Saturday, October 19, 2013


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.