Thoughts from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.1

As I did before with Gift from the Sea, I would like to share with you my reflections following a reading of Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. I am embarking on this reading through our virtual book club: Well Read Mom. As before, the plain font will be quotations or direct references, the words in italics are my reflections because somehow italics seem to better represent the dynamism of my thoughts (she said, tongue-in-cheek).

The preface: The first question in exegeses is what is it saying historically. The second is how does this concern me?

“He is one among others. He is one like us…His origin marks him out as one like any other.”

If this is true of Christ, he is like me than I can look at the same questions put to him as to myself.

Chapter 1: “The Roman judge asks Jesus where he is from in order to understand who he really is and what he wants.”

Psychoanalytic theory sees this question as fundamental to answering the who-am-I question today. Identifying the moment of original drama can lead to a catharsis, a sudden release of emotion or built of tension, created through holding these thoughts in the unconscious parts of our psyche. Family systems theory follows the same thoughts but much more above the surface. I take on a role to fill out the balance in my family. Strict behaviorism sees the question of “where do I come from” as irrelevant to progress. It does not matter how I was trained, only that I have been trained. Solution-focus theory is much the same.  Cognitive theory will find some value in identifying the origin of the lesson, where I learned this irrational belief. Understanding the origin of the irrational belief may create opportunities to dispute it by find evidence or alternative explanation for what I believe about myself.

This concept is not foreign to psychology, but deeply integrated. Where do I come from…who I am…what I want. This is how I discover what is most important to me, what is most important to my clients, and what will motivate us to move forward.

The genealogy from Matthew, begins with Abraham and leads us to Jesus “is open to universality—through Abraham, blessing comes to all.”

Christ is more than an image of myself. To project that image of me and call it god is to make an idol, fashioning him like myself. God’s otherness abounds. He has a mission beyond me. Since I have no Jewish heritage in my, it is because  his mission beyond me that I am part of it at all.

The genealogy from Matthew: is the Gospel of Christ the King: the whole of history looks towards him whose throne is to endure for ever.”

Christ is king. We can be drawn close to the infant, but we must also see the man, God, the king. “We have come to worship,” (Mt 2.2) how much I need this longing in my heart, to worship someone infinitely greater than myself.

The genealogy of Luke: “Jesus takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man, and he gives it a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence.”

“Those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus’ unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own.

This is profound. I was young when I fell in love with Christ, but it marked the beginning for me. Isn’t that how love is? It felt like my life had not yet begun until it began in Christ. And it was a turning point. The old life is left behind and a new life, with vision, with a path, with purpose is laid out.

Everything unfolded following that new beginning. When I met my husband, the plan continued to unfold. The birth of our first child, deciding not to pursue my doctorate, to return my town of origin in order to be closer to my family of origin. It is the path laid out in the story I wrote, The Girl and Her King. I used to believe everything was a sign. Eventually I began to see that many things were just life, just reasonable consequences. I did not lose the vision that somehow a wisdom is written in through it all, that there is a cosmic purpose. It is written in Christ for all of history. It is beautiful to behold because in this meaning we find we are very, very small. History, the story, life is not determined by me and my actions, because there is something so much greater than me here. However, that Someone cared enough to write me into it, to make me part of this universal cosmic plan. God thought it more complete to have me in it than out of it. That makes me feel very good indeed.

The self-esteem movement falls short. “How do you feel about yourself?” That the answer to that question should determine my well-being is the concept of self-esteem. Real confidence comes from accomplishing real things, being successful in real tasks and real relationships. Self-worth or value comes from recognizing the truth. Where do you come from?

I can understand my feelings toward myself when I consider how I was taught to regard myself by my parents. “When a girl dresses up, she seeks to be told that she is beautiful. When a boy flails a sword or dresses up as Spiderman, he wants to be told he is an extraordinary person, that he is capable of saving the world.”  “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). God is love. The family is the school of love. Our parents are our first teachers in the truth of who we are. How fascinating it is for me to have met someone who has “high self-esteem” who does not seem to doubt herself or her beauty, because despite his shortcomings as a man, her father always told her, “you are beautiful.”

The question of who he is and where is he from are inseparably linked.

Returning to that question: where do you come from? I continue to turn this concept in my mind. The two questions are inseparably linked. I do not only come from my family. I do not only come from my genealogical tree or my cultural heritage. I come from the Church. In my baptism I became part of this great tree. But then, I do not only come from Catholic culture. I come from God. God made me. He is my father. Where do you come from? I am like Christ. He is like me. Where do you come from? I have been part of the mind of God. He knew me before I was born and established my place in history. What that will be, I do not know. I have free will and can choose to continue walking along this path. As I walk, it will continue to unfold.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Six

Argonauta

Continuing on with the reading of Gift from the Sea. I should start every reflection post with this explanation. Quotes from the book are in plain font and my thoughts are in italics.

I believe there is, after the oyster bed, an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, like the sunrise shell; a not a functional, dependent one, as in the oyster bed; but the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.

Such a stage in life, it would seem to me, must come not as a gift or lucky accident, but as part of an evolutionary process, an achievement which could only follow certain important developments in each partner.

Hmm. A development. An evolution. I am stronger than I ever knew before. I am more beautiful than I ever believed before. I have confidence. I must speak up for myself. I must speak up for my children. I cannot take everything to heart. I have to consider the circumstances. I can be spit on and remain patient. Well, only if it happens from a child because that is who usually spits on me. All of these things I have learned through the romantic period and this current period in our marriage and parenthood. I need my husband. I need him a very functional way. I cannot take care of everything. Three children…”you must be busy;” “you sure have your hands full,” etc. The comments from strangers never end. But I like our interdependence. I don’t see it as a weakness. Mrs. Lindbergh affirms its value. This is a stage in our marriage. And it has a purpose. It is an evolution. As I look, I can see and I understand.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.

Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

I don’t have to be afraid. He talks to me less because he is an introvert and he is overstimulated, overwhelmed by the ceaseless noise. Once 7:30pm rolls around and the last rascal is ready for bed, I can see, on most days, his longing to collect his thoughts, be alone, relax. On other days he seeks me out, want to talk to me, wants to share ideas with me. We went on a date for the first time in quite a while. It was during nap time. Ordinarily we both rest, in some way, during this time. I knew we did not have to talk. We walked. We visited our old haunts. I knew it was not a failing that we did not dive into intense conversation now that we were free to do so. I have to write these things because I know them and knew them, but there is ever a temptation in my mind not to trust this ebb and flow. Some times we will be functional, sometimes it will be romance.

Let us return to that thought of the meeting of two complete people. The romantic period taught me my need for him. Though it feels that need deepens, in other ways, I find myself quite capable of doing myself what I never dreamed possible. If there weren’t these children, I’m sure I would see it better. I can see I am more complete, less insecure (though still plenty enough insecure to deal with). And so when we pass through this period, on the other side, we will be more complete, we will have more to give to each other. It is a very good thought.

He [Rilke] foresaw a great change in the relationships between men and women, which he hoped in the future would no longer follow the traditional patterns of submