Saturday, October 19, 2013

Attachment

It was an interesting road, becoming Catholic.  I grew up an evangelical of various kinds.  My mother in particular passed on to me the belief that the thing that matters most in life is to love Jesus.  When I finally came around all the bends, the uncertainties, the questions and objections and preconceptions, I came into the Catholic Church - a year later than I thought I would - not with a feeling of knowledge and certainty, but with a feeling of being undone, of walking into the dark without even the reassurance that it was the Right Way, only the impression that I was being led there for some reason and I was just going to have to say "Okay" and let myself be led.  At the rite of initiation called Confirmation, I nodded my head, but my eyes were a deer's in headlights.  I didn't know if I could honestly say I believed everything the Catholic Church teaches.  I only half heard the questions, though, what with the magnitude of the moment and having to send my second child down the aisle with my mother to throw up in the bathroom because of a stomach bug.

My friend Jessica from college, the only Catholic I ever really knew who seemed to love Jesus, came to stand as my sponsor and my youngest daughter's godmother, and this when she was recently only half-alive, having nearly died - perhaps been resurrected - from a placental abruption six months earlier.  It was the miraculous story of her salvation from that that spurred Shep and I on into RCIA and then on into being received into full communion with The Church.  There was something about it, a sense of the holy, a real power that moved our hearts and compelled us forward.  There were other signs, like Shep's peace during a rough patch in our lives.  It was a truly supernatural calm.  He would go and sit at Mass every day and come home serene, equanimous.  I felt that as great as regular Shep was, Catholic Shep was really something special.

There was the feeling that as compelling as the Truth offered by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which we were also looking into, I didn't experience there the flood of tears that has always marked my relationship with God.  I didn't experience there the humility and the love that I felt in the Catholic Church.  In the end, I didn't know who was Right with a capital R.  If anything, I thought the Orthodox were Right.  But I felt God wanted us in the Catholic Church.  And so we walked into Her arms.

There was not a question for us of remaining merely Protestant.  We loved our church and our heritage and the gift of a relationship with God that we had been given, but there was one thing we couldn't get outside the capital-C Church: Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, a bold claim, shocking, audacious, but as ancient as Christianity itself, his body and blood offered with real and efficacious grace.  This is the message I'm getting, straight from him with no intermediary:  that he wants so badly just to meet with me, just to be with me, to be a part of me, to live inside me.  No wonder people love him.

Catholics have a thing about babies.  Of course there is their stance on artificial contraception, but that is just an extension of their attitude toward the creation of life.  There is never one baby too many with them.  Each and every baby is a miracle and a mystery, a cause for celebration, hallowed ground.  I think they understand life better than the rest of us, the place life springs from.

Just look at how they honor Mary.  Sometimes people are afraid of giving her more than her due, to not take away from her Son.  But one really can't be pictured without the other.  Babies don't come suspended alone in midair.  They come connected, literally.  I understand this part.  First there's nothing.  Then before you even feel it, another person is growing inside you, separate, but not separate at all.  Your identities are all entangled from the start.  He comes out literally attached.  There is a tangible reluctance in the severing you can sense in how it is drawn out.   As for you, you ache for him.  You want him in your hands.  All the looking in the world could never be enough looking to satisfy your awe of him.  As for him, all he is is need, and all his need is need of you.  He smells your breath, feels your warmth, tastes your milk, curls at your side, scans the horizon for your face and, finding it, locks on it.  You are his world.  You are him.  You are what makes him know he has a shape by how your hands fit round him.  He feels he is nothing without you, and he is right.

Attachment is the baseline reality of human existence; the further we stray from it, the less human we become.  Surely the Creator of humanity would be the most human of all.  Just think of him, emptying himself of his omnipotence to become a tiny cell dividing in the dark, a baby, the Shaper coming to delineate his self by the shape of his mother's hands around him, the Breather of Life feeling the warm halo of his breath as he breathes against her, the Word of God hearing his coos resounding off her body. 

