Being Zoe

Last night as I sat on the glider with my pajama-clad toddler nestled in beside me waiting for her story, I paused a moment. Her anticipation was palpable, her cozy little body so cute. And yet, I spoke to my husband, resting on our bed in a brief respite before the next round of bedtime exhortations for our older three.

“You know, I don’t get anything done around the house when I’m home with her, but it’s not like I spend any quality time with her either. I have all these half-finished things I’m working on and getting frustrated about – instead of just giving up and giving her my full attention.”

He knew it was just my latest in a line of vents/complaints/realizations as I try to come to terms with my reality. It has been an ongoing conversation, one that couldn’t be solved at that moment anyway. There were stories to read, older cats to herd. There’s also a slice of something that just can’t be changed the way life is right now.

This morning, in the small window between two kids leaving and another rousing, I decided to spend a few minutes doing some spiritual reading. Time for me, time to center – before plunging headfirst into the day – or trolling Facebook, which very rarely yields spiritual dividends. I fumbled around, trying to find the page I’d left off on since the toddler, who now positioned her head directly in my line of sight, had been so kind to reposition the bookmark for me on a previous occasion.

I’m pretty sure I reread pages already hard fought on another day, but in them, the author talked about zoe and bios. Eternal life vs earthly life. Do we strive for something bigger than ourselves? Or are we bogged down by the day-to-day so that we can’t see beyond the ends of our own noses?

My first year of teaching, I taught a short story called “Be-ers and Do-ers” by Budge Wilson to my eighth graders. They were more enthralled by the close resemblance of the first word of the title to an adult beverage than the overarching theme, but even then, I think I knew that the play between the two ends of this spectrum was important. Before life got crazy hectic and happiness was hard-won.

Am I mistaking productivity for a successful day? Week? Motherhood? Life?

Am I looking to to-do lists as structure for the free-form days of stay-at-home motherhood?

Am I allowing quantitative data to measure my worth and override the qualitative moments of life? Because it’s easier to complete measurable tasks than surrender oneself to something or someone outside of themselves?

Hours later, after I’d given up reading and hustled number three out the door, I wrestled the toddler onto the changing table. She went full-alligator until I burst into tears. “Why, God, why?” I called out, not unaware of how pitiful my approximation of Jesus’ agony on the cross was. As fiercely as she’d fought, she suddenly was peaceful.

That was why.

Bios – doing – is that much harder when I pay no mind to zoe – being. Being at peace, in God’s light, resting in the assurance that He knows more and can handle more than I can.

“The boredom or tedium of life flows from [a] lack of depth. We tend to focus merely on the horizontal, the immediate reality of life, without ever hearing or obeying the words of our Lord: ‘Duc in altum! Set out into the deep!’ (Lk 5:4)”

Stepping on the Serpent: The Journey of Trust with Mary by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

 

Bitter Sweet

I never wanted another baby. I didn’t desire to hold one. I didn’t get the ‘aww’s and the itch when I’d see someone else’s. I wouldn’t wistfully remember packing them into footies when I saw someone with toddlers preparing to leave a late-night party.

I would bless my lucky stars it wasn’t me.

The very thought of returning to that period rife with anxiety and stress, dark anger and overwhelming feelings made me a bitter, sarcastic person. I was most certainly the old crone in the corner who said, better you than me.

raindrops

Jennifer Butler Basile

In fact, just this last summer, a friend and I attended an outdoor concert on the grounds of a winery. As we toasted each other in the camp chairs we’d squeezed into the back end of the event tent to avoid the rain, I thought how lovely it was to get away. We ate our cheese and crackers, we laughed, we reveled in our unfettered evening. As the clouds broke just before sunset, some people ventured onto the surrounding lawn and set up blankets. A stylish young mother in a flowing skirt with dark hair to match, swaddled her baby and rocked to the music. Though we hadn’t said a word to each other, both my friend and I watched the scene; for as soon as I opened my mouth, she knew exactly of whom I spoke.

“Good for her,” I said, in a tone that unmistakably meant – better her than me; taking an infant to an outdoor evening concert, contending with rain; controlling wine intake if he needs to breastfeed; leaving early if he gets cranky.

My friend laughed and, in effect, toasted that sentiment.

The very sight of a mother and child, lovely as it was, brought my back up in disdain, for fear of the anxiety that wasn’t far behind. I was here to escape; I wanted no such reminder of that part of my life I was trying to escape.

And yet, though feelings like this were very authentic, they didn’t sit well with me.

I loved my girls. I welcomed them willingly into my life. I may not have liked or gracefully handled every aspect of my days with them, but I was dedicated to the role and importance of family in the world.

