Posts Tagged ‘mother’

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.

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“One Small Year”

April 2, 2013

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The evolution of self doesn’t end. I thought I had done a lot of it, but now that I’m a mother (12 months to the day,) something fundamental in me has changed, deepened. My heart feels broader. On Shawn Colvin’s album “Whole New You” which she released after becoming a mother, she sings, “One small year… It’s taken all of me to get here.” The first year of my son’s life has indeed taken all of me and more, a good bit more.

Through the ups and downs of gaining a new equilibrium, I’ve become a better person. Perhaps only perceptible to me, but I feel more whole and more humble. Because of my immense love for son, I’ve surprised myself with the level of selflessness and responsibility I’ve been able to sustain. While I’m far more caffeinated, scattered, overwhelmed and quick to resentment, I’ve also experienced far more joy than I’ve ever known before.

Strangely, during this most precious year of my life, I’ve felt less connected with God. I don’t have a lot of time anymore to sit with God in silence, yet I’m also pretty sure God has been powering my mothering. There is no way I could have done this on my own.  Perhaps this year was more about doing God’s work than feeling God. Even though, every single day, I am amazed at and indescribably grateful for the gift we have been given from the Lord Almighty.

Recently after a particularly challenging week of our baby son being sick at the same time my husband was working nights, I sat on my yoga mat and didn’t do anything except breathe and “be”. I was relieved and grateful to set down my screw-ups for a few minutes. I felt calm, strong and myself – the me that exists underneath all the striving to be a good mother, wife, leader and employee. The me that needs a break sometimes. The deep me I’ve always been and the one I’ve become over the past year. These few moments were a respite from thinking I need to be anything other or more than who I really am.

My dad told me once during a difficult life transition to “lighten up,” and not take myself so seriously. Last year comments in an anonymous work survey said that my “intensity” might be intimidating for others.  My sister likes to tell me to “relax!” While it is still a beast I battle, motherhood has lessened my perfectionism, and I’m grateful to be easier on myself and others. I do, however, like the part of me that takes my life seriously. I consider my time on Earth, and with those I dearly love, to be short and precious. I know that my way of being and what I write about isn’t comfortable for some, but I’m not sure I can or want to change that part of me.

I will acknowledge, though, that one of the most wonderful things about motherhood is that around my son, I “lighten up” naturally. It comes without effort. He is so joyful and so much fun, I can only respond in kind. Sometimes the tables are reversed, he needs me to be that way first. And… he thinks I’m hilarious! So I milk it and I love it. I enjoy the fun part of me. It is my husband who is really the funny one in our family, but my son laughs at my jokes and slapstick comedy as if I’m the funniest person on Earth!

Becoming a mother and a wife have been the two largest “need to step up my game” events of my life. Despite the saying that we are all replaceable, I don’t believe we are all interchangeable. There is something I’m supposed to give my son, my husband, and the world that only I can give. These two people I love the most make me want to become the very best me I can be.  Working motherhood doesn’t leave a lot of time for all of the supports I used to use to de-stress and center myself, but I have learned that it is essential to make time for those that most influence my ability to be loving and happy for my husband , my son and myself – yoga, meditation, prayer, listening to others’ spiritual journeys, and writing. I like myself more when I love them well, or at least try.

This piece doesn’t feel too polished or quite finished, and I’m not sure I’ve accomplished Benjamin’s Franklin’s “write something worth reading,” but it is my baby son’s first birthday and I have to sweep before his party. I just wanted to acknowledge my gratitude for this sweet boy and my amazement at this “small year” by posting today.

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What must they be feeling?

February 9, 2013

I try to imagine what the families of the murdered Sandy Hook Elementary first graders are feeling. How are they surviving the vicious taking of their children whom they will never hold in their arms again? I stop far short of really opening my heart to the bottomless well of their pain.

When my husband and I married, my stepmother gave a toast on behalf of my late father. She said to me, his youngest daughter and someone who struggled for years to understand his love, that I would never know the depth to which my father felt my every joy and sorrow.  Indeed, I had never imagined that my Dad loved me in such a visceral way. Perhaps, then, his anger at the choices I’d made while growing up was born from the pain those choices caused me.