There really is no limit to the sacredness, the holiness of a child, is there? From the moment a child is conceived, it is a hallowed ground, the site of the supernatural impeding on the natural. I think we all know that, but detachment has been our atmosphere for so long, we have become calloused to it.  We all need to be re-parented, attachment parented by God and by Our Mother, the Church, humble little Queen Mary, and I feel that's where I find myself.  I am not sure of myself.  I don't know if she's Right with a capital R, though I have more and more faith in that possibility.  All I know is while I'm here walking in the dark, she's holding my hand.  She's doing the one thing I will resist more than any other - mothering me.  I don't know anything but that, but I know I need it.  I don't need anything more.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Measuring Down

I'll be 36 November 1.  Four years and I'll be 40.  Oh gee, I don't think I want to write that down again, maybe ever.  There's a girl at church with smooth cheeks, sweet and young, like a little chipmunk.  I can't help envying her, or at least feeling a little pang when I see her.  She's just 30, and she has five.  This is the count I'm always doing:  "She has eight! How old is she? I'm way behind!" or "She has two, and she's my age. Whew! I'm ahead." I'm counting children.

I always wanted a big family.  Even when I was onstage, under the lights, speaking into that great Silence I do love so much, I assumed I would have a big family. Of course I would.  I also assumed, I guess, that I could put it off a little while and still have it - maybe a little presumptuously, because I never sat down and did the math.  I'm doing the math now, constantly.  And I realize I didn't take the track of someone who has a big family.  Families with eight or ten or more children are started sometime in one's early twenties. That's usually how it works.  I took the track you just do because that's how it's done.  I didn't think about it.  I didn't totally have peace about it in my heart, but in my brain I didn't think about it.  I took the track of the cookie-cutter two-, three-, or even four-child family.  You get married and spend a little time just the two of you, together.  You spend some time in your career, going places.  Then sooner or later you settle down and have some kids, two, three, perhaps maybe four.

As much as I count, though, and measure, and don't measure up, it's not the number I am counting.  It's a quantity of a different kind.  My mind goes over and over, like one's tongue over a dental fault, those one-two-three-four-more years when I said No to Life.  My mind goes over their shape, over and over it.  What was I thinking?  I remember people asking us, "When are you going to have kids?"  And I didn't even think about it.  I was a kid myself, in my eyes.  I was young.  I said, "I just love what I do so much.  I don't know, sometime we will!"  I was young.  I didn't know what a transcendent elixir I was pouring out on the ground.  But we all do that - one could say youth is wasted on the young. But if I had it now, would I treat it with any more care?  No, it must be poured out, would that it could be as a libation.

I heard a woman interviewed who had had one-two-three.......eight abortions, and no children when she finally wanted them.  She said, "What was I thinking?  I wasn't thinking. They told me it would be alright, this is what you do, this is what is done. You can have children later, when the time is right."  But then when she wanted to, she wasn't able to have any children anymore.  Those were her children, her eight children, and they're lying in the ground, or much more likely in the garbage dump, by her own hand.  What can she do with the grief of that?  She can sing a song for them.  She can make a grave for them.  She can name them.  She can pray to them and ask their forgiveness and ask their blessing and presence in her life.  They can be her angels, because they already were, and what they want most, more than anything, is for Mama to be a child like them, so she can come in from the cold and be loved.

Only God knows the economy we are operating in.  I feel like I took part in those deaths, not those eight in particular, but in the great worldwide fear and hatred of Life, Life, that great unbridled, primordial Force, exuberant in its abundance, flowering forth with abandon, erupting, covering everything - everything! - even our ugliness and our pettiness and our selfish desire for all the petty little comforts of our civilization and to be left alone so we can "enjoy" them, even our unlovely despair in the midst of them - everything - with its pretty little flowers.  I'm sorry I said No.  I'm sorry I was so afraid.  I don't think I could have done any better.  I was not then the person I am now, not that I'm a spotless lily.  I'm just not so wounded.  I don't have that bottomless pit I had then, nor that sorrow I had gagged and tied and thrown down into it.  I'm shored up.  When love goes in, it doesn't always go leaking right on out of me like it did.  Not that I wouldn't have been a fit mother.  If we had had a baby, it would have worked out.  It would have been precious.  It would have been wonderful. Who would he or she have been?