And so, to scorn other people doing the same thing – it did not compute. I knew exactly how hard it was and should have been supportive rather than snarky. And I suppose I wasn’t overtly snarky, but my attitude toward life had changed. I think the snark helped me build a shell around my wounded psyche. I’d returned to real life, but I hadn’t healed. I needed some fail safe so my wounds didn’t weep everywhere while I went about my business.

In September, I got pregnant.

I had referred to number three as a surprise; what a poor example that was compared to this! Six years out from our youngest. All three kids: potty-trained and self-feeding; able to run around without a bodyguard; play dates with friends and some quiet time for us adults.

What!?

I felt really silly when I thought back to that scene at the concert. I’d served myself up a huge slice of humble pie. How could I have made such a remark and then go and do it to myself? But there was no way I could’ve held my tongue in preparation for what was to come. I never imagined it would be so.

In the days following the birth of our third, I slept fitfully while the baby dozed nearby. I awoke at one point in a cold sweat, having dreamt I was in labor, contracting forcefully. When I realized it was a dream, I thanked God it was over and prayed I’d never have to do it again. It was almost a PTSD reaction. (side note: my postpartum depression was swiftly developing and I’d had a traumatic recovery from labor)

Yet, here we were. Preparing to do it all over again. With a strange sense of calm. I’d had a spiritual epiphany of sorts at the start of my pregnancy that set me off on a good foot. But I also had already faced nearly everything of which I was afraid. I’d seen how shitty it could be – and how I’d survived.

Obviously not unscathed, given my snarky attitude, but I think that’s precisely why I find myself in this lovely predicament. This baby is a chance to wipe away all my negative associations with expecting and bringing a child into this world. Does that mean I’ll push out roses and sunshine? Hell, no. It’s going to be a hard road, but I feel this experience will also rebirth my wonder in life. My ability to see love and light in little faces and the tired faces of mothers. To once again give a shit, to stand and support myself and other mothers around me. To say, not only will you survive, but you will enter a place of peace – at some point.

light

Jennifer Butler Basile

We are Pilgrims on a Journey

As I sat there listening to music being created right before my eyes, manufactured by human hands up on the stage two tent lengths away, it struck me how amazing the moment was. How lucky I was to be alive and experiencing it. A resounding hum roiling behind my breast bone – the hum of music another om of humanity.

And it is no coincidence that the space music swells is the same place that aches with longing for life, the unnamed.

For where there is a lack, there is also largess.

A void with the ability to be filled.

An ebb and flow

A sacred space that the filling and emptying of reminds us of the balance of life.

For every pain, there will be achingly beautiful joy.

For every time we feel bereft, there will be the overwhelming beauty of belonging, of certainty.

Seeing such music flow from the source brings the magic to life even more. It is the shared experience, the affinity between and among all humankind: a common ache for the sublime, a beatific high when we attain it, and the lonely muddling through when we don’t.

We all are passengers on the same journey, all trying to find our way.

On nights like this, our souls travel together.

"Servant Song" by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

“Servant Song” by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

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.

Epiphany

In high school, somewhere around the time I began to expand my vocabulary, realize the power of words – and prep for the SATs? – I came to love the word epiphany.

This phenomenon also coincided with my own spiritual awakening, but ironically, it had little or nothing to do with the three wise men heralding Jesus’ birth.

I would excitedly proclaim I’d had an epiphany when some amazing truth would whack me between the eyes. An amazing idea or affirmation. When the whoosh of a flock of shorebirds made my heart swell with the certainty of who I was as I stood sentinel on a sandbar.

As life rushed in to fill the free spaces, however, the epiphanies got fewer and fewer – until at some low point, they stopped. A noisy, dissonant place where even the chorus of bird calls could not be heard.

And yet, I still maintain our Christmas tree until January 6th. I still display Jesus and His cast of adorers in the creche. I try, I try to push back the doing, the speaking, the thinking – to open space for His coming.

And in short bursts, He has. I’ve opened windows just small enough for a spark to shoot through. A movement in a certain direction. A push toward a way of being.

I want the lightning bolt, but it can’t strike as readily under all this stuff. The circuit is closed. A spark will have to do. But great flames can burst forth from a tiny spark. And purify everything in their path.

from tcc-online.org

from tcc-online.org

Give Thanks for 3 Things a Day – Guideposts

Give Thanks for 3 Things a Day – Guideposts.

 

Varied pieces contributing to the cohesive, fulfilled whole.  This article provides some good things about which to think.

Ain’t Got Time to Die

Hello, my name is Jennifer.  And I have a problem with mindfulness.

