Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Prayer and Doubt (#wholemama)

For a few months, we sang the Doxology before every meal. My toddler called it the "Ghost Song." This is likely partly due to ghost being the only word he recognized, and partly due to his obsession with all things Halloween.

Before that we went through a few weeks of "God Our Father," after he learned it at a friend's house. Before that we began our meals with a deep sigh and the awareness of something missing. The latter is what we have mostly returned to these days, along with the occasional "Thankyougodforthisfood. Amen." 

Growing up, our meal prayers came from several different Christian traditions. As kids we sang "Thank you God for this food" and then proceeded to thank God for every object we could identify on the table, including silverware and napkins and juice. As we got older my mom mostly prayed in the evangelical style, letting the words flow out as they came to her. Some days, if we misbehaved, my father would make one of us kids pray. Most often we chose the easy Lutheran prayer we had inherited from my dad's German family: "Come Lord Jesus be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed." At my Italian Catholic grandmother's house we heard "Bless us Oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ Our Lord Amen," followed by the sign of the cross. 

But none of these, neither the songs nor the liturgy, neither silence nor filling it with words, feel right for our family and the stage of faith we find ourselves in, somewhere on the edge of Christianity. I struggle with the inherently male language for God, as well as the theological implications of thanking God for feeding us while others go hungry, not to mention the fact that most days I just. don't. know. if I believe all this Christianity stuff. 

God knows the last time I prayed in the way that used to come easy to me, an ongoing conversation with God during the big and little moments of each day. That style of prayer became all but impossible for me years ago. Nonetheless, little mercies have sustained what remains of my prayer life.

A big part of this has been the idea of fingertip prayer, which Margaret Silf calls "small signals of need expressing our desire to become aware of God's constant presence." In fingertip prayer, no words are needed, my aching desires themselves are the prayer. And I need only to ache in God's direction, as if my fingers were stretched out in desire, to see them as such.

In the past year or so, I have begun writing some of my fingertip prayers on small scraps of paper. These papers, of one or two words, I then drop into a small ceramic cup that I keep on my desk, along with other items that are sacred to me. This practice is especially helpful for when I don't even know what I would pray for in a situation, assuming I could. It feels like dropping my troubles into God's small, cupped hands.

There are also countless other activities in my life that I choose to see as prayer: lighting a candle, loving my babies, practicing yoga, scrawling in my journal, taking in nature.

Lately, I even find myself drawn to the sign of the cross. The idea of letting my body say what my mind cannot has great appeal to me in this season. 

I have found great comfort in these practices over the past few years, but they don't answer the question that echoes in my mind each day when our family sits down for dinner. At meal time, I still yearn for an expression of gratitude, for some sort of regular prayer practice for our family. I can't bring myself to fully embrace any of the traditional songs or prayers I have come across, but neither am I satisfied with merely a vague notion of thanks, devoid of religious tradition. 

So where does this leave us now? I have no answers, only, as ever, a sacred ache in God's direction.

Whole Mama

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Making my self at home (#oneword365)

I've been meaning to get back to this space for weeks. I could tell you I just don't have the time but that's not the biggest reason. A few weeks ago I wrote a whole post about the fourth trimester and body-image, but the words on the screen felt disconnected from my actual experience with my body, and I left them there to rot in the drafts folder.

After nearly a year's break in my regular writing habit, the words just don't come out like they used to, nor do my thoughts. They are halting and incomplete and cliche and disorganized, both in real life and on the page.

But. I woke up one day last week feeling angry, just like the day before. And just like the day before, by midday I was on the verge of an inexplicable emotional meltdown. Then I remembered that I felt this way about this time with my firstborn (hormones most likely), and I resolved to do something about it. I hooked my toddler up with some Netflix and walked circles around the house to keep the baby asleep in the carrier while I scrawled some (mostly illegible) thoughts in my long-neglected journal.

It was in journaling that I was able to organize my feelings a little, and I realized I was feeling some tension, the tension between the desire to write and the fear of not being good enough. I've been away from writing for so long. And while it was best for a season, the thought of attempting to catch up has left me feeling inadequate and frozen.

So I decided right then and there that I would go ahead and write a post here, knowing it would be hard and a little scary and that I wouldn't find it "good enough." So what. I'm sticking it to the man (enneagram 6 anyone?). And since it's exactly half way through the year and since I've had some related thoughts swirling in my head for some time, I decided to write about my one word for 2015: homing.

Homing has mostly manifested itself exactly as I expected it would. On the one hand, there is the literal aspect, my physical home. Giving birth this year means I am obviously more connected to that space than usual, and homing is a way to give myself permission in that area, knowing that it is not permanent, but that it is okay for me to be homebound for a season.

On the other hand, there is the spiritual aspect, specifically related to my intense journey with doubt these past few years. In this area, homing is a reflection of a lot of my wrestling and thrashing finally beginning to ebb, allowing me the space to settle down for a bit. It is about discovering spiritual practices and religious traditions that feel authentic to me and that will (hopefully) carry me through the next few years.

But there has also been a third, unexpected aspect to homing, which I've only recently discovered, and it has to do with my body. If there is anything more radically life-changing to a body than giving birth, I don't know it. It changes you both physically and hormonally. Apparently some women have this "bounce back" thing, but I am not one of them. Both times pregnancy and birth have graced me with pounds and curves I have yet to erase. It is hard for most women (myself included) to accept and love our bodies on a normal day, without the added pressure of suddenly wider hips and softer bellies and the all around moreness that comes with having a child.

It is in this season that I came across these words by David Benner (which my friend Jamie shared as part of her recent #monthofthebody. Thanks, universe.) :

"Until we can be at home in our bodies, we can never truly be at home anywhere." 
And I knew right then and there those words would wreck me, that the coming home I'm doing this year has to include learning to be present in and love this one, sacred body of mine. It is hard, but I am trying. Two steps forward, one step back (and some days vice versa). Some days I marvel that my body can and is doing all this: giving birth, feeding a baby, running and holding and loving and stretching. Some days I want to curl up in a ball from the weight of (what I am led to believe are) my physical imperfections. It sounds very shallow of me doesn't it, to care so much? But it is the truth, so I am learning to accept that too.


Last week, I took a picture with my boys. I've been taking and sharing dozens of pictures of my kids and husband for weeks, but since giving birth, I have been largely and conveniently invisible. 

Just like with writing, I have been afraid, afraid even to assert my existence before it is at a level I deem appropriate for viewing. I have been avoiding my own reflection in the same way I have been avoiding my words, subconsciously, but with the nagging feeling that I am not where I should be. And so it seems my body is butting in everywhere these days, forcing me to notice it, forcing me to acknowledge its interconnectedness to every other part of me. Slowly, I am learning that the spiritual, emotional, and mental health I am after requires that I also come face to face with the body I have been given, for better or worse. 

And so this week, homing and sanity and radical self care has meant making time for writing and practicing yoga and, even when it's hard, putting myself in the frame.