the monastic bell of motherhood

John of the Cross once described the inner essence of monasticism in these words: “But they, O my God and my life, will see and experience your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus enabling themselves to experience and enjoy you.” What John suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery: withdrawal from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild (Rolheiser).

I came across an article, “The Domestic Monastery,” a year or so ago, and it’s popped into my mind several times since then, usually when I’ve hit the killer combo of sleep deprivation + the girls both waking up many times in a night. Or when I have things I want to get done and Zelie is feeling sick and wants to be held all day, or Evange wants me to play with her (how dare she). Basically, the times when I really crave extended silence and solitude. Like being a monk in a monastery.

The thesis of this article is that the contemplative life can be lived in the domestic sphere. That a stay at home mom actually lives in a type of monastery, primed for deep experiences of God. “A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours” (Rolheiser). This notion intrigues me to no end because the contemplative life is the life I long to live. Me, on a mountain, praying and working in a garden. Me, in a cabin in the woods, reading my books. Me, living my best life as a monk.

Really, it’s me wanting what I want. It’s wanting control over my time, to do whatever I want for as long as I want. Which really isn’t how monks live at all.

All monasteries have a bell. Bernard … told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them … The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it’s time for that task and time isn’t your time, it’s God’s time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God’s agenda” (Rolheiser).

Ah, the monastic bell of motherhood. For me, this articulates the first and most painful lesson I learned upon becoming a mom. Time isn’t your time. My memories of the first few weeks of Evangeline’s life are sitting on the couch ALL DAY, nursing her ALL DAY, and accomplishing very little other than keeping us both alive (and I had a lot of help). I remember thinking, wow, somehow, for my whole life up until now, I really thought I was in control. HA HA HA. Motherhood from Day 1 has been poking holes into the understanding I have of who I am and what gives me value. In those first months, it was a triumph to get out of the house and go somewhere, once each day. Grocery shopping took a herculean effort. Dinner was pasta, pasta, and more pasta. (When I really stretched myself, I’d sauté some vegetables on the side. We walked to the taqueria a lot.) I had never thought of myself as achievement oriented, but when I could not point to one single thing I had done that day (outside of keeping me and E alive), it really started to frustrate me. What is this?? I’m a competent person! Who am I if I can’t do anything??

I’ve come a long way in the two and half years since then, but the monastic bell imagery is still super helpful. It reminds me that it is actually reality that time is not my own and that I don’t have control. That I can lean into that reality and trust, instead of fighting it. It reorients me back towards my girls and their demands. It helps me find meaning in all the small, daily sacrifices. The nighttime wakings become a call to prayer (like a real live monk!) even if the prayer is, “Help me, Jesus.” The interminable bedtime routine – read this book one more time, I have to pee one more time – where I most tangibly feel the discomfort of my heart being stretched because this is definitely not my agenda for the evening can become a discipline, a place for me to practice patience. (Currently, I am terrible at this. Bedtime is where the most ugly parts of me are revealed.)

The domestic monastery somehow came up in one of Chris’s classes and he was trying to explain the idea to his classmates, some of whom are seminarians (studying/training to be celibate priests). I told him he could share my example of the bell for that day. I was interrupted from reading emails by Evangeline yelling from her room, where she was supposed to be napping, “MAMA, I NEED HELP! I DID A POOP!!”

The bell indeed doth toll.

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pretty sure the feat of that day was tying the moby wrap.

 

the glimpses

There was a day back in December when I got out of the apartment for a run (in sunshine, hallelujah!) and as I was running along the walking path toward campus, I saw a woman with a basket. She was off the path a ways, standing at the edge of a field that was filled with yellow flowers when we moved here in July, but now is brown. I had just registered that the field had died and never looked at it again, really. But she was standing there with a basket, picking what I now saw were thistles. Still brown and dead, but she had noticed them for some reason, and her attention turned mine. I kept running but on my way back, when I passed that spot again, I decided to take a closer look. They were definitely dead. Pointy thistles on the end of dry, pointy stalks. But they were pretty, in a way, and there were small, brittle flowers among them. And I was struck mostly that I had never seen them before in all my times walking/jogging past. So I copied the basket lady and broke off several stalks, walking the rest of the way home.

