Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Revvin' up!

In a fit of therapeutic shopping online (most of which happens at Amazon.com with "one-click"), I hit the button and ordered a new Hans Urs von Balthasar. This one is simply Prayer and boasts such chapter headings as "The Necessity of contemplation," "Mediation by the Church," "Totality," "Flesh and Spirit," and "The Cross and Resurrection."

From the Preface:

"Contemplation's ladder, reaching up to heaven, begins with the word of scripture, and whatever rung we are on, we are never beyond this hearing of the word. In contemplation, just as we can never leave the Lord's humanity behind us, neither can we get 'beyond' the word in its human form. It is in the humanity that we find God, in the world of sense that we find the Spirit."

Be still, my heart!

And be prepared for continuing raptures in this space. Now... to just get rid of the latest head cold.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just what the doctor ordered.

For the past week or so, Bella has been getting up early. As in, between 5 and 5.30 am. Her new schedule has severely cut into (read: obliterated) my morning prayer time, which was when I used to pray the Divine Office and read the day's gospel. Being the monastic Carmelite-at-heart that I am, I panicked yesterday morning.

I need my quiet time! Where's the schedule? Where's the peace?

By 8pm, I'm too exhausted to really pray (whatever that means).

She also stopped napping for more than about 45 minutes.

It's only a phase. She'll get through this. Then, at last, I'll have my quiet time.

Needless to say, Evlogia's words of experience and divine wisdom was written for me this week:

"I spent the first decade of motherhood waiting for a moment of quiet. As soon as the children are older, I can pray. As soon as the house is clean and organized, I can be at peace. As soon as we get through this trying time, then I can be the kind of wife and mother that I truly want to be."

But of course, the vocation to be at home with the children is--in God's infinite wisdom--not about me fulfilling my vision of the perfect wife and mother. Most of the time, it's about learning to hear, to see, to worship the face of God in the littlest things and most inconvenient circumstances. Finding the rhythm and peace of prayer happens not in the schedule of monastery bells, but in that total surrender to and refusal to rebel against his voice in the children's voices.

Another big help has been the discovery of Mid-Day Prayer, the continuation of "my" lost Morning Prayer. Oddly, I've never regularly prayed the daytime Psalms of the Divine Office, but Bella calms down enough in the afternoon for me to slip in a few of them before her sister gets up.

Funny thing: They tend to say the same thing. Either: "Lord, I really need you right now"; or: Lord, I screwed up, but I've looked myself over and decided to return to your ways."

Exactly what a mother needs in the middle of her day.

For example, yesterday at 2pm I left the screaming toddler in her bed for ten minutes and read:

Remember your word to your servant
By which you gave me hope.
This is my comfort in sorrow
That your promise gives me life." -Psalm 119

Then this afternoon:

Antiphon I: "I have pondered my ways and turned back to your teaching." (Amen. Time to turn back to the joy of the Lord!)

Then this one made me laugh out loud:

"O God, listen to my prayer,
do not hide from my pleading.
Attend to me and reply;
with my cares, I cannot rest." -Psalm 55

Ain't it the truth?

On a very small scale, of course. There's always perspective, and my trials are nothing next to the trials of, say, a mother in Haiti right now. But the joy and gift of the Scriptures is that they speak to us in all sets and sizes of temptations: from despair of the slums to the simple noonday devils in the suburbs. No soul is too insignificant to be redeemed, and these words saved me today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Joy Runneth Over.

Today the Roman Rite meditates on the Wedding Feast at Cana, Christ's first miracle in which he turned the water into wine. The reflection in Magnificat for today was so beautiful, I'll just let Caryll Houselander do the talking:

"The marriage at Cana is a showing of the joy that Christ brought into the world. Here, at his Mother's request, our Lord worked his first public miracle. It is a delight to think that this first miracle was in no way connected with unhappiness. It was not healing sickness, forgiving sins, or raising the dead; it was simply giving joy, more joy, to people who were already rejoicing..."

This is an almost giddy thought, but so vital in the wake of watching a tragedy like the earthquake in Haiti unfold over the week. Our way would be to swoop in and fix the problem: raise the buildings, raise the dead, feed the starving, overthrow the powers of injustice. But our ways are not God's ways... God becomes man and first reveals his glory at a party, rejoicing with those who rejoice. How human, how super-human.

Houselander continues:

"...The joy of God is a wine that changes the drab, colorless substance of human nature into the rich, crimson vitality of supernatural life. It changes discouragement to hope, doubt to faith, it lights up the mind and in its light men see that the problems of the world today, which seemed insurmountable, are straws in the power of God, and in his name even a creature as little and weak as man can overcome them."

May the crimson joy of the Almighty be with you today.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Laundry and food. Period.

