January 25, 2010 – Church and State

In the space of an hour tonight, the girls’ imaginative play included two hilarious and touching games.  The first was “Mass”, complete with Goldfish and water intincture for communion, the girls taking turns as priest, and a fantastic version of “Hosanna to Jesus the King” of Lucy’s own creation.

When that was finished, Lucy announced that we were going to do what the man on the computer was doing (Craig was watching the State of the Union): she would stand up and talk, and we would all clap.  The speech sounded roughly like this: “Blah, goobdy-glah, ookie jimbas.”  It was quite hilarious.

Babies and Sisters…

It’s amazing how kids learn.  It’s so totally effortless.  There are always the examples of four-year-olds casually using curse words in polite company, much to their parents’ embarrassment, or course.  Yesterday, on the other hand, Lucy was walking around the house with her Fish do the Strangest Things book, standing on top of things, holding the book in front of her, and proclaiming, “A reading from Saint Paul.  Babies and sisters…”  I stopped in my tracks.  She is clearly paying much closer attention while she wiggles away through Mass than we have been giving her credit for.  (I asked about the “babies”, and she seemed to think that made more sense than “brothers”, which is understandable I guess since she has a severe lack of brothers at the moment.)  Anyway, we are redoubling efforts to have such good influences and Saint Paul and his letters around, so that her osmosis can do its thing.

We are one Body

We went to a “young adult” gathering in the Baton Rouge diocese last night, and it got me thinking.  So I’m really just thinking out loud (as it were) here, most of this isn’t clearly formed yet, but it has been bothering me for a while.  The meeting itself was fine, they had a change of plan since the speaker had to cancel, so we had dinner, discussed what we would like to see from the young adult ministry (they’re really just getting started) and then had a brief prayer service.  But it was the assumptions underlying the conversation that interested me most.

One was that most “young adults” are too busy with school, family, and/or career to spend much time working on their relationship with God.  They didn’t have extra time for prayer, or service, or learning more about their faith.  They could, however, be counted on to make time for fellowship, if the opportunity were presented in a way that met their tastes.  (They weren’t making this up, apparently it is based on well-researched and published fact about this age group in the Church.)

Which made sense to me, because I feel pretty busy most of the time, as did everyone there it seemed, until I thought about it more.  They wanted things that would appeal to young adults, so fellowship came first, and (according to this research) service came last.  But everyone who showed up for this night of fellowship (and learning, and prayer!) was also involved in some sort of service to the Church.  Everyone, unless you don’t count me, since I only sort of tag along.  There were teachers, diocesan workers, and a guy who plays cello at Mass.  Now I grant that these are not a representative group of Catholic young adults, but they are the ones who are interested enough in Catholic young adult things to show up, and they were all doing service before they started worrying about building a young adult community.  So.  This assumption that what we young adults need (or want, maybe, because do we know what we really need?) is fellowship was my first concern.  Craig was scribbling things about “being rather than doing”, but he’ll have to tell you about that.

Another problem is defining this “busy” which affords us hours to look at Facebook, but only minutes a day for prayer. I think you can see the problem here, so we’ll save that for another day.  (Of course, again, convincing the phantom “young adults” who weren’t present for this discussion that this is a problem is a problem in itself.  Hmm.)

Something else gave me pause when I stopped to think about it.  We spent a lot of time dividing people into groups and discussing how we could minister to those groups.  And I do not think this is necessarily negative – I want a group of families with young children to go to the park with.  There is a special bond that can be found between people who are in the same sort of circumstances of life.  I think this is a necessary sort of community to form.

But that seems to me most of what we talked about doing, and I wonder what (or better, who) is being excluded.  And I wonder if this is partially a product of age-segregated schooling, and that we are just so used to being broken up in this way that we don’t question it.  We think we need something for middle school students, then for high school students, then for college students, then for young adults, then “adults”, then golden-agers.  And while I know perfectly well that high school kids don’t want to hang out with their middle-school-aged siblings, I wonder what we are losing by separating people into age groups.

One of the arguments for homeschooling is that it helps to break down this age segeragation a little.  Rather than spending eight hours a day with children of the same age (and usually the same socio-economic status, and often the same race), kids spend their days with their family, who cover a range of ages, and then with the people they meet on a daily basis, very few of whom will be their age, and who will hopefully cover a much wider range of diversity than your average elementary school classroom.  Why can’t a ten-year-old be friends with a seventy-year-old neighbor?  Craig did this growing up, and the experience has served him very well.

But the concern all this raised for me on the long, quiet drive home last night, was really about how we are cutting ourselves off from each other with distinctions like “young adult”.  It is hard to see the face of Christ in other people.  Even people we love dearly make us angry, refuse to do things the way we would, or just are different from us in ways that make it a challenge to love them sometimes.  And we know their good sides.

Multiply that challenge a hundred-fold for people we don’t know, don’t agree with, and don’t respect.  How can we hope to see the face of Christ in an elderly woman holding up the grocery line by arguing about the price of ground beef, if we don’t know any elderly women struggling to make ends meet?  How can she see Christ in us, despite our impatience, if no young person has every offered to help her get her groceries into the taxi that waits for her outside?

The further removed we are from a “type” of person, the harder it will be for us to love someone like that when we encounter him or her.  And how else are we to show Christ to that person, than to love him as well as we can?  If we are to live out the reality of the Mystical Body, no one can be excluded!  Hands, feed, noses, belly buttons, are all necessary to make Christ whole.  Even that ugly yellow toenail is part of Christ.  It may not be excluded.

So what happens to our worship (and I mean that broadly, ranging from personal prayer, to Mass, to serving God by serving his people) when we segregate and separate ourselves from people who aren’t like us?  What does our worship suffer when we discount the children because they are too distracting?  What do we lose when we exclude the elderly who need assistance from a stranger to make it to Mass?  When we give up on a baby before it is born because we know it will have Down Syndrome?  What does our worship lose when we exclude the young, single, poor mother because we are ashamed?  The homeless man because of his smell?  The flamboyant gay-marriage activist?  Whether we like it or not, all these people are part of Christ!  How can we love Christ if we cannot bring ourselves to love them, and how can we love them if we cannot even bring ourselves to talk with them and listen to them?

So by now, almost twenty-four hours after the meeting, I am wondering, not what role the BR young adult ministry will play in my life in the near future (ok, I am wondering that, too), but I’m really wondering what we will have to do to break down some of the divisions and allow the Body of Christ to meet itself and learn to love itself again.  I guess that was worth the three hours we spent in the car to go to this “fellowship” meeting.


“Those who love God should attempt to preserve or create an atmosphere in which He can be found.  Christians should have quiet homes.  Throw out television, if necessary — not everybody, but those who take this sort of thing seriously.  Radios useless.  Stay away from the movies — I was going to say ‘as a penance’ but it would seem to me to be rather a pleasure than a penance, to stay away from the movies.  Maybe even form small agrarian communities in the country where there would be no radios, etc.

“Let those who can stand a little silence find other people who like silence, and create silence and peace for one another.  Bring up their kids not to yell so much.  Children are naturally quiet — if they are left alone and not given the needle from the cradle upward, in order that they may develop into citizens of a state in which everybody yells and is yelled at.  (pp. 301-302)

“…When you gain this interior silence you can carry it around with you in the world, and pray everywhere.  But just as interior asceticism cannot be acquired without concrete and exterior mortification, so it is absurd to talk about interior silence where there is no exterior silence. (p. 302)”

-Thomas Merton The Sign of Jonas, excerpted in Henri Nouwen’s Pray to Live, pp. 118-119.

Quiet children.  Now there’s an idea…   Not just shut up, but naturally peaceful and quiet.   But how to go about it?

On that note, Samantha is now crawling!  It’s not perfect crawling, she uses on knee and one foot, but it gets her across the room, and she can now crawl up to me and pull herself up a little on my pant leg and express that she wants something.  Along with crawling has come a banshee baby sound, which tends to mean, “Lucy took my toy from me again!”  But for the moment they are actually sleeping, and I can think about silence.

Month of Merton

I have officially declared June the “Month of Merton” for the sake of my spiritual reading.  I was looking for something new to start on when Craig showed up with a pile of free spirituality books, including Pray to Live, which is Henri Nouwen explaining the life and thought of Thomas Merton.  I’ve tried a couple of Merton’s works unsuccessfully, so this struck me as a perfect starting place.  If this goes well, the Month of Merton may become the Summer of Merton.  : )  Quotes and reflections should be forth coming soon, provided I am able to make my way to the computer for any extended period of time.  Anyone more experienced with his work, feel free to suggest which book I should pick up next!

As for other prayer plans, I am working through A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot and trying to add a little more structure to my day.  The FlyLady thing has been a good start, but I’m more drawn to Pierlot’s overhaul method (although I realize I will still have to take it somewhat slowly) and focus on prayer.  She suggests planning your prayer into your day, so I am starting with morning and evening prayer from Liturgy of the Hours with Craig, and reading the daily readings while the girls nap.  This is way more than I had been doing, but the first two days have gone well.  My goal for this week is just to keep up with the schedule, revise it so it works well, and start making these routines of praying, cleaning, and creating a way of life.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Ahh, kids

Lucy woke up last night (after she had come to our bed) saying, “I need my coffee!”  I told her to go back to sleep, but she got up, went to the living room (where Craig was still on the computer) and got her sippy-cup of chocolate milk with a splash of coffee and brought it back to the bedroom.  The she got up again and announced that she wanted water.  Before Craig could get it, she was saying very loudly, “No, I going to sleep!” but she had closed the bedroom door on her way out and couldn’t open it again.  All this woke up Samantha, and thus ended my half-hour or so of comfortable sleeping.

In other news, I am officially and thankfully unemployed.  (But, also thankfully, my paycheck doesn’t stop coming in until August!)  On Friday, Craig helped me clean out my classroom, we went out to lunch to celebrate, and then Craig went up to Shaw to do some of his own work.  Everyone at school gave me hugs and told me how sorry they were to see me go.  When I got home, Samantha was angry because she was still suffering from the cold she caught earlier in the week, and Lucy was angry because, well, she’s two.  And it was naptime, and she had already had a busy day.  And I thought, “Why am I leaving the company of kind adults for that of screaming children?”  Certain Roman bird-watchers might have something to say about this.

And yesterday I read several posts pointing out how wonderful motherhood is.  And today we tried (unsuccessfully – it rained) to take the girls to the zoo.  We got ice cream instead.  Lucy threw no fits until after 8 PM.  We napped well.  We ate well.  We played well.  We ate tomato and basil from our own garden.  This is why I’m staying home – so Lucy can paint in the back yard, and Samantha can sit on a blanket under a tree while I hang out the laundry.  So we can go to the zoo on a Tuesday.  So I can put band-aids on cuts, snuggle sleepy infants, and spend half the day with a child on my hip.

I think it will be a good life.  I am really, sincerely, looking forward to it, however much I may fear the responsibility.  Because now if something goes wrong, I have only myself to blame.  Two little souls have been entrusted to me so that I can help them find their way to their eternal home.  All those blogs I’ve been reading are right, what a privilege!  What faith God has in me to entrust two of his most prized possessions into my hands!  It is all making me very aware of all my own shortcomings and all the work I have to do to set even a decent, let alone a good, example for these little ones.  So I’m working on my prayer, and I’m asking for your prayers, because the enormity of this task feels overwhelming sometimes.  But what joy comes with this work!  I now work every day, all day, for joy incarnate.

I can relate…

…to this story.  If there seems to be a lot of Elizabeth Foss on this blog all of a sudden, it is because I think she’s really cool.  And this story is hilarious.  Two-year-olds most definitely bring adventures, wherever they are!

Beginning and End

I had the privilege over the course of the last two weeks to be present at two of the great moments of life conducted as they ought to be.

Less than two weeks ago, on November 5, our second daughter was born. Samantha Rose weighed 8lbs 4oz and was 20 inches long. She has a tuft of dark black hair, which shocked me after fair, bald baby we had met with in our first daughter. In any circumstances, she was our small miracle. Continue reading “Beginning and End”