Not Mutually Exclusive

There is no need to shame a control-freak, God-fearing Catholic. There is no need to add to the torment she has already inflicted upon herself.

Yet, that is exactly what I found a quote from Marianne Williamson doing last night.

It has been six years since I started medication therapy for my postpartum depression and anxiety. Six years of low dose, slight increases, attempts at doing without – and it still serves me. And yet, a small part of me still questions my need for it.

Why isn’t this glorious life God has given me enough reason to rejoice? Why aren’t the three gorgeous gifts of heaven that are my children a daily cause for celebration? Am I not grateful enough for God’s blessings that I need an antidepressant to merely function, never mind embrace this life?

Catholic guilt is a strong force, but not one I blame for these thoughts. I confessed to my pastor that I feared my mental struggles were tied to a crisis of faith. I worried that turning to secular talk therapy turned me away from God’s gentle care. I fretted that medication was a crutch that kept me from leaning on God’s healing power.

My pastor told me that spirituality is an important piece of one’s healing, but not to the exclusion of other beneficial treatments. My trained counselor was helping me process my feelings without judgment and not keeping me from turning to God for quiet reflection. And if prescription medicine existed in God’s world, created by one of the people He put on this earth, why would I not avail myself of this beneficial tool? Most importantly, my pastor told me that God did not cause this suffering to befall me. It was not a punishment for some wrongdoing or turning away on my part. If I gleaned something good from the experience, perhaps God allowed the growth in me, but He certainly did not beset me with these troubles.

As always, the rational mind, while fully aware of such life-affirming and freeing arguments, still can fall prey to its irrational side. I thought I’d have no problem reading the social media post that started a furious online debate about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Yet, as I did, I felt some of the angst I’d been slowly putting to bed for the last six years come creeping back up.

marianne williamson

This statement plays to all the fears of the postpartum mother.  The guilt of needing medication to enjoy the miracle of life and her role in it.  The fact that she can’t come to terms with ‘normal’ changes in her body chemistry.  That she has somehow failed by not meditating enough; praying enough; eating healthily enough.  And then to judge her own success by the love of others – something over which she has no control.  Or does that speak to the love she fails to feel for her child?

I am only living a modicum of successful motherhood because of the very real diagnosis of postpartum depression and its treatment with medicinal drugs.  And yet, this statement still elicits a shameful, guilty feeling in me.  After SIX successful years of such treatment.  

What of the mother just beginning to wonder if she is struggling postpartum?  What thoughts and feelings assault her when she reads this?  She is already doubting herself and ‘succumbing’ to the crutches of medicine.  She already thinks she’s failed.  And now to tell her it’s all a ploy by ‘Big Pharma’?

‘Big Pharma’ is not issuing me any big paycheck.  I’ve written thirteen different posts about the decision, pros/cons of taking psychotropic drugs, most notably Happy Pills.  When the news initially hit that new recommendations called for all pregnant women and mothers to be screened for depression this was my reaction:

duh

I never dreamed news that was so obvious to me would be seen as a negative by others.

I’m going to imagine that Williamson’s comments were born of the assumption that those standing to make a financial gain would encourage a mindless mass to pop a pill and forget their troubles – and a meaningful life.  I do not encourage anyone to medicate their troubles away without also doing the hard personal work of introspection and spiritual growth.  Meds are not successful in a vacuum.  They must be supported by close medical monitoring, therapies, and lifestyle changes.

Choosing medication is not a mutually exclusive option over meditation, prayer, and love.

I fear that the way Williamson’s stance has been presented, the ensuing social media storm will portray just that.  God-fearing people do not fear medical marvels.  God-fearing people do not judge others for decisions they make concerning their own care.  God-fearing people would never want someone to suffer needlessly while thinking it was a fatal flaw of character.

To It and Through It

Many straws.

There were oh so many straws that bowed my back the last few weeks.

I could list them. My mind right now is tempted to spool back through the memories, the agitations. But the feeling associated with them is gone.

It took one major freak out, an unepected text message leading me to a chapel, and suddenly, there was peace.

I had been so busy fighting. Without really knowing against what. Working so hard to: Control? Perfect? Protect? All it did was make me miserable.

I lamented how tired I was, of fighting, of doing battle every day. And suddenly this space inside me opened up.

I didn’t have to.

I could trust in God. I could trust that He had everything under control. I could let Him handle everything, worry about everything.