It's just that I didn't know any better.  I always - always - did the very best I knew to do.  God knows I did.  Even when I floundered around in waters I was not meant to be in, I didn't swim in there because I meant to do wrong.  I just didn't know better.  I did the best I could.  I think this must be where God's grace comes in.  The grace is that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will see around me, four soft, young faces, smooth, like little fawns.  There is no reason, no merit why I should have this blessing, these four Lives, clamoring, tugging, kissing, smothering, covering everything with their sweet little posies.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Carolina

Oh Baby of my heart, blue-eyed, dimpled wonder,
I can't get enough of you.
I want to drink you in and
Feed on you in the center of my being,
Because I don't have enough time,
Even with you in the pouch
Swinging with the motion
Of all the many, many other things I'm doing.
I am bonded to you,
You are a part of me.
If you were missing, it would be as if an arm were gone.
You are a part of my every day in a deeper place than consciousness.
But I want to be conscious of you.
I take you out,
Look, look, look at you,
Kiss, kiss, kiss you,
Make you laugh - show those dimples -
(I'm the only one who can,
So far.)
I drink you in,
Breathe you in,
Freeze this moment in my mind,
Even as it passes,
Through my hands,
Not like sand, like water.
Gone.
But you remain -
Thank you!
You wonder,
You miracle,
You piece of heaven,
Nothing matches baby laughter,
Nothing.
I trust this joy you bring me
Is a part of me forever
And so are you.
Come from me,
Let go from me,
Borne from me
To your purpose
And on, and on,
You go, and you will go.
But you are joined to me forever
There will never come a time when I am not
Your mommy,
The one who bore you.
I trust the God who made
Time
And you
And me
And Us together.
He made a day to have 24 hours,
8 consigned to unconsciousness.
And he made you and me and Us together.
I trust that even though my brain is fuzzy
From flying along in a thousand directions,
Your essence is getting in,
Sticking, staying.
I cherish these precious moments that pass so quickly,
And still I am glad when you are sleeping
On your belly in your bed
And I can sit with Daddy on the sofa
And let my fuzzy brain float on a river of mindlessness.
I need that time too,
God knows.
God knows.

Madelyn

I have a little girl

Lovely as the woods
Over clearings growing.
Very dark she is, her
Eyes are pools of darkness.

You wonder what she's thinking,
Or what depths are stirring,
Under lashes long and blinking.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Carolina Grace

Yes, there is a moment or two after childbirth when you might think, "That was horrific," or something like that.  But it's funny how even just 24 hours later, you're thinking, "That was awesome!  I did that!  Let's do it again!"  Somehow your memory can soften all the edges, when you think of how much noise you made, and how much you cursed, and cried, and pounded the floor with your fist.  You just remember the mighty feat accomplished.  Looking at my little Carolina Grace softens the edges of everything.  She's named for my mom Carol.  Since she came into the world a week ago, I've gotten a new full-time job - besides my other two or three full-time jobs of mother, sometime housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, etc etc - of sitting in one place staring at her face.  Very important work, that.  And by the way, if you ever saw my other girls as babies, you've seen what I'm staring at - black hair like M's and her dark complexion and eyes, dimples like S and the wide cheeks and pointed chin straight out of a Maurice Sendak illustration:  Carolina Grace.

She's the most popular person in the family right now, by far.  And my heart is the fullest.  I have four children!  I have four children.  One night this week, I put her down for a minute in M's arms when I was tucking them all into bed, and I ran downstairs to get something - maybe J's paci or his "buppy" or a drink of water for S - and while I was down there, I said to Shep, "All four of my children are in the room together upstairs" and the thought of that delightful package of strange beings - four human persons not one of whom existed six years ago - made my heart contract with awe.  When there were three children up there, it felt like we were a family.  The fourth child feels like something we as a family are doing together that we're really excited together about.  I really can't imagine a more blessed time of life than the one we're in.  Of course, when you check back with me in about five weeks and I've had as many showers as weeks and I can't find one freaking thing or even put a sentence together because my brain is a lump of mush, my tone of voice might be less glowing.  But through the haze - o! sweet chaos of infancy - I still won't be able to deny that this crazy, full (full, full, full to overflowing - with all things), loud, jostling time is blessed, blessed, flash-in-the-pan, heart-wrenchingly, laughing-and-crying-at-the-same-time blessed.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why I Am Becoming a Catholic

On May 19, I am going to participate for the first time in the sacrament of Reconciliation - Confession - and that evening, I am going to go forward, not with my arms crossed across my chest for a blessing, but with my open hands held out to receive Communion. I have a holy anticipation of this moment. I feel like I am engaged to be married again, anticipating my wedding day. I want to go shopping and take care to buy for that day a dress that I love.