It was a strange, reflective moment, where I was very aware that I had done something I hadn’t planned to do (step off the path, stop my run, bring home dead flowers) and I was super elated by it. Like, weirdly so. Chris had taken the girls somewhere so I had the apartment to myself for a few minutes, and I spent the time carefully arranging the thistles in a glass. And it was so great. And they were just dead flowers.

***

I think I’m entering a season of collecting things like this. Not always dead thistles, sometimes a line from a poem, a writing by a saint, or an old photograph from a thrift store. Things or words that set my soul humming. It only now occurs to me that this quiet, small activity fits well with winter. I’ve been turning inward as the days have shortened, the leaves have let go and fallen, and the bitter cold is now setting in. I am watching the sun rise and set each day now, and it has set me to paying attention to more of the little things that fill that time in between.

This quote by Henri Nouwen that I found in this book is something I keep returning to, lately. “My deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” Seeing these things I’m collecting as glimpses – of God, of beauty, of joy – and savoring them. I’m wondering how to be a witness to them. And how being a witness can be my vocation, within my other vocations (wife, mother). It’s all wrapped up in the question I continue to have: What do I do as a stay at home mom? But I think this sort of vocational lens is more helpful to me. It’s not fully formed and I’m still figuring it out, but I know I want to keep catching those glimpses.

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books of yesteryear and building my 2018 reading list

I started keeping track of the books I read a couple years ago and I thought it’d be fun to share what I ended up reading in 2017, with a top 5 fave list. And then, if you make it through, what’s on my list for 2018!

2017 Reading List

(I keep track of the books I’m reading each month. Some take me a few months to finish! The asterisk means started but didn’t finish. I’m a big believer in books having a right time. So, maybe I’ll finish those books someday, or maybe life’s too short to keep reading a book I don’t want to read. YOLO.)

January

  • Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  • The Girls – Emma Cline
  • The Enneagram: A Journey of Self-Discovery – Maria Beesing, Robert J. Nogosek, Patrick H. O’Leary
  • The Story of A Soul* – St. Therese of Lisieux

February

  • Lila – Marilynne Robinson
  • We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  • The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery* – Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  • Transitions* – William Bridges (reread)

March

  • Transitions* – William Bridges
  • The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – Tish Harrison Warren

April

  • The Outlander Series – Diana Gabaldon (my post-partum nursing reads)
  • Lilac Girls* – Martha Hall Kelly (could not handle concentration camps anymore)

May

  • The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery
  • Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting – Laura Kelly Fanucci
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • Father Brown: The Essential Tales* – G.K. Chesterton 

June/July – either I didn’t read anything, or I just didn’t write it down. that’s when we packed and moved and drove cross country with 2 babies under 2 so it’s possible I didn’t read anything.

August

  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • Father Brown: The Essential Tales* – G.K. Chesterton
  • Oh Crap! Potty Training – Jamie Glowacki
  • Spiritual Lessons from St. Francis* – John Michael Talbot
  • Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

September

  • The Sympathizer* – Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Righteous Mind* – Jonathan Haidt

October

  • The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Righteous Mind* – Jonathan Haidt
  • Station Eleven – Emily Mandel
  • Ginny Moon – Benjamin Ludwig
  • Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

November

  • I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh
  • Reading People – Anne Boyle
  • Devout Life* – St. Francis de Sales

December

  • “Wonders Never Cease” – essay by Marilynne Robinson
  • Til We Have Faces* – C.S. Lewis (reread)
  • The Hate You Give* – Angie Thomas
  • My Life With The Saints* – James Martin, S.J.

Top 5 Faves from 2017

  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • Station Eleven – Emily Mandel
  • Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting – Laura Kelly Fanucci
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

2018 Reading List (so far)

  • The Tech-Wise Family – Andy Crouch (Chris and I listened to the audio book on our drive home from New Jersey)
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver (started on Hoopla, already feel like I can’t shop at our cheap-o grocery store anymore…)
  • A Severe Mercy – a love story by C.S. Lewis’s friend whose wife died young. my neighbor lent me this and I’m convicted/challenged by how much they loved their love.
  • The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott (haven’t read any of her novels yet, but read an interview in Commonweal that had me intrigued. nuns!)
  • My Absolute Darling Gabriel Tallent (don’t know anything about this, Maya just recommended it)
  • The World Will Be Saved by Beauty  Kate Hennessey (Dorothy Day’s granddaughter. recommended by my friend, who also recommended Station Eleven, which was amazing. Kathleen, if you read this, you really should share all the books you read with the world.)
  • and I want to read my way through Obama’s fave books of 2017, starting with these: The Power by Naomi Alderman, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

