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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Motherhood of Being, Not Lacking

"By your fruits will you be known."

I hate going to Mass on Mothers' Day. And since it falls on Sunday each year, each year I take a deep breath and go, and get out of there as soon as I can. It's not because I wish to take anything away from the joy of the community. You mothers with children are amazing. It's because I struggle in a deep, intense way when the priest does something like he did today. When he calls all the mothers to come up to the altar to be prayed over and blessed. Which is awesome. And during which time, I and about a dozen other women in a church that seats 1000 stand in the pews with all the men. Othered.

When I look at all those women who stand at the altar acknowledging that they have said "yes" to the call to life -they have conceived and nurtured and borne and raised life - they have not taken a coward's way out, or given in to fear, but been generous and proactive - I am awed. When I look at the others scattered around the church I feel a little angry. Again. After all these years. Motherhood is still defined, in a social and practical way, as "not lacking."

It gets really hard because on a good day, my theologically minded self can claim motherhood in all kinds of spiritual ways, can remember my godchildren, can be all about Marian motherhood in its docility and fierceness. On Mother's Day… I can remove my heart from the struggle and be so grateful for my mom and my grandmas and those awesome women with children in my life. But if I put my heart back in, I only feel the ache.

And so I am forced once again to reflect on what motherhood is in the deepest, broadest terms. To consider what the saints (Edith Stein, Gianna Molla…) brilliant women who spoke about the motherhood of every woman must mean.

There is a lot to say about our dear Body of Christ and our lack of compassion, our lack of thoughtfulness when it comes to infertility, undesired singleness, miscarriage, and even the ways we have reasoned through loss of the unborn. I gently, respectfully, put this at the feet of the men who have second-and third-handedly handled these conversations in our theological history. I still feel slightly shocked when the sweet-natured, baby boomer, dance-in-the-lilies pastor is the one leaving women on the sidelines at Mass. There is much work to be done. There is much work to recognize the pain of unfulfilled desire for the good.

And there is much work to realize something far deeper and greater. That is the fruit of the labor of the ache. That is the longing for and loving anyway, the hoping for and not attaining, the seeking and not finding, the knock at a door that won't open. It is the unfilled space and the empty womb.

And yet.

Motherhood, when Edith Stein or John Paul II talk about it, must be more. It must, like DeLubac's Fatherhood of God which in no way models earthly fatherhood be greater - a Motherhood that is not modeled on biology. And yet, a certain biology informs it, because the body cannot be severed from the soul except in death.

Perhaps motherhood is not actually something added to a woman. Perhaps motherhood is a kind of grace, available and accessible. Perhaps motherhood is, after all, a sacrament of the fruitfulness of Trinitarian love - a self giving that manifests itself in the joy and hope, the love and kindness, the assurance and courage it instills in others. Perhaps motherhood is ultimately away of being fruitful. A grace made manifest in the Fiat to the Holy Spirit, that is imaged in biological birth, but transcends it as a fruit of the transformative and lavish love of God.

Perhaps when we see "mother" and read "mommy" we do ourselves a great injustice, because we fail to recognize the brilliant breadth of the gift.

So today, still wounded from Mass, still awesomely grateful for life, still abundantly supportive of my sisters who are mommies, I accept that motherhood may just be -in fact- a grace for us all and a way of encountering the Trinitarian God and saying my Fiat to bearing forth the fruit of the Gospel of Life.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Thanks for Curls

Today I am writing in thanks for curls.

Yes, I know Dove has some new launch of products that keep curls from being "tamed" and let them run wild, in the oh-so-sixties-uber-feminist-rant that is pro-wildness. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about a sixteen year old young woman whose trademark as a tiny roly poly two year old was thick, dark, beautiful, unruly curls. I'm talking about the head shaking that occurs for moms all over the world (and dads too, I bet) when they are trying to tame those curls… And I am guessing that all the taming in the world has a lot less to do with some kind of current social standard than the very practical issue of what happens when curls entrench themselves in one another, especially in thick hair. My mom used to refer to this as a "rat's nest" (and to be fair, my sister and I had straight, though not pin-straight locks). Yup. It's practical. It keeps hair healthy. It keeps random acts of chopping off rat's nests at bay.

And today, when our dear friend had her hair cut, the curls sprang forth in joy!

Maybe you think this doesn't matter. Maybe it doesn't compared to some really big issues in the world. But the curls had gone away. And the curls came back after ten years of fighting neurofibromatosis. The curls came back after a miraculous 22 months chemo-free because of acceptable MRI scans. The curls came back because they are a gift. And a sign of hope. And a miracle.

Those curls made me pause not just because of the mightiness of this young woman and her struggle, or the impossible tenacity of her mother or the love of her family or even the goodness of the good God.
They made me pause because of the Dove commercial.

What are my curls?
What are those things about my body that are me? I mean, the things that maybe have been disciplined into some kind of healthy order - or the things that have not? The parts of myself that make me sigh and wonder why I wasn't born with different genes? The things that scream to others about the woman I am, and the things that have made me the woman I am? My features, strengths, beauty, pudge, nearsightedness, illness, lips, voice, sparkle….

Today -in my womanhood - I want to take my body seriously. Our bodies have been used and minimized and leered at and ignored. But women need to own our bodies, and encounter one another in the body precisely because of that. I want to rejoice even in the things that I have not noticed or acknowledged. Because my "curls" are also signs of hope, and cause for thanksgiving… because my "curls" allow me to be compassionate and sensitive… because my "curls" keep me from putting God in a five foot eleven 130 pound long blonde hair, straight feet, white teeth kind of a box.

I am so thrilled for you, dear mighty girl whose curls have come back.

Thank you for being a sacrament. A sign of God who is our hope. A reminder of the body as the image of hope - love- joy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Active Waiting - Advent by Candlelight audio

Last year I was honored to be asked to give a talk for a women's Advent night at Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville (Chicago) IL.

While my blog is pretty much dormant these days, because I have other demands on my writing energies (many demands!) I will re-post in case it's the kind of thing you might like to listen to - in case it will offer you any kind of encouragement and hope.

You can link to the talk
Here: Active Waiting, and I'd love to hear your thoughts if you find it helpful...

Wishing you a blessed Advent!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Sweet Smell of Generosity

Today I expected to get work done. And I didn't. Let's just say it was a Mary moment, because the Martha dedication had time to wait. I faced a choice - to excuse myself and work, or to be open and generous with myself, even if it means a lot more to do tomorrow.

Generosity seems like an easy thing, in a way. You have two apples, you give one away to the kid who has none, right? You sign up to put together a basket for your local church raffle, or you bring a couple of toys to a Christmas drive.

These are good starts, sure. And they make other people's lives a little brighter. But I think generosity is something that is a habit: a deep giving of self that is done in such a way that the giver never runs out, and the recipient always feels blessed - gifted. Generosity has to do with the primordial call to be gift to one another, and to find ourselves in that self-gift even as Christ revealed Himself to humanity in the ultimate gift of self.

I have a friend who responds to his personal struggles of self-doubt and injured worth with generosity, a way to acknowledge his own value, giving what only he can give. One way I know when this friend is being generous is when he seems happier, more self-assured, complete.

But still. I find it very difficult to accept others' generosity in my own life. I mean, sure there are the amazing and humbling gifts of generosity like the ones that got me into this doctoral program. There is the generosity of the people who helped me get to Germany all those years ago and those who let me stay. The big gifts. The help I got to go to Rutgers. The financial support I have received. All these gifts came from need or desire and others' desire to see those things fulfilled for me.

Having said that, I am deeply humbled, Every Time, when someone gives me their time, their ear, a voice, and encouragement. While it is not always common, I find this over and over in the world I am now in, and yet it still stops me in my tracks. This kind of generosity has a sweet, sweet smell, like a bright incense that lingers. It is a kind of sweet smoky offering that honors God in me, despite me… because of me. It has been the late night emails of a former mentor, the conversation at a conference with an old friend, the impromptu discussion with the professor who never met me, but graciously makes time and space to hear me. In this world I am in it is mostly teachers of theology, because those are the ones I seek. They are the ones who know how much it means to be told "I want to hear what you have to say," or "I can't wait to read what you're writing," or "We need you" and they are generous enough to say that to others, and to me.

I have a colleague who has absolutely no reason at all to be anything but nice, or maybe even civil. And yet she will answer all questions I throw her way, and never seems exasperated. She will share anything and everything she has, from her work to her books to her time. I am always surprised.

Why am I always surprised?

But thankfully, my response doesn't stop at surprise. It continues on in like kind. I try to listen. I try to encourage. I try to give. I try to share. Even to those people who will not be long in my life. To those with whom my relationship is basic. To those who are in my life showing me in their need, in their eyes, in their longing, in their bodies that they bear Christ in them.

Sometimes I can be generous with what I have.
But I think that real generosity starts with who we are.
It starts with that being… that self-gift as a Way of Being a person, as a Way of Being Christ.

I know the proper response to the human person is love. I know the brightness in my heart when I receive that love in someone's gift of self. And I am sure I will continue to have many opportunities to share that love with others. I only hope I can do it with the generosity of those who have inspired me.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Forgotten, but Not Gone

Where have I forgotten this?

When I was 17 I moved away for a year to live in central Germany. I needed a real change from my life at home, and no one was supporting my desire to go to college, so moving 3000 miles away seemed like an obvious choice. I spoke no German and was suddenly immersed in a world I had never imagined - the food, sounds, smells, contacts, scenery, clothing, cars… all were different. I would walk down a street which bore buildings older than the US. I hauled fresh milk from the barn, I worked the organic wheat fields, I learned to ski, I learned to make bread without a recipe and I washed windows weekly.

When I came back as a student teacher, enrolled in college, I was pulsing with the world. I had backpacked for a month of the journey… I still remember the ballet and opera -with-marrionettes in Austria, the museums and churches in Italy, the castles of Ireland. I was beautiful in those days, because I had made room for the kind of beauty that fills me - for art and culture, for wonder and adventure. My classroom was creative.

A few years ago I ran into one of my students, who is just a few years younger than I. We hadn't seen each other in 20 years. And he recalled the kind of bohemian style I sported i those days - what I think he perceived as a relaxed enjoyment of the colors of life. He wouldn't have known the growing pains under the surface- that I could not sustain the woman I was made to be in the environment I was in. But he reminded me that maybe I forgot something.

I just read a blog about beauty vs. prettiness… and I am sharing it HERE because I think it's really worth a read. Now, often when I see these mommy and daughter chats online, I read a line or two, decide they are far too smarmy for my taste, and move on. But this one struck me.

Because I forgotten something.

She talks about surrounding herself with beauty because it gives her the chance to imbibe that beauty - to BE beautiful. For her it is with art and music, with candles and scent. I used to light candles in my home all the time, probably for the first dozen years of my adult life. I used to do all my paper grading with music playing, all my cleaning to the beat of a band. But somehow, over the years, when life got "busy" I stopped taking the minute to press "play", stopped buying new candles… or worse, left them in a drawer.

I stil pursue beauty. But I am becoming reacquainted with it. My heart still thrills at good art, the ocean is the place that fills my heart and soul with beauty, I own lots of music…. But I agree with the blogger - I want to be a beautiful woman, even if I am not always a pretty one. I need to start lighting my candles, playing music around the house, using the fragranced soaps and lotions that sit prettily on my bureau. I don't want to forget that urge I have always had towards the beautiful, because it is that beauty that makes me strong - because it is that beauty that makes me "me" - and it is that beauty that impacts the world. Because it is that beauty that is God who is Beauty working in tiny ways to make my heart, and my soul beautiful… and that inner beauty makes my body beautiful, no matter what size or shape or color or grace it has.

Last night I took part in the seasonally weekly ritual that has come to help fill my desire for beauty. It's a television show called So You Think You Can Dance. Consider that these women's bodies reveal a way of being a person. Those bodies - strong and powerful, soft and graceful, are so wildly beautiful. But they breathe life into greater stories about ways of being a person, about love and life and grief and anguish, about hope and trial and unity. The women's piece was stunning this week - an ensemble of seven young dancers sharing the strength and the stamina, the camaraderie and the sisterhood, the passion and compassion of what it means to be a woman. The choreographer said before the show that if people saw the performance as "pretty" the women were not doing it right.

I think they did it right:
Click this link to the youtube video - it's worth your time… turn up the volume, widen the screen, receive the beauty. (I can't help but think how much stronger, how different the same dance would have been through the experience of older women's bodies…)

I have started to pursue beauty again, in these summer days between semesters. I picked up my SLR camera after a long time of disuse. I have made the effort to go the the art museum sit on the beach in NJ and Maine, find new music. It is making me a better person - a more beauty-full woman. It gives me the space and the mindset to be in prayer, and to be prayer.

And so I think perhaps that part of the feminine genius is, all along, the ability to be beautiful and to fill others with beauty so they, too, might be beautiful. Being beautiful means in a way, to be filled with God who is beauty, and to share God who is abundant in grace and love with one another - to hope to see as much beauty in the other and receive from the other as we might have and share. And so in the hope of fuller communion, of gifts to give, of beauty to share and to be… this year I am going to light candles again, turn on music places other than the car, cry my heart out while watching the dancers on tv, and take time by the sea. Won't you join me?