 

In the quest to be mindful, I’m consumed by it.  I’m so busy thinking about it, I don’t think I can achieve it.  Two days ago, I wrote about the miniscule moments that eat up our day; how we don’t live because we’re completing chores and tasks that never end, but we keep trying to complete them anyway.  True.  But people like me never set boundaries, a point when reached, regardless of completion or ‘im’, I stop and begin to relax, enjoy.

 

Julie Metz also offered me another perspective in her book, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal

“Henry’s [Metz’ husband] idea of a perfect day was an action-packed race from waking to sleeping.  He was afraid of the tedium of everyday life, with its chores and routines.  Every real day, however, includes a portion of boredom.

I have struggled to resolve my own boredom through frantic mental activity or shoe shopping.  In rare, blessed moments, I have understood that, with patience, boredom can lead to stillness and calm.  And in calm, I can experience a meditation where I connect with my true self.  I can greet myself with kindness, before I return to my work, parenting, and chores.  These uncharted moments, whenever they happen, are as close as I have come to heaven.

Henry fought off every meeting with his true self, with all its flaws, contradictions, and talents.”

 

Am I, by not embracing the boredom and tedium, not meeting with my own true self?  By mocking the replacing of the toilet paper roll, et al, am I missing out on whole chunks of my life?  Mini-mental vacations I can take to realize, wonder, and reflect?

 

I can’t tell you the last time I was bored – unless you count depressive states when nothing is appealing.  I often joke that I’d love to be bored, to have the opportunity to do nothing.  Really, we can’t do something with our lives unless with take time to do nothing periodically. Am I physically and mentally capable of that?

 

The refrain of a song I heard long ago fills my head as I write this [My subconscious speaking or another sign that I can’t focus on one thing at a time ;-)] –  “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” a Negro Spiritual I first heard sung by Terras Irradiant, a Christian acapella group from Amherst College.

 

Lord, I keep so busy praisin’ my Jesus

Keep so busy praisin’ my Jesus

Keep so busy praisin’ my Jesus

Ain’t got time to die.

 

I am so busy, but I think I’m filling my time with the wrong sorts of things.  Or at least the balance is off.  Focusing on the spiritual would make the crazy press of days fall away or at least lessen.  The hectic pace would slacken, or wouldn’t bother me so much with moments of mindfulness to bring me back to center.  My center as it relates to the greater world around me, my place in this great sweep of time and humanity called life.

 

How’s that for some high falutin’ thinking?

 

Now enough thinking, just be.

 

(Think I can follow my own advice!?)

 

(Don’t answer that!)

 

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

 

 

Call in the Astronomers

I hate a whole week’s worth of list staring at me.  Seven entrées marching across the menu of my life.  A calendar scattered with to-dos and appointments bookended by trips to and from the  bus stop.

A thousand grains of sand – insignificant events – piled up to smother me.

I cannot compartmentalize, tackling one manageable item at a time.  Trivial, minute tasks threaten to overwhelm me simply because they come all at once.  Like a student with an IEP, I need my work broken into more manageable chunks and fed to me one at a time so I don’t choke.  But I don’t have a case manager.  I am my case manager and I can’t ignore the subsequent steps I know are coming for the sake of the present one or my sanity.  Just like I can’t fall for the set-my-clock-fast-so-I-won’t-be-late trick.  I always subtract the minutes and fight against that clock trying to fit squeeze every second for what it’s worth.  I see right through the subterfuge.

And then I remember the words of a visiting priest this past Sunday.  He reminded us that there are millions more stars in the sky than all the grains of sand in the world.  If even the mass amounts of sand are dwarfed by the all the stars in the sky, how small are we?  How infinitesimal our blip on the radar of the universe.  How trivial our concerns and worries and to-dos that seems so life-altering when we encounter them.

This is not unlike the advice my therapist gave me a year or more ago, which still proves relevant: The 10-10-10 rule.

Will this matter in ten minutes?

Will this matter in ten months?

Will this matter in ten years?

Yes, in ten minutes, I’ll probably still be worrying and obsessing over it, but in ten months or ten years?  Doubtful.

Our visiting priest also quoted a South African astronomer, who when a world war was imminent and battle lines were being drawn, told policymakers and strategists, do not call politicians or soldiers to solve the world’s problems, call in the astronomers.  How much grander is the universe than our little corner of it?  How petty even multinational concerns in the grand scheme of all creation?

I have a newfound love for astronomers.  I think we should employ them in all things personal and global.  What a different world it would be if we gazed heavenward from time to time instead of always being bogged down by the drudgery of the corporeal.  After all, we are all made from dust and to dust we shall return.  And we all know dust is way outnumbered by stars.

 

 

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