Monthly Archives: April 2012

A ‘Mother Letter’ for the Mamas

Dearest Mamas,

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Emily (one year ahead of me in the baby-making) gave me a piece of advice: Have grace with yourself, she said.

She was talking about those first moments when I’d hold his tiny squirming flesh to my breast: When I expected fireworks of passionate mother-love and instead felt afraid, overwhelmed and happy, exhausted and adrenaline-rushed. She said, “Don’t expect the love you feel in that moment to be enough. You love your kid as you learn them.”

Have grace with yourself.

I carried her words over into those first weeks and months of exhaustion. The long nights, the moments of fury at this little thing whom I loved desperately but who was wreaking havoc on my brain and my body. I learned to have grace on myself when my friends were reading their 4-month-olds books for 30 minutes a day and helping them progress in their development and I still felt like it was all I could do to get my baby to sleep and eat and stare at me every day, much less be faithful to my calling and career.

Grace: Such a word for such an act. It’s love, yes. But it’s love that offers free kindness, freedom, acceptance. Jesus gives me that kind of reality. It’s not an act that allows me free reign to ruin myself. It’s an act that draws me in with loving kindness, that sets me up to use my gifts and my heart and offer to the world what’s good that’s already been placed into my hands.

Have grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority?

Have grace with yourself.

When it’s your kid who is screaming on the airplane. When every person around you seems to think they know the answer. When you determine to trust your instinct despite his rage, despite your tears and the bite marks and the passengers who are tweeting about the horrible child and his incapable mother they were stuck with on the flight.

Have grace with yourself.

When every one at the park is obsessed with getting their almost-two-year-olds into language-immersion classes, when your friend’s three-year-old already knows how to read, when your strong-willed child is achingly sweet at home but yelling at the Sunday School teacher at church. When you’re afraid no one but you understands him.

Have grace with yourself.

There may be a day when someone you love questions your parenting choices. There may be a day when you stare at your tear-soaked face in the mirror and ask, “When my kids grow up, how will they remember my failures?”

But motherhood is not a series of situations that have a wrong and right answer. It is a relationship. How many times have I described Jesus that way to one of the high school or college students I’ve ministered to? Jesus is not religion. He is relationship. Engaging with him requires our hearts and our minds and souls and our strength because it involves living, not simply rule-adherring.

Have grace with yourself, Mama. This thing is complicated. You will hold that newborn and you won’t know how to love him but you will and you will wonder is this enough? and it may never be but he needs you any way.

See that’s the secret: You are his only mother. The only mother he will ever know. He loves you desperately. He needs you to love him back, to gather him when he crumples, to jump in the pool when he sinks, to snatch him up when the other kids are picking on him, to trust yourself to know when to protect and when to let him find his way.

So gather her and love her. Laugh and cuddle and read and make choices. And trust that in spite of your imperfections, God is making all things new: even you, even your child.

There is refreshment in that grace: the chance to begin every day, the chance to learn and change, to stick by convictions and let some of them float away on yesterday’s balloon. You don’t have to be the same mother you were last year. You are being refined.

Once, another friend said: Stop being so ferocious with yourself.

I’ll say the same to you, friend. God has given you to your child and your child to you. And every gift you own combined with the strength of God’s Spirit is enough to do this beautifully.

You may not be the mom who speaks two languages in the home. You may not perfectly balance work and mothering. You may not feel secure in the complexities of discipline and correction. You may receive every kind of judgment over the way you sleep-train your baby.

When it’s all too much, promise me this: Walk your stressed little (okay, let’s be honest, probably not-so-little) hinny to the bathroom, look in the mirror. Breathe deep. Look in the mirror again. Imagine Christ’s hand on your head, let his peace wiggle in to those brain wrinkles. And say: “I am loved. I am loved. I am loved.”

Because sometimes, Christ’s love is the only thing that gives us strength to love completely the little ones who have been given to our care.

Linking up with The Mother Letters ProjectRead about it then join your “Mother Letter” to the conversation. And get your copy of the Mother Letters ebook here.
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{Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

“If parents who are from the nobility want to offer to God in the monastery one of their children, who is too young to take personal responsibility, they should draw up a document like that described above and, as they make the offering, wrap the document with the child’s hand in the altar cloth…

Poor people may make the offering of a child in the same way. If they have no property at all, they simply write and offer the child with the document in the presence of witnesses.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 59

What does it mean to offer a child to the work of God?