What else should I read? What’s on your list? Gimme yo recs 🙂

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our fabulously curated bookshelf, ft. mostly Chris’s theology books.

cloth diapers

A theme of this blog rn now is: I’m trying to figure out how to be a Stay At Home Mom. I stopped working after Zelie was born, and then we moved across the country, so it all felt like transition-zone all summer. Plus summer always has a different rhythm, so it wasn’t until the end of August that it felt weird that I didn’t have something like school or work about to ramp up. My solution was to come up with a bunch of projects I could tackle, that would make it feel like I had stuff to do. Project #1 was Potty Training, a whole saga deserving of its own v riveting post. Project #2 was Cloth Diapering aka An Eco-Friendly, Laudato Si-Fueled Unexpected Frenzy of Energy. If you’re ever interested in using cloth diapers, you should read this and ask Sarah for tips because that’s what I did. But because I got some cute pics of Zelie, a post on cloth diapers there shall be!

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So, cloth diapers are a labor intense, sometimes pain in the butt, tbh. Buuuut they feel worth it (right now, at least) because they save money and I like throwing less diapers into landfills to never decompose. I almost got some used BumGenius for a good deal on Cloth Diaper Trader but then found a better deal through a moms Facebook group, so the upfront cost was only $50 for 15 diapers, I shall brag. I found out later that the diapers used to belong to one of my neighbors in the Village! Ha! I also snagged two reusable trash diaper bags for $10 from another neighbor. Cashing in on everyone else giving up on cloth diapering! Which makes me realize it’s pretty hard to keep up when you have lots of kids. Having only one baby in diapers and a washer/dryer in our unit made it possible for me to make the switch. That, and having a clothesline. I LOVE CLOTHESLINES. So right now it feels easy to wash them every 2-3 days or so and I don’t mind the scraping poop into the toilet part. It’s humbling and probably good for my soul. Oh and I bought two packs of these per Sarah’s recommendation, so we have reusable wipes, too. So eco-friendly rn.

I am really looking forward to spring when I can line dry them again, because I miss those minutes by myself at the clothesline. I love the feeling of cool, clean laundry in my hands when it’s hot outside, and how it slows me down to think and pray in the sunshine. Looking forward to spring for many, many reasons. Hoping I survive my first real winter and am still infatuated with le cloth diapering come … March? April? May? Whenever spring starts in South Bend.

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in all its glory

 

displaying my running gear

It’s ridiculous how intimidated I’ve been by the idea of a blog. Lately, though, for whatever reason, I’ve felt more open to trying new things. I love to write and I’ve been saying I want to write more for several years now, but I’ve been held back by this stupid perfectionism I picked up somewhere along the way (Stanford? Having an Olympic athlete in the family?) that tells me I can’t try anything if I’m not already a total expert at it.

My final push came from a recent conversation with a friend. I sheepishly admitted I was *thinking* about starting a blog but how lame I felt (I don’t have a name for it! I don’t know what I’ll write about! I don’t want anyone to read it!) and she told me a story that made me realize I was being dumb and should just blog-a-log and get over myself.

We both worked with college students after graduating and she worked with Stanford students. At a yearly conference, we held a “No Talent – Talent Show.” She reminded me that we had to call it that so that Stanford students would even participate. And she told me about an act at the last conference (that I had missed because I was v v pregnant) that was especially hilariously bad.

This kid decided that for 3 minutes, his talent would be to invite other students up on stage and have them hold his running gear. So there were people just standing, holding his shoes, and his unwashed shirts and shorts while he talked about them. That was his talent. He wanted to participate, and he had no fear. (In another act, his friend planked while telling jokes. Originally they had planned for one of them to throw cards while the other planked. No fear, you guys, no fear.)

So, I don’t know what this blog is or will be, but this is me, displaying my sweaty, unwashed, running gear.