Posts Tagged ‘care’

The Brea(st/d) of Heaven

August 30, 2014

A group of girlfriends, including our priest, humbly shared Communion around a circle. One mother of three small children handed the consecrated bread to the woman next to her and said accidentally, if appropriately, “The Body of Christ, the Breast of Heaven”. Much laughter ensued. I was moved by the potential meaning held in her unintentional substitution for the word “bread” – it remains an unforgettable Eucharist.

I wonder what it is like to breastfeed from God, to experience mutual need and devotion, intimacy and sustenance unlike any other. Do I already? Could I intentionally?

My son’s favorite part of church is what he calls “God’s Dinner”. It may be because he gets to move his little legs and see lots of people on our way up front, or it could be that he gets a snack. I think, however, he senses something more is happening. He seems in sweet awe as he holds his two-year-old palms up to receive this spiritual food. He has a skip in his step afterwards. Back in our pew, he always asks for more.

I experienced breastfeeding my son as a kind of sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). In the wee dark hours, more than calories was transmitted. “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer II) It wasn’t my grace that flowed; it was the purest of God’s love feeding us both, and a passing of Peace between mother and babe.

It is no small feat to feed a child from your own body multiple times a day and night for weeks, months or years. During the harried moments of raising a baby into a toddler, it was within the calm of nursing that I remembered the profound nature of the mother role and what a privilege it is. A lot transpired in the 12-inch world we created between us in our blue denim rocking chair. It was there that my son rolled toy dump trucks and excavators across my chest, it was there we chanted about Sita and Ram during my yoga teacher training, and it was there we gazed into each other’s souls and fell deeper and deeper in love.

I often wonder, as I look at my son, if God loves me that completely. There were a few days last winter when I found myself saying, “I’m not a good person” because I had been bitchy, ungrateful, impulsive, and negative. These are the moments when I most want to contribute to God’s kingdom rather than take from it, and yet, I need time at the Breast of Heaven in order to right myself. I need to be held, to connect my soul with God, and to feel loved despite my shortcomings, maybe even, inclusive of them. Then I can be nudged towards what could be.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the charioteer and teacher, gradually reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna as the Divine and as Arjuna’s immortal Self. Near the end of the story, he tells Arjuna that he loves him, that he is dear to him. I found this so touching. Could God also be this Self within me offering tender love and forgiveness to my imperfect, small “s” self?  

When people say “God loves you,” it feels like fluff to me, until I give credence to God’s love as I experience it – a surrounding presence within which I “live and breathe and have [my] being” (Acts 17:28). It is a healing energy that works its way into the inner reaches of my heart. It is as if I were a nursing baby and whenever I cry for my Mother, or even make a peep, She is there. This there-ness, that’s love to me.

Do we wean from God? As happens in a breastfeeding life cycle, I know that I have received highly personalized-for-each-stage-of-my-growth Divine nourishment. Sometimes I wonder if it is time for me to stop asking God for so much, and give what I already have. I don’t think, however, that I will ever grow out of needing to hear about Jesus’ vision of justice or tap in to his meditative presence. Nor can I imagine being beneficial for my family and the world without continually accessing a power greater than myself.  

I’m heartened that when weaning a child, allowing him to continue becoming his own self, his need for his mother is no less strong, and her love for him is no less fierce and no less present. This, I suspect, is how it is with God.


Being Careful with Anger

October 27, 2010

After a glorious Sunday spent reading in Byrd Park, it’s hard to believe that just a few days earlier, I was furious. I do remember, though, the visceral feeling that led me to slam my hand down on a table during the heated encounter. And what it felt like to obsess about the issue while turning my usual evening stroll around the neighborhood into a strident march. I went to bed that night with my journal to try to make sense of what happened – and my part in it – by writing it out of my head and onto paper. Yoga the next morning helped to calm me down and bring me some perspective. I knew that no matter what frustrations had come my way, I had not been who I wanted to be in my response.

I hadn’t been “careful with my anger” as a friend had suggested years ago when I first started exploring the benefits and risks of feeling and expressing anger. Sometimes, it’s freeing to do so. Maybe because anger is often just a few steps past passion – a feeling I’m very much in favor of – it seems justified at times. But is it? Isn’t civil society based on our ability to hold back or at least be angry in a respectful, careful manner?

When I tell friends about slamming my cell phone down on the counter after a stressful conversation, they say, “You? I can’t see you doing that.” Last week, I too thought, “Who am I? Who is this person I’m being?” Certainly not the grounded, kind woman I’d like to be. But maybe the anger is also part of me. And it can serve a purpose, as long as I handle it well.

A rising anger in my chest and clenching of my throat tell me when another has crossed my line and is now stepping on my proverbial toes. GET OFF! I want to scream. I don’t; instead, I get quiet and my speech becomes clipped.

After I analyzed my part in the matter – how I was being just as bitchy as I felt the other was being bullish – and confessed my transgressions to my boyfriend, he said, “We all wish we could be more gracious when we’re mad.”

I think there is a time and place for anger that is born in the heart and used selectively, with care for the recipient. In a recent leadership workshop, we were asked to identify qualities of a leader who had made a significant personal impact on us. Among all of my descriptors, I was surprised to find that I had written “anger” as one of the qualities of an inspiring leader.

My high school music teacher, Mr. Pipkin, used to get furious. He once threw a chair across the music room when a student made him particularly mad. Yet his anger seemed warranted and filled with love. He believed in his students. He had high expectations for us, and he got mad when we didn’t rise to meet those expectations. If he thought we were slacking – and he was usually right – he’d get furious. I was scared of that part of him and I loved that about him. I knew how much he cared about us. He fought for us. But he also knew when to let us go.

Toward the end of my senior year, I began pulling away and distancing myself from his care and guidance. I was often snotty to this person who meant the world to me and had seen me through tough times in high school. When he was on his death bed a few years later, I apologized for treating him that way. He couldn’t speak, but he squeezed my hand, which I took as his generous, loving way of saying I didn’t need to apologize. He understood young people.

Unlike my anger last week, Mr. Pipkin’s anger was unselfish. It was born of care. A priest friend was describing for me some of the many ways that God similarly uses anger. I don’t know the sacred texts well enough to quote any of those instances, but I will say that I believe – as you have likely seen – anger can drive necessary change if it is couched in care. I’m not so skilled at this yet, but I’ll keep working on it, and hopefully, I won’t do too much damage in the meantime.

It might actually mean letting myself get messily angry so I can practice a more elegant response. When I think about doing my work in the world, I’d like to use my anger for good in a powerful, passionate, and care-full manner. I’ll let you know how it goes. And if you have thoughts on the subject you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.