When I had my own child, I began to understand on a much deeper level what my stepmother meant. My baby son feels like a living, breathing part of me who is no longer physically attached to me (except when he’s nursing!) There is an energetic connection between us.   When he is away from me, a central part of me is elsewhere. My heart beats now in and outside of myself. When he cries, I ache.

At four months, when I clipped his thumb instead of his nail, and he began to wail, I sobbed as if I could feel his pain with him. “This is what she meant,” I thought.   At five months, when I had to leave him behind in the daycare room for the first time, I felt like I was leaving the core of my being behind, taking only the weeping outer shell of myself to work, wondering what I was doing.

It holds true on the joyous side as well – when my son laughs, smiles his wide-open grin, talks his sweet sounds, or beams with pride at his newfound ability to stand, my heart expands beyond measure. Being in his sunny presence is the most simple, pure joy I’ve ever known.

Our son is wholly his own, he loves his growing independence, and he is still part of me and my husband. Is this physical, emotional and spiritual connection because we (and God) created him, he grew inside me, he feeds from my breast, he snuggles his little body against mine, and rests his sleepy, curly head on our shoulders? I don’t think my Dad did much of that beyond help create me, but apparently he felt love for me at a profound level. Something I had never understood, until now. And something I thought was perhaps just true for mothers, until watching my husband with our baby boy.

When I told my mom about the thumb-clipping incident and surmised that these intense feelings for my son would lessen as he got older, she said no, they wouldn’t. Her five daughters are now in their 40’s and 50’s. They haven’t gone away. It seems that feeling another’s pain and joy as if it were our own is a lifelong part of parenthood.

Because of the tragedy of Newtown, I’ve wondered about the potential for unfathomable pain in loving my son so deeply. Will I lose him? I have friends whose children have died very young, their time together cut impossibly short. I’ve realized it could happen to anyone and could happen to me.  No amount of prayer or begging seems to make a difference. I tell myself there is nothing to do except cherish everything about him and be awake to each present moment. Let this “little Zen master” (as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls children in the home) teach me over and over about the preciousness of now, and impermanence.

The joy of being his parent is so great and the privilege of caring for his heart so tender, it is worth the horrifying risk of unimaginable heartbreak. Perhaps that is how the Sandy Hook parents are living through this nightmare, able to survive their grief because of the unforgettable sound of their children’s laughter, the physical memory of small, sweet arms wrapped around their necks, heart-filling pride at the little people their children already were at six and seven years old, and an all-encompassing love that continues.

A Mother’s Love

March 2, 2010

In the earthly realm, what kind of trust most approximates your trust in God?” That was a question put to me this week.  My answer was that I have never once doubted my mother’s love.
 
It has astounded me that through all the hard work of raising my four sisters and me, and all the grief we gave her (she raised five opinionated girls!), my Mom’s love for us remains, at its core, unwavering and limitless. My trust in the steadfastness of her love grew over time and repeated experience. By my adolescence, I was sure that it would always be there no matter what. I believe that if a child receives nothing else from a parent, trustworthy love is a rock upon which she can build a life.
 
When I ask teenage girls from challenging circumstances to name the most important person in their lives, almost all of them answer, “My Mom. Because she takes care of me.”
 
Their calm and grateful trust in their mothers’ care and my own experience illuminate my understanding of God’s motherly love – a constant, deep, and forgiving love that can be trusted despite my disappointing Her, turning my back on Her, judging Her, telling Her what to do, or rudely asserting my independence from Her.
 
My Mom recently wrote me about her experience as a young mother of five girls and how the women’s movement saved her. “I finally felt I had a right to my own life, and I redoubled my efforts to raise each of you girls to understand that you were as deserving of your place on earth as anyone, to have a backbone, and to have a sense of your own innate worth and strength.”
 
I believe that is what Mother God wants for all of Her daughters as well – to know that each of us is deserving of our place on Earth and to trust our innate worth and strength.
 
Even as an adult, my mother’s hug is still enormously comforting to me. Her embrace creates a feeling that is aptly described by the words of Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth-century mystic known for her theology of God as Mother: 
 
“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” 
 
To be able to trust in that kind of love, whether from God or one’s own mother, is what I wish for everyone.