresh eyes.

So now that I’m nearing the end of this writing project, I want to explore in a new way what I’ve learned and loved about these images of God at work. Especially as we begin bustling around the house, hurrying into the holidays, preparing for guests and feasts, I want to slow down and ponder images of God we often overlook.

The domestic ones. The feminine ones. The everyday ones.  

(And because I’m mentally preparing for Advent, my favorite season of the year for soaking in poems and psalms, I’m inching out on a limb and playing with poetry in this space, too.)

So till tomorrow, I’ll borrow a line from Lake Wobegon country:

Be well and do good work.