When I first read this chapter two years ago, I was taken with the image of a child’s hand grasping the document written by his parents, promising him to the community, to the life of monasticism, and making a covenant he can’t possibly understand, his hand wrapped in the altar cloth.

Of course, the thought of what parents chose to do in the 6th century—offering a child’s life to a monastery, giving up rights to that child, both as a kind of tithe, but also as a way to feed less mouths and gain religious “approval” (from God? from the church?)—is disturbing. From our free-thinking, individualistic society, we can’t possibly grasp the culture of the Benedict’s time, what it meant to live in poverty. Or, what it meant to live under the authority of the church.

So I won’t really go there. When I read this passage, I just kept seeing my boys holding the life (the promises) my husband and I are writing for them, their boy hands wrapped in the altar cloth.

Both my boys are blankey types. They would prefer to have their blankets with them wherever they go. Although August is able to go to school and church without it, if there’s a new, scary event happening for him, you bet his “Bup” is in hand and it’s the only thing keeping him from an emotional breakdown. Brooksie has loved his blanket since he was five months old and every time he sees it, he throws his body into it, rubs his face in it.

You know I’m moved by images. Sometimes I stare past the moment I’m in with my kids and I see the eternal: Those two boys crawling and falling onto the couch cushions, laughing and rolling; the three of us on the rocking chair: August hugging my neck from behind while Brooksie sits in my lap and holds the book. What am I writing for them? What is the commitment I’m offering the Lord on their behalf?

Last Saturday night while Chris and I ate dinner at some supercool hipster French bistro (records playing through the speakers!), we talked about the boys, and I whispered across the table the secrets my heart prays for them, what I hadn’t mentioned to Chris till then. I’m convinced that we are always writing the document, this desperate offering to God on our children’s behalf.

The question I’m asking myself is what promises I’m making with the life I’m living in front of them. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people? Am I teaching them to live in fear of the approval of others?

This is picture I keep seeing: As their little tired bodies lie back against their sheets, as their eyes roll backward, their cheeks relax, as they sink into the secret place their minds go in the darkness, they hold in their hands the words I’ve written for them that day: the commitment I’m making on their behalf to the God I serve. And in their hands, the blankets they love, wrapped around their hands, like altar cloth.

See, on the altar is the sacrifice, the grace offered from a merciful God. Yes, each day I write for them a future: some of it sweet and good; some of it broken and failing. But covering their hands, covering my attempts at mothering, at committing those sweet lives, is the grace that covers my hands as well, my tired body pressed into my sheets at the end of the day, the future my parents wrote for me and the promises I’ve made and broken and continue to walk in. All of it grace; all of it wrapped around our hands.

All of it sealed on the altar where Jesus breaks and pours out again and again.

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A list of gifts on a Tuesday

modernhepburn.tumblr.com via Pinterest

  • For a Saturday date night and one long, happy dinner conversation with the Mister
  • For a husband who holds out his arms for our boy when he comes out of the game and cheers, “Yeah, buddy!’ despite August never touching that soccer ball. (Instead he runs around the field with abandon…in the opposite direction of the game). I know I’ve said it before, but how many boys are loved by their fathers unconditionally? I know my husband’s not perfect (he’d agree) but, man, he gets a lot of things right.
  • For a hair salon that has a dispenser for “Hot Tamales” candy! (Why, I don’t know, but I never question a good, free thing that involves sugar.)
  • For my baby’s newly developed dance skills, the squatting of his diaper-clad butt into the air and scrunching his elbows in, all while smiling up at me for appproval. (Which I give, honey, I give.)
  • For the excitement and the risk and the joy of jetting off in two days for the Festival of Faith and Writing: The blogging/Twitter friends who will become real, the chance to fly alone and read a book and take a taxi and take notes…all while not wiping a snotty nose or offering a snack while in conversation or carting around some large and necessary child-supply.
  • For the grace of the “I’m leaving my babies” ache and the goodness of trusting God to supply for them and love them well.
  • For the little boy who wanted his hair cut like Dad’s
  • For chin zits to remind me I’m still young, despite the eye wrinkles that remind me I’m not so young anymore.
  • For food in the fridge, and little tummies fed and the gift of not worrying for the physical needs of our kids
  • For freedom and grace and moments of quiet happiness
  • For boys in the yard kicking soccer balls with their dad
  • For my friend Sarah Bessey’s list of influential Faith Lady-Bloggers. For her courage to honor women and bless the voices out here in our little spot on the Blogville map. (Seriously, if you don’t read Sarah’s blog, today is the day you should start. And then send me cookies for making your life so much richer. I’m not kidding.)
  • For the new book beside my bed that I’m going to start quoting from incessantly and we’re all going to wonder why I even have a blog because really we should just read this book. (But I can’t make that statement yet because I’m only one chapter in.) It’s called: In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice. (See, I told you! Just go buy the book and stop reading this blog already!) Listen to this:

“‘Few of the great remembered pray-ers of our tradition were married. Few had children,’ notes church historian Wendy Wright. But this is not all. Many of the esteemed champions of the faith tradition modeled an entire way of life at odds with the life of these church members. They pursued God through the ‘silence and solitude of a hermits’s cell or the mobility of unattached apostolic life’… Limiting spirituality to the ‘inner’ life and restricting theology to the life of the mind ends up excluding a huge portion of the life from both faith and theology” (Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore 5-6, 7).

  • For bedtime snuggles and kisses and “I really love you, Mom” from my growing-up boy. (Who, by the way, has a pretty intense crush on the cartoon character “Isabella” from the show Phineas and Ferb.)
  • For the view of the world from my kitchen window: how blue it is, and green, and alive.

 

PS  Happy Birthday to my mother-in-law, Basia! Hope your day is full of bright flowers…

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A couple of photo shoots, some bluebonnets, and one lovely photographer…

When I made the decision to make the move to Patheos, I knew it was time to spruce things up around here. That meant having a banner with a higher quality photo than Chris’ iPhone pic circa 2008. A friend recommended a local photographer and I had an actual photo shoot. (I don’t think I’ve been in a photo by myself since I was pregnant with August. Why are moms always holding something/someone during pictures? What was I supposed to do with my hands?!)

Erin from Erin Molloy Photography was lovely. And talented. And super fun. This is what she did:


We had such a great time together. Erin was fast and she knew how to get great shots without taking ten gazillion of the same picture. She was encouraging despite my awkwardness and made me feel totally comfortable. Plus, she picked an amazing location (woods, tall grass and city scape in one park!)  The photos were so wonderful, that I asked Erin if she would take pictures of my family. And then I demanded (okay, asked nicely) that she take them in a field of bluebonnets. I’m still stunned by their loveliness. 
 


This is what my life looks like on a daily basis. Minus the beautiful flowers. It also, gratefully, looks like this.

She was great with the kids and able to catch us interacting so that it didn’t feel forced. Plus, she had grace for this mama who was ten minutes late and still slicking down finicky boy hair when we got to the photo shoot. I’m so grateful to Erin for her skill, generosity, and creativity! She is a such a find. (Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, Like her on Facebook, and send all your Austin-types her way.)

We’re still ironing out details for the move, so I’ll keep you posted. Until then, happy Monday, friends!

Love,

Micha

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A Very Thankful Poem-a-Day Friday

I’ve missed our Thankful Tuesdays, friends! So much so that my mind has been filling over with thankful bullet points and I keep thinking: Scratch that on a list! It just feels too far away to wait till Tuesday. So…

I’m Thankful for:

  • The gift of walking through Holy Week with all of you
  • Being married to a man whose eyes are always a little red and shiny after Easter services
  • A deck where we can host an Easter meal
  • Easter egg hunts and Easter-clad children in the backyard
  • Eating boiled eggs a bit dye-stained on the white and for how little I mind
  • Happy happy news from my brother-in-law
  • Prayers sweetly answered for friends with health scares
  • My baby’s near running skills
  • Looking from the kitchen sink toward the living room and seeing both my boys on their backs on the carpet, holding their blankets and laughing at each other.
  • A baby who can’t stop smiling even when he’s sick (and making fake coughs and fake nose snorts in an attempt to make me laugh)
  • A migraine Sunday night: The small reminder of the suffering so many people live with in daily life. A husband who stays awake rubbing my shoulders and gets up with the kids.
  • August’s love for gardening
  • The joy of trimming back overgrown plants. (Cutting stuff off and pulling stuff out of the ground! So therapeutic! Even though I have no idea what I’m doing!)
  • Austin in the springtime (It’s really so lovely…I know, I know…summer will be rough.)
  • That feeling when the dishes are clean (no matter that it only lasts three hours)
  • Reading a book with both boys in my lap
  • Windows open, birds singing
  • And this Someecard that makes me cackle (yes, I said ‘cackle’) every time I see it.




And now, a poem from my favorite Jane Kenyon (whose poems I should really just quote here every Friday):

The Suitor

by Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1996

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Andrea Palpant Dilley: Doubt, Flat Tires and the Goodness of God

I first noticed Andrea Palpant Dilley when she shared her testimony in front of our church. That was  sometime in September, four weeks into my new life in Austin. And, I couldn’t help but notice: She spoke like somebody who loved words. I decided right then, I’m gonna make her be my friend

Thankfully, she started a writing group and I jumped on the email list and once a month I get to sit in a circle while she leads a discussion about literary things (and, sometimes, Jesus). I love this lady. (And I don’t think I’ve had to force her into our friendship so that’s a relief.)

I’m also proud of Andrea, whose first book Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubtcame out last month. Her story is fascinating: She spent her early childhood as the daughter of Quaker medical missionaries in Kenya. When her parents left the mission field, she moved to Washington state, began to question God’s goodness as  teenager, and by her twenties had left the church. The memoir is the story of that journey and her eventual return to faith.

I’ve read memoirs about doubt before that were near reflections of my childhood and story: my brother Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith and Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town. But rare is a childhood like Andrea’s. Her faith experience was braided right alongside the deep suffering of the people her parents served. Her story is fascinating to me because she isn’t responding in any way to an overbearing evangelical culture (as I would expect). Her story is about the problem of suffering and the search for God’s goodness. 

Here’s a bit of our conversation about her book:

Micha: You talk about the Rift Valley in Kenya as being the origin of all humanity, but also the origin of your childhood. Do you think your childhood in a developing country made you even more predisposed to question God’s goodness in the midst of suffering and poverty?

Andrea: Absolutely. In the book I poke fun at the fact that, while most kids my age were playing Pac Man and eating pop tarts after school, I was visiting patients at my dad’s hospital. I spent time with sick people who died the next day. I attended funerals. I watched women wail in public, which was part of the mourning ritual of life in rural Kenya. Even the hospital morgue sat only fifty feet from the front door of our house. So yes, growing up as a medical missionary kid exposed me to more death and darkness than most kids my age would ever be exposed to, living in a western country. And those experiences very much informed my view of the world and my view of God. As a child, I don’t think I fully understood what was going on or why it was significant. But I carried those stories with me over the years. Eventually, as a young adult, they came to bear on my faith crisis.

M: Music also plays a major theme in your book. Good music brings about in you some sort of deep spiritual longing for something that you can’t find the church or even in your personal encounters with God. Do you feel like your coming back to the church carried with it any kind of experience that mirrored what you experienced in music when you were younger?

A: I recently visited some friends up in Dallas and went to church with them at an Episcopal cathedral called Church of the Incarnation. I might as well have been attending worship at an Anglican church in London. The cathedral itself was stunning. The liturgy and music were holy. As I walked forward to take communion at the front of the sanctuary, I passed by the choir, which flanked both sides of the altar space and surrounded me with singing. I felt deeply moved by the experience of hearing those hymns and taking communion beneath the high stained glass windows.

Now that I’m back at church, that kind of high-church liturgy really draws out my longing in the same way that some pop music did when I was a young adult. Maybe I’m getting old and boring, or maybe I’m moving deeper into the reflective spaces of art. Art will always play a part in my faith life. I’m a very tactile person, so I find myself compelled by the ceremonial aspects of faith in practice—the liturgy, the sacraments, the music, all those embodied experiences that speak to the senses. Some people might call it false religion, focusing on icons instead of ideas. But I believe that God engages us through our bodies and through visceral experiences that draw us closer to goodness and beauty and truth. Art is a mark of the imago Dei, the image of God in and around us.