I just had to turn to Him for peace, for strength.

And then the craziest thing happened.

While a cascade of little things finally helped me open the door, God answered with one huge thing. A life altering contract of trust.

He may be serious as a sunburn, but I can’t help but see a little of George Burns’ portrayal in God’s divine providence. He certainly has a sense of humor. He is a master of irony.

But while He asks a great amount, He will always be right there to see me through it.

image from diaryofamormongirl

image from diaryofamormongirl

Grace

The bounce in the step
the joy bubbling up and over
through words, demeanor, joie de vivre

The hearty laugh
blossoming at the core, rolling out in waves
infectious, contagious, sanctifying – us

The conscious breath
undulating and growing with each notice
the physical embodiment of our existence

It fills us –
if we watch for it
if we train our eyes with a gentle gaze
if we open our heart to the gifts around us

It imbues us with a calming peace
and a loving embrace

We can all glide through life with a little grace

Breaking Ground

Jennifer Butler Basile

Jennifer Butler Basile

Nature, fate, the universe, the Spirit – has a way of prevailing.

While we humans fret that we may impede it,
that if we do not clear the ground and make way,
the right way will not progress –
we give ourselves too much power, too much credit.

All shall move forward on its own course.
We just need to stay that course.

The Secret to Happiness

I ordered a gift subscription to an inspirational magazine for my great aunt last year.  I signed myself up for their email newsletter as well.  Free spiritual advice and inspiration? Why not?

Over the year, I’ve amassed quite a collection of unread inspirational emails.  Their subject lines lure me enough to prevent deleting them, but not to click and read.  Usually, I save them to read at another time when I can devote my undivided attention to them.  We know how that usually goes.  It would be better to do a cursory review, pausing on a point that piqued my interest, rather than not at all.  Plus, most times, the title is the most appealing part of the missive, much like a short story that does not live up to the promises its title made to its readers, which I would find out if I took two seconds to glance at it.

Still, I let the siren song of one entitled “The Secret to Happiness” captivate me and I clicked – not right away, but the other day I finally did.  There’s a simple secret to happiness?  Do tell.  I must apply this magic solution as a salve to my weary soul.  My cynical side did cry out, saying it’s a spiritual newsletter, you dolt.  Of course, they mean to pray and worship and turn everything over to God – like you’ve been avoiding doing, but know you should.  You already know the secret to happiness, but refuse to do anything about it.  But, like most weak humans, I would much rather find a simple solution outside myself than do any real work inside myself.  I viewed the video expectantly.

 

Surprisingly, there was no explicit reference to spirituality except for one man’s personal testament in which he cited Jesus Christ as his Savior.  However, there were allusions to spirituality all over it; transcendent precepts such as gratitude, thoughtfulness, mindfulness, treating others as you’d like to be treated.  By not directly referring to it, the filmmakers even more strongly prove that spirituality must be woven into the fabric of everything we do, every interaction.  It must be innate, unconscious.  It will lead us to things like gratitude, which apparently is the secret to happiness.

The day that I watched the video, I had tried three times to get a snarky post out of my system.  While not full-strength, there was still some venom bubbling in my veins from residual stress and I wanted to purge it.  But the fits and starts of writing and watching of this video gave me pause.  Maybe what I needed to get it out of my system was to shift my mindset and get grateful!  Being so gosh-darn cranky, I wasn’t feeling it and I sure as hell didn’t feel like writing a letter to the person I was most grateful for, let alone calling them to read it.  But maybe just the shift in the current, the river rock blocking the stream, can divert enough to at least create the space for a change.

However, if in the meantime you should come across any quick-fix secrets to happiness, let me know 😉

Deep Within the Silence of Our Hearts

A woman told me the story of her mother, who found faith late in life. She had fallen away from God prior to becoming a mother and her children never saw her as a practicing person. Around the time this woman began having children of her own, her mother rediscovered her faith in a fervent way. No matter what trial befell her, she turned to God and leaned on her faith to see her through. She went from a woman intent on controlling every single factor of her life with an iron grip to someone willing to trust that God would take care of it and her as He saw fit.

I met this woman five minutes before she told me this story. I had no right to delve deeper into her personal family story – and yet I was transfixed by this last detail of her story: she relinquished control, fully. Like that. With a snap of the fingers, it seemed. And so, the words escaped my mouth before my mind realized what a prying question it was: What happened to enact this absolute turnaround?

The woman gave me an abbreviated, antiseptic version of her family’s history precipitating the change, which made both of us squirm a little, I think, sharing such personal details within minutes of meeting. But my burning desire to know trumped my sense of propriety because as far as I was concerned, this woman has achieved a miracle!

I’ve practiced my faith my entire life. There were times it was stronger, of course, but it’s always been there, God has always been there waiting for me. I say waiting because, increasingly, as I get older and more responsibility gets piled on or taken on, I whir into hyper-drive control mode. As much as I know slowing down and ‘letting go and letting God’ will make life a whole lot easier and enjoyable, I can’t. Can’t be done. Not gonna do it. I don’t think it’s a trust issue. I think it’s part of my perfectionism. No, I don’t think I can do things better than God; I just need to take my best crack at it or I think I’ve failed.

So, if I, as someone who considers herself a faithful lifetime follower of Christ and God, cannot relinquish control and this woman did so seemingly with the flip of a switch – what in God’s green earth is wrong with me? (Besides taking the name of the Lord in vain, of course)

How do I let the proverbial water roll off this duck’s back?

I wanted to hold this woman – or better yet, her mother – upside down and shake her till answers poured out her pockets. Alas, it wouldn’t work – never mind the lack of upper body strength and desire for assault charges – for I know the answer resides elsewhere. Somewhere deep inside the silence of my heart. That silence I haven’t been able to access in quite some time.

Spiritual Scenes from September 15

A large part of beauty is light.  The camera doesn’t always capture it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Shepherding shadow

Shepherding shadow

Portulaca sprouts out from a thin crack in the concrete

Portulaca sprouts out from a thin crack in the concrete

The spirit descended

The spirit descended

Intersection

Intersection

 

Charity

Charity

 

 

Cultural Catholic

While driving home late last night, I caught the tail end of Terry Gross interviewing Dusting Hoffman.  I didn’t know at the time it was Dustin Hoffman, having tuned the station to the middle of one of his responses.  I simply heard a distinctive voice telling me his father was essentially an atheist.  And that, as a child, he would lay on the grass in the backyard, looking up to the sky, and talk to God, asking him questions – and hear God’s answers.

The discussion then turned to ‘being Jewish’ as a cultural phenomenon vs. a religious one.  Hoffman said he most definitely identified with his Jewish heritage, given from where he and his family hailed, his culinary likes and traditions, the idiosyncratic sense of humor.  But it was only a cultural connection, not a belief in or adherence to organized religion.

And it occurred to me – is there such a thing as a cultural Catholic?

Those who pray to St. Anthony when they lose something, but don’t attend mass.  Those who break the commandments knowingly, yet still feel the immense pressure of Catholic guilt instilled in them since childhood.  Those who dangle the rosary from their rearview mirrors yet never recite the prayers.  Those who don’t consider an Ash Wednesday, Christmas, or Easter complete unless they’ve attended mass, but don’t darken the door of the church any other day of the liturgical year.  Those who don’t get married in the church, but insist on baptizing their children.  Those who believe we’re all made in God’s image, but support abortion.  Those who are proud to be part of the institution, but don’t uphold its tenets.

Catholic means universal.  There is no one language, tradition, race, or cuisine that defines it.  So I suppose there is no one way to practice it.  And it would be impossible to divide it cleanly into two halves of religion and culture as one could argue with being Jewish.  But there certainly seems to be a human inclination among some believers to keep secular routines and discard the spiritual aspects.  To consider oneself Catholic, but not practice it.  To tow some of the party line, but not the parts of the Catechism that drag them down.

When I first heard what I learned afterward was Dustin Hoffman’s voice and heard his responses before Terry Gross’ questions, I had no context in which to place them.  They were pure thoughts and information – no judgment, no interpretation.  And the thoughts and questions they provoked here are just the same.  It is what it is.  This is what I see.

I simply wonder if there is such a thing as a cultural Catholic.

Critical Mass

Taking three small children to church is always a crapshoot.

Taking three small children to mass after a long night of merry-making and a morning of present-opening and candy-eating ups the ante even more.

Our three made it through the three readings from the Bible and the pastor’s homily surprisingly well.  I’ve found, however, that it’s always the second half of mass where the clapper hits the bell.