Why am I becoming Catholic? Some of you who read this might think, Good! She's joining us! Some might worry that I'm being led astray from dependance on the free grace of God into "works salvation." Some might remember with loathing experiences they have had or impressions they have gained of what they see as a tyrannical, intolerant, overbearing organization. And of course some might not even care. (But then why are they reading this?)

I can't answer every objection people have to the Catholic church. Many of the common objections have certainly arisen in my own mind. But through reading I have done and through experiencing the Church for myself, they have each faded away and become inconsequential in light of the glory displayed there on that altar. It does not come with fireworks and spectacle. If you aren't looking for it, I don't think you'll even see it. But then suddenly when you are, when you do, there it is, right in plain sight, and it's always been there. I mean, He has always been there, in that homely little wafer and wine, His real presence. And I long to take him in. I hungrily and worshipfully anticipate that day.

At Mass, I feel I am leaning my exhausted head on my mother's breast. I have heard of the Church being our Holy Mother - in fact, that image is what first stirred in me to draw me toward her. I was  filled with a yearning to run into her arms.

To me, the Church is a pearl of great price, perhaps at times caked with the grime of history and hearsay, perhaps encrusted by up to even a mile of dirt. But under it, there it is still, shining and glowing, and I want it. A lot of the dirt, though, is, I think, an illusion. Someone once said that there are millions who hate what they think is the Catholic Church but not a hundred who hate what it actually is.  The only way to really know it is to "come inside."

That's what I'm going to do.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Reflection (In the Driveway)

The girls played in the yard in their bathing suits again today. They took turns with the garden hose, "washing" Daddy's car - and each other - while I sat in the shade on the driveway with a shirtless baby on my lap who was trying to read my book instead of me, and me admiring the gummy-with-leftover-pancake-syrup creases in his neck.

This time of year, we Floridians reap the rewards of enduring the long hot summer. Outside, it's balmy. It's perfect. Buffered by distance, noises float to you over the air - lawnmowers, traffic, a yapping dog - that almost sound like music. You can watch the edges of the shade shifting in the breeze and with a great happy calm in your heart, drift right off to sleep...if you aren't supervising children.

As soon as my baby pattered off to chase his sisters, I picked up my book again, Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI.) It's a rich text; I can only read a little at a time. "Now is the time of joy," he writes. Why is this the time of joy? Because the Kingdom of God has been proclaimed to us. What is the Kingdom of God? It is God's kingship, the active reality of his reign over nature and history. It is in the midst of us. It is the very person of Christ. I leaned back and thought about this, while the yellow palm clusters waved against the sky.

It is extraordinary - the hiddeness of God's Dominion. "Surely you are a God who hides himself," the psalmist says. Like a seed, he has planted his Kingdom in our midst; it takes root in darkness and sprouts secretly. The story of mankind from God's perspective is the growth of this seed. The events of our history books are immaterial; they record the rise and fall of worldly kingdoms. God's record is of the fact of his kingship in our world. His is an entire domain that can only be seen by those who desire to enter it - and the story of this domain is the whole point of the history of man, a point that is completely missed in the glare of worldly power. We can impugn God, I suppose, for making himself invisible, but by doing so, he has ensured that the only way to him is by the mechanism of Love. (Ratzinger, p. 37) By those who seek him, he can be found. But there is no one who is not free to seek something else instead.

Sitting in the driveway, I thought for the first time that I might be in this Kingdom now, by faith, through His body and blood, and that perhaps it is beside the point whether I live or die, whether America rises or falls, or in what way I suffer. Because suffering, dying, living, America rising, America falling, we his people are already under the rule of another reality. Our swords have been beaten into plowshares. The wolf and lamb are lying down together. On all this holy mountain, there is no harming or destroying. This is not yet a thing that you can touch with your hands. But it is real. As the Holy Father says, this means that no matter what terrible things may happen to us, there is nothing terrible that can happen to us. On a day like today, it wasn't even hard for me to believe it.