M: The goodness of God– “Mungu yu mwema”– becomes a major theme in this book as you journey through doubt and your departure from the church. God remaining / continuing to be good despite your rejection of him (and despite his apparent rejection of the orphaned children you spent time with in Kenya while in college). What does it mean to you now that “God is so good”?

A: When people ask me what drove me out the doors of the church and then what brought me back, my answer to both questions is the same. I left the church in part because I was mad at God about human suffering and injustice. And I came back to church because of that same struggle. I realized that I couldn’t even talk about justice without standing inside of a theistic framework. In a naturalistic worldview, a parentless orphan in the slums of Nairobi can only be explained in terms of survival of the fittest. We’re all just animals slumming it in a godless world, fighting for space and resources. The idea of justice doesn’t really mean anything. To talk about justice, you have to talk about objective morality, and to talk about objective morality, you have to talk about God.

After that realization, I found myself driven back to the doors of the church. More than that, I realized that I had to think about the problem of good. Why is there any goodness at all in the world? Now that I’m practicing faith again and back at church, I can say with more confidence that “God is so good.” God is the source of justice, goodness, beauty, and art. Evil, injustice, and suffering are just a lack of goodness and a lack of God. That vision doesn’t necessarily answer the question of suffering—I still struggle with it—but it draws me deeper into a positive view of God’s enduring love and goodness. I fight to believe what Julian of Norwich believed, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

M: One of the things I appreciate about your story is that it’s not tidy. It’s easy to want a book about doubt to offer a simple answer at the end: This is how to believe! But your story was a journey and even as you come back into the church and find a place for yourself in the Christian story, you’re still journeying and your questions and past are not neatly bound. As you come back to faith in the story, you say that somehow your “doubt was your desire” in a spiritual sense: “To possess the presence of God.” What did that mean for you then? What does that mean now in your faith experience?
 
A: In the book, I tell a story about walking into an Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco one Sunday morning while I was in the middle of my faith crisis. I didn’t know a soul. I sat at the back of the church. When communion started, I went forward, knelt at the altar, took the sacrament, and then watched the priest stretch out his hand to bless me on my head. In that moment, I felt a strong sense of longing for God at the very same time that I felt frustrated with church and ambivalent about faith.

That story really embodies my spiritual journey then, and in some ways, my spiritual journey now. I believe that doubt and faith—rather than standing in opposition to each other all the time—can actually go hand in hand. In Mark 9:24, the father of the demon-possessed child says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Flannery O’Connor calls it the foundation prayer of faith. I pray that prayer often. Both then and now, my doubt actually grows out of a longing for God, in this way: I feel disappointed with God when I feel disappointed with the messed up world. I feel disappointed with the world because I hope for something better. And I hope for something better because God has given me this inborn desire for goodness, justice and most importantly, God himself. So in that strange, circular way, my doubt often leads me back to faith and reminds me of my desire to know God and “possess his presence.”

M: Sometimes I feel like I battle a laundry list of intellectual questions toward God, only to have His answer be a presence, an experience, rather than a clear-cut response to my issues. That’s why I so related to the moment toward the end of the book when you experience God’s hand on your head in the middle of the night, and are overcome with the presence of peace. Was that your experience of God’s goodness? Was that some sort of answer for you to the long list of questions in your head?

To be perfectly honest, I still struggle to make sense of that experience of feeling God’s hand on my head. It didn’t answer all of my intellectual questions. But it gave me comfort at a low point in my personal and spiritual life. More than that, it assured me of God’s presence in the midst of my own spiritual uncertainty. When I think about that moment, it brings to mind that scene in the Grand Inquisitor chapter of the Brothers Karamazov where the Inquisitor fires off a series of questions and criticisms at Christ. At the end of the scene, Christ steps forward and kisses the Inquisitor on his “bloodless, aged lips” instead of answering him. He doesn’t say a thing. He doesn’t offer a counterargument. He says in action rather than with words, “I Am.” That’s how I feel about my own experience of God’s presence. I didn’t get the answers. But the great I Am made his presence known to me in a still, small moment.