The fidgets start: the foot-thumping, kneeler-diving, seat-switching.  And that’s only the non-verbal.  Then you have the inter-sibling jibes and jokes, the giggles and snorts.  And the doctrinal observations and questions, which at any other juncture would be welcomed wholeheartedly, but not when presented in a stage whisper in the midst of a lull in the sound issuing from the PA system.  They never make noise when the organ is grinding, do they?

My five year-old came out with some good ones this Christmas mass.  When a prayer included a request for “eternal rest”, she turned to me incredulously: ‘a turtle?’  During the prayer of the faithful for the departed, I hushed her vehemently when she said what I thought was, ‘this is boring.’  Then I realized she was adding to the prayer, ‘like Grandpa Warren’, my deceased grandfather, the great-grandfather she never knew.

At what point do we as parents and parishioners expect children to behave “appropriately” at mass?  There is no magic age at which they suddenly will learn to sit still and attend – especially if they’ve been excluded from mass up until that point.  In my constant vigilance to keep her quiet, I nearly reprimanded my daughter for realizing the importance of a prayer and adding the memory of a loved one to it.

If we shut them down totally, we’ll miss gems like my two year-old last Christmas, who asked loudly enough for all those around us to hear, “Where’s Baby Jesus?”  A woman with three teenaged boys approached me afterward and commented on how nice it was to hear her little voice, to see the innocence and wonder of the young; that she knew the true meaning of the season.  At first, I laughed it off, a bit embarrassed at our disturbance, but then realized how nice it was to hear this older mother’s comment; a validation that this is how children are supposed to behave, that we need to appreciate it; and that it’s not a failing on the mother’s part to seal her child’s lips.

My favorite church faux pas by far, though, is when my eldest daughter was maybe four years old.  She proudly belted out the words to the closing hymn of mass, “All the Ends of the Earth”.  Only she didn’t know that was the refrain.  Instead, she sang, “All the ants of the earth.”  Classic.  All of us can see the power of God if only we look closely enough.  And watch for lessons all around us – even in the wee ones kicking the back of our pew as we try to pray.

Where are all the people?

Today my daughter and I wandered into church.

New to town and in search of someone/anyone in the rectory, we’d wandered in there a couple months ago.  Apparently to her three year-old mind that signaled a routine.  So today after we finally did complete that unfinished business in the rectory, she wanted to go into the church again.

I hadn’t been planning on it.  I’d finished my list of tasks and was headed to the car.  I began to say we were done and could go home – when I paused.  Why couldn’t we go into the church?  We didn’t have to rush home.  And even so, I make time to do all sorts of ultimately extraneous errands.  Why shouldn’t I stop to spend a moment in the quiet sanctuary of the church?  And at this point in time, in my life, in society, a prayer could certainly be used.

Angela and I entered the dark hush of the church, a sacred feeling sweeping over me in a way that just doesn’t happen with the hubbub of a congregation-filled Sunday.  We quietly trod towards the sanctuary, my eyes on the golden glint of the tabernacle and rosy glow of the Christ candle, Angela’s moving from side to side across the pews.

“Where are all the people?” she asked.

Years of Catholic devotion springing to life through the sense memory of approaching and genuflecting on the altar, I continued forward without answering.  After we both genuflected and crossed ourselves – she doing a surprisingly good job for a three year-old – she asked again.

“Why aren’t the people here?”

Just like my initial response to her request to go in the church, I had a quick and logical answer – it’s not Sunday, there’s no mass right now.

And then I saw this beautiful little being standing next to me, a human in miniature, not even as tall as the altar, asking her question again in her sweetly innocent voice.

“The people should be here,” I said.

“Yes, they should,” she said.

I knelt down and focused on the image of Jesus on the cross, His presence in the tabernacle, the light from the candle.  I acknowledged all that He gave us and how all we do is ask for more.  And then I asked for more.   I asked for strength to give Him my all; to turn it all over to Him.  I prayed to remember this lesson my daughter had unwittingly given me – to go to Jesus; that I should be with Him there and always.

And I suppose, somewhere, inside me, I knew this.  I chose today, a week before Christmas, the midst of a week of trials and tribulations all around me, to officially register at the parish – a task I’d been meaning to do since moving in.  Why now?  The same reason I agreed when Angela suggested we enter the church.  Something inside me needed this lesson, this reminder, this preparation of Advent that always seems to fall short other years.

And it is no small wonder that it came from a small child of God.

 

 

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