It's been quite the week since that white martyrdom day. Miriam has improved a lot, though she still has moments of lethargy. At the park yesterday, I turned around to look for her only to find her sound asleep on a bench. Bella continues in good health, but is at the cusp of being fluent in her native tongue: A lot of joy and a lot of frustration come from this stage!

And I've been sick as a dog.

Jen's 10 Best Links of 2009 had one gem in it that could not have been better-timed. Like Mother, Like Daughter tells me that the secret to straightening out my life is this: Laundry and Food. That's it.

"As I lay on the sofa, lamenting telephonically to my friend about my seriously miserable condition and the mountains of duties beckoning to -- no, hurling themselves at -- me -- especially the baby and my phenomenally, epically, heroically messy, dirty house, she told me this: basically your family needs food and clean laundry from you right now."

Haha, I thought at first. Isn't that cute? Obviously, she means this in an ironic sort of way, because, yes, indeed, they need clothes and food, but really I can always do more than that. Excepting when I'm on bedrest with hyperemesis. And excepting, oh, today when my head is the size of New Jersey and the toddler is crying every three minutes and the 4-year-old is weeping because she wants to see Jesus, God bless her.

No, there's nothing ironic about this:

"So, when you are making your resolutions, at the top of the list do you have these two items: feeding and clothing your particular horde?"

Yes! Now they are right at the top of that list. Because for the last week, that was all I could do. And even the cooking was ... well, I love my breadmaker.

And Leila's wisdom continued:

"... if you have a handle on these two areas -- if you have serenity when contemplating dinner or the washing machine -- you will be rational in your approach to all other areas of your life: losing weight, saving money, cleaning up, using your time well, loving your family more, having reading time with your kids, teaching them Latin, you name it! It will all go better if you have order in these two fundamental duties."

Oh, the wisdom! And all those interior resolutions I made for this year? Well, there is no worry. The beauty of longing to be more humble, less irritable, and increasingly selfless is this: Only grace can work these in me. Reducing me to a laundry- and dinner-machine can surely bring make me more like Christ. I have every confidence in this, because it is the promise. If I am faithful to the clothing and food, the one who made these precious children will be faithful to me. And bring me home.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A white-martyrdom day

This past Thursday, as the old song goes, I allowed my "true colors" to shine through. And it wasn't pretty.

Todd had been out of the picture for several days with a wicked cold and 13-hour work-days in the lab. I was already in auto-pilot mode, which means I put on a perfunctory patient face and go through the motions of maintaining a semblance of order around the house.

After battling various viruses (virii?) for four weeks, the kids and I seemed to be coming out of the clouds when Miriam, the 4-year-old, was again enveloped. A triple infection--eyes, ears, and sinuses--put us in the car to the pediatrician's office.

Isabella, the 21-month-old, hates all strange men (especially men with needles) with a passion. She screamed, cried, and jumped on her little sister-in-utero the entire visit. It didn't help that she'd been up over an hour early that morning.

That's when I started having contractions. Real contractions. Every four minutes. I'm only at 22 weeks, so this was not good.

I grabbed the prescription with a heartfelt "Thank you" to the doctor, who was laughing at the toddler, paid the receptionist, and threw the weeping children into the car. (I was very proud of myself for that "Thank you"!) At least Miriam was weeping for joy, "Oh, Mummy! I'm crying because I'm SO HAPPY the doctor will make me BETTER!" The contractions kept coming.

The OB told me to come in right away without children (since they may have to hook me up to monitors). Haha. At this point, I started crying. Miriam thought I, too, wept for joy: "Oh, Mummy! Are you crying because in heaven I won't be sick anymore?" No. I'm crying because I'm done. I can't take anymore. Heaven sounds good right now. "No," I snapped at her, "Just be quiet, will you?" Yuck.

I drove to the hospital, unable to get in touch with anyone over the phone to take the kids. In a last-ditch attempt, I drove through our neighborhood and found a home-schooling friend who was actually home. I pulled in, knocked on her door, and--a weeping mess--said, "I have an emergency. Can you take the kids while I go to the hospital?" God bless her: She just said yes. Out go the children, quite bewildered at this point. Off I go.

On the way to Labor and Delivery, I was a wreck. All those feelings of deep peace were gone. No peace, no assurance, nothing. I told God I couldn't even formulate a prayer. I had lots of demands: Heal Todd, heal Miriam, stop the contractions, save the baby. But even my demands were automatic, forced. I couldn't find a Rosary in the car: Fine, I don't want to pray your stupid Rosary anyway. There was no anger, just exhaustion. And no Presence. Where are you? Even the saints, who usually stay with me in my desolations, were gone as if preoccupied. I was alone.

In the waiting room, I sat and tried to breath slowly. After about 30 minutes, I rummaged in the purse for some more Kleenex and found an old prayer book. I rolled my eyes--yeah, right--and opened it randomly. There was the Te Deum, the Church's traditional hymn of thanksgiving. Oh, right. In all circumstances give thanks. So, I started to read without praying:

We praise thee, O God :
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphin :
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The white-robed army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
doth acknowledge thee...

There I stopped, because I was surprised. I had been praying, throwing the words of praise out into the void, out towards the heaven Miriam talks so much about. It was all still dark and silent, but it was the silence of a starry night when the world is at rest. Evil and despair stalk at night, but so do the prayers of countless of the faithful. Calling out to God.

I still felt alone. I was still exhausted. But somehow, it didn't matter anymore.

The contractions slowed down during the next hour, and the good news was that I wasn't dilated at all. The OB sent me home to rest (haha) and drink lots of water and eat more food.

I picked up the napless children, and we went about our long day. The prescriptions were picked up, frozen pizza was served, more tears were shed, and a friend came over to watch the children while I went to Adoration.

In the chapel, late at night, there was still nothing. No feeling of his Presence, no comfort. But the words of the Te Deum still echoed in my head: The white-robed army of martyrs praises you...

A little white martyrdom day. May I acquit myself with more grace next time. But if not... Praise You.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

OMG(osh), like, wow.

Last night I should have been reading Polybius or tackling some 10th grade Geometry. After all, school starts next week.

Instead, as my husband wrote his dissertation, I watched an hour of the Bachelor.

And my soul hurts.

At one point, Todd looked up and noted, "Your mouth is hanging open. I'd shut it." I tried, but really.

For those of you who have remained pure, it's a reality show. One guy ("Jake") holes himself up in the life of luxury (mansions, yachts, private jets) for 15 weeks with a diminishing number of beautiful women (ages 23-32). He gradually weeds them out until One remains: The One. Then he proposes and they live ... As he told the host, "I have this feeling! In my perfectly-toned stomach! That SHE is in that room! She's the One!"

This was the season premier, so I avoided the heavy kissing (et alia) sessions. But the hour consisted of Jake standing at the door to the mansion as five limousines each loaded with five women in evening dress pull up. Each girl has about 30 seconds when she gets out to introduce herself and "make an impression." One girl tripped and fell against the beaming Jake. Another walked up and stuck her hand on his stomach, "I just had to feel these rock-solid abs!" A third felt his arms and asked, "Are these guns registered?"

Hi, Dad!!! I'm on TV!

The camera would intermittently cut to the rapidly-filling-up-with-competing-females parlor. The girls would ooh and aah together over how hot Jake is in person: "I just wanted to rip his clothes off!"

You get the picture.

It would have made an amusing screen-play with an odd premise. Sort of bringing back the harem concept from The King and I for modern women. Except these women had a choice about it. To a certain extent, these are real people playing around with their bodies and their happiness.

I hardly know where to start the commentary, but here were a few points.

1. No wonder people are down on pursuing marriage. If this is a hit show (watched by a couple million people weekly, let's say), then the meat market these women and Jake are participating in degrades both sexes. The man is reduced to this piece of rock-hard abs, hanging out in a life of absolute luxury, and weighing his preferences: blond or brunette? yacht or plane? smart or ditzy? He has no need to win a woman's love, because--heck!--they all want him. The women are reduced to their looks (no "More To Love" contestants here), their willingness to exhibit themselves, and must become the pursuers in order to win the prize. If that is the dating game, forget it.

2. But stranger situations have produced marriages that work. True, but the problem with this show is that these people are professedly seeking to commit their entire lives--the everyday as well as the extraordinary--to one person. "Getting to know" your future spouse can't just be about a fake Hollywood mansion, fake dates, set-up and scheduled make-out sessions, and carefully crafted social situations. Why? Because real life is not like that. To prepare for real life with someone, try living real life with that someone for a while.

3. Well, it's sort of like arranged marriages. No. Arranged marriages are made by the parents of the man and woman, who know their children and--hopefully--have their best interests in mind. They share certain values--beyond piloting airplanes or a passions for football--that will hopefully give the arranged couple a leg up. And usually, in cultures supporting arranged marriage, I believe the woman remains fully clothed at least up to a certain point.

4. Where's the FOCUS form? Or at least an eHarmony questionnaire? There was absolutely no mention of what sort of process these women went through to reach the Big Meeting with Jake. I have my own issues with "Find Your Perfect Partner" surveys, but they're better than nothing. There really are some basic issues on which future spouses should be compatible. Nothing is impossible with God, but it sure helps grace if nature does its part. Finances, living space, cleanliness, and most importantly having and raising children--these are things that must be talked through. I'm not hopeful that The Bachelor will be bringing up household chores on that beach.

But maybe I'm wrong.


There's so much more to say, but sometimes we just sigh and pray.