* If you live in Austin, Andrea will be giving a reading tonight at Book People at 7. The rest of you should take a look at her book here.

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{Practicing Benedict} Do not disappoint me…

“When the decision is made that novices are to be accepted, then they come before the whole community in the oratory to make solemn promise of stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience … Novices must record their promises in a document … Each must write the document in his or her own hand or, if unable to write, ask another to write it instead; then, after adding a personal signature or mark to the document, each must place it individually on the altar.  As the record lies on the altar they intone this verse: ‘Receive me, O Lord, in accordance with your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the hope that you have given me.’ The whole community will repeat this verse three times and add at the end the Gloria Patri. Each novice then prostrates before every member of the community asking their prayers and from that day is counted as a full member of the community.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 58 (emphasis mine)

It’s Saturday morning. I stuff my mouth full of pancakes at a diner with one of my favorite 19-year-olds. She looks across the table at me as if I am a surviver, someone once sick but now in recovery. She chews slow then stares in my eyes, says, “I feel like I believe in God one minute, like I’m thanking him and watching him do these amazing things…like I can sing worship songs and really believe them, and then, the next, I’m thinking these crazy thoughts. I hear my professors’ voices calling Jesus’ resurrection a myth. I can’t reconcile my brain and my heart. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I’ve always believed.”

I stare back. How long have I been working through those same thoughts? How much fear sits in me? What right do I have to look in her eyes and talk about Jesus like I do in those cozy study chairs every Thursday night, our circle full of freshmen girls learning the world, and Christ, and themselves in both?

But she knows. I’ve confessed it enough–my doubt. How can I not? Even as we spread open the onion skin pages of the Gospel of John every week, even as I swear to them that God’s love is deeper than their brains, than their faith or lack thereof?

What can I say to her except that I know? What can I say except, Now it is time to lean back, sweet girl. This is a baptism of fire and you will emerge both burnt and refined.

I beg her to remember the past: every sweet moment where God’s voice broke Earth’s barrier and made its way to her ears. Set up a memorial in your mind, I say. Stones of remembrance, I say. And when the voices of doubt break in, hold up that memory and dig your fingernails in deep.

Jacob and the angel, I say. The wrestling that lasted all night. “I won’t let go until you bless me!” And how the wrestling and the clinging left him with the blessing and the limp.

Believe that the world is far more beautiful and far more complex and far more mysterious than your mind has room for, I say. And remember that God has room for all the beautiful, all the complexity, all the mystery.

“I do believe!” I quote a father’s prayer of hope for all of us faith failures. “Overcome my unbelief!” And the mystery of holding both those truths in the same heart, in the same prayer.

Who am I? I pray in my heart, my eyes on her young face, bringing my diner mug to my lips. Who am I to say anything, Lord? I know myself. I know the ache of my heart, how constant the tapes of doubt jog alongside my prayers of thanksgiving, how quickly my soul can break under the weight of their whispers. How often I kneel beside the couch, holding a physical cross to my forehead and begging: Lord, put this cross in my mind, bigger than the whispers. How I beg for my boys before they fade into the still of evening rest: that if they stray from the Lord, he will always bring them home again.

And then, I recall this prayer, offered by every Benedictine in the history of the order. Every monk has scribbled down the “solemn promise of stability, fidelity…and obedience.” Who can ever promise such a thing?

Of course, sweet Benedict offers them the sort of prayer of commitment that only a doubter would choose when presenting his or her life to the work of God. It is not a prayer of sacrifice, of promised perfection. No, it is a prayer that God would receive the promise, and a gut-beggar-plead that God will not disappoint us in our hope.

This freshman girl looks across the table at me as if I am a recovered doubter. As if these thirteen years of begging at God’s table for peace have finally delivered me smooth-faith brain waves. As if I’ve finished the treatment and come out pure. But the secret is this: I’ve been learning how to make promises, how to scratch them down and lay them flat on the altar. I’ve been learning how to pray with all my heart: My God! Do not disappoint me in this hope!

And I rise from the altar and lift my hands and shout out with the congregation on Easter Sunday, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

And then I sing from my gut as the voices beside me raise:

You make me new. You are making me new…

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