Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sisyphus and Motherhood and Coffee

Yesterday morning I woke to a quiet (and sort of creepy) almost three-year-old standing beside my bed at 6:15, silently staring at me. Good morning, Wednesday.

After I got August settled and watching a Thomas show, I moved toward my coffee pot, only to have Brooks begin crying and crying. I bounced him in the kitchen for 15 minutes staring longingly at the empty pot that remained without coffee due to my only having two hands. Finally, Brooks was asleep! I put him down and ran to the coffee pot, got the drip going. And then…he was awake again, crying in his bassinet. I bounced and rocked and swayed.

The minutes turned into an hour. Lay the baby down, come back five minutes later after he’d woken. It was 7:45 by then and my husband was leaving for work. Chris’ grandparents were in town for the day and were coming around 10 to spend it with us. And our kitchen was covered with dishes and remnants of the night before. I had a lot to do.

Here’s the thing: I had cleaned our house fifteen hours earlier: vacuumed, wiped kitchen counters, scrubbed pots and dishes. And here I was looking at the same kitchen again. Plates in the sink, pizza crust on the counter. There’s a reason for this. It’s that my husband hosts his men’s bible study over here on Tuesday nights. Long before I took my Benedictine motherhood vows, Chris and I had already committed ourselves to hospitality. We want our home to be full of people we love who love our kids. We want our door to be open, our kitchen to be packed with voices. So, every week there are fifteen beautiful women here on Sunday nights, a handful of fellas here on Tuesdays and in between, some happy dinner parties. We love that our home is a place people gather. We love what it does for our kids. (Last week, one of the girls in my bible study, Sarah, saw August at church and leaned forward to say hello. As soon as she got close to his face, he puckered up and smooched her on the lips.)

But yesterday morning I was not thinking about my calling to hospitality or the blessing of adult friends in the lives of my kids, or the simple sweetness of an active home. I was bitter about the dishes.

I did what I do best: opened the freezer and watched a plastic tub of frozen chicken stock fall onto the floor and shatter. Then, I stomped around while sweeping plastic and clanking dishes with my free hand (the one not holding a baby) and complaining to Chris about the ridiculousness of needing to clean the house, again. Good grief, there were crumbs on the carpet even though I vacuumed last night. And I can’t even get anything stupid done because my baby won’t stop crying. And can’t he at least take out the trash?

He took Brooks and went to our bedroom to get his shoes on. I finally poured my first cup of coffee and made that “hmmph” noise.

Then I walked into our room where he sat on the bed with our sweet baby, whose eyes were wide and staring up at him. “I’m sorry I’m crazy,” I said. And I sat down beside them.  “It’s just that I’m not accomplishing anything right now. Whenever I have a moment when August doesn’t need me, Brooks is crying and I’m rocking him. And every day I clean the same counters, wash the same clothes. When is anything ever finished?”

Chris said, “I keep thinking that we can’t look at all this stuff as what we have to get through in order to live our lives. The baby crying and diapers and dishes is our life. It’s what we’ve chosen and what we get to enjoy. Micha, you’ve got to get over thinking that what you ‘accomplish’ is everything besides feeding and loving and playing with our kids.”

Turns out he read a quote about Sisyphus the other day (from an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus“). You know, the mythical figure who is forced to spend eternity rolling a huge boulder up a mountain over and over, day after day? Albert Camus thinks Sisyphus gets a bad rap. He imagines him happy:

“One always finds one’s burden again…his universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

What if there is beauty and joy in the monotonous, continual cleaning of our dishes? What if every morning I can’t get from my zombie state to my coffee pot because my crying baby is demanding his own bouncy dance?

So what if I always find my burden again? It’s a lovely burden, isn’t it? Full of purpose and sweetness and monotony, yes. But monotony can also be known as routine and rhythm and practice. (By the way, those are all monastic terms, aren’t they? Hmmmmm.)

Routine and rhythm and practice. And Sisyphus and motherhood and coffee.

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Questions

While singing August my favorite goodnight song, “Mommy loves you” (Also known as “Beautiful Girl” from Slugs, Bugs and Lullibies.

Why do you sing: “The angels are keeping / So cry no more”?

“Because the song says God sent some angels to watch over you so you don’t have to be afraid.”

“Why do you say: ‘But when your tooth aches or your heart breaks’? What is when your heart breaks?”

“Your heart breaks when you feel really sad inside and you need me to hug you.”

While singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness

“What are mercies?”

“They’re gifts you don’t deserve that God gives you. Like I don’t deserve sweet boys like you and T-Rexy and I don’t deserve Daddy but God gave you to me.”

“T-Rexy’s a gift I don’t deserve,” he says as he kicks his legs all around the bed, narrowly missing Brooks’ (aka T-Rexy’s) head (I’m nursing him while I put August to sleep). “You’re a gift I don’t deserve, Mommy.”

While making cupcakes with me while the wind blows outside and we listen to music inside:

“Look! The trees are singing too!”

While I pray for him last night, asking God to make him and his brother men of mercy and justice.

 “Mommy, what is justice?”

“It’s when you work hard to make things are sad or wrong into something good and right.”

The truth? This is a difficult stage. There’s a reason I’m reading books on how to raise strong-willed children. But I hope I never tire of explaining my words or my prayers for this boy. He is full of questions and I hope he stays that way…

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Grape is Thy Faithfulness! (aka Thankful Tuesday after Easter Sunday)

  • Last night when I was putting him to bed, August asked me to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” to him. Then he smiled to himself and shouted: “Grape is Thy Faithfulness!…Blueberries is Thy Faithfulness!” He thought he was pretty hilarious and I thought it was kind of amazing. So, of course, I agreed to sing “Grape is Thy Faithfulness” for the boy, which should probably be the theme song for my Northern California wine-loving church.
  • You know how I love Gerard Manley Hopkins? My favorite poem of his is “God’s Grandeur” when he describes the “dearest freshness deep down things.” I was thinking about those words last night when we said goodbye to our last round of visiting family. Chris’ dad, step mom, and half siblings were here for the past five days. Before that my mother-in-law was in town taking care of us for almost two weeks.  It’s so good to be loved and cared for. There’s a sweet wonderful about having grandparents in my kids’ lives. I’m so thankful for it.
  • I can’t get enough of that fat-cheeked bliss my baby has the moment after he’s filled his belly to its capacity with milk. A sweet lump of dough.
  • Brooksie definitely doesn’t like it when I have dairy. I’m thankful to know that and thankful that he’s a happy baby again. Sad babies are not easy.
  • On Wednesday Brooks will be six weeks old! It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us, August included. But we’re figuring out how to be a family of four. So grateful that though change is always difficult, it’s also beautiful.
  • It’s true! Stretch marks really do fade (sort of)!

I would really love to know what you’re thankful for…

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Jesus resurrected

"Jesus resurrected" (Anna Kocher, 2006)

Descending Theology: The Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in–black ice and blood ink–
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he longs to flow into–
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward–as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

“Descending Theology: The Resurrection” by Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome, HarperCollins, 2006.

“Jesus Resurrected” by Anna Kocher. See the rest of her work here.

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Jesus’ body is removed from the cross

"Jesus' body is removed from the cross" (Anna Kocher, 2006)

Thy body and Thy blood, O Word, Thou has offered at Thy crucifixion for the sake of all: Thy body to refashion me, Thy blood to wash me clean; and Thou has given up Thy spirit, O Christ, to bring me to Thy Father.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

From the Canon of St. Andrew, First Fruits of Prayer by Frederica Matthewes-Green, Paraclete Press, 2006.
“Jesus’ body is removed from the cross” by Anna Kocher. See the rest of her work here.

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Jesus is nailed to the cross

Jesus is nailed to the cross (Anna Kocher, 2006)

Christ’s Passion

by Mary Karr

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked
the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.
He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul
this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods
with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh
felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.
So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles
growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.
Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each
pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill
and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they
unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope.

“Christ’s Passion” by Mary Karr, Viper Rum, New Directions, 1998

“Jesus is nailed to the cross” by Anna Kocher. See the rest of her work here.

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Jesus falls

"Jesus falls" (Anna Kocher, 2006)

Descending Theology: The Garden

by Mary Karr

We know he was a man because, once doomed,
he begged for reprieve. See him
grieving on his rock under olive trees,
his companions asleep
on the hard ground around him
wrapped in old hides.
Not one stayed awake as he’d asked.
That went through him like a sword.
He wished with all his being to stay
but gave up
bargaining at the sky. He knew
it was all mercy anyhow,
unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene,
though that gaze was never
not rapt, a mantle around him. This
was our doing, our death.
The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
into the betrayer’s ear,
and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
of Judas, who was approaching
with soldiers, glancing up–as Christ was–into
the punctured sky till his neck bones
ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
to press a kiss on his brother.

-Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome, HarperCollins, 2006

Jesus falls is by Anna Kocher. See the rest of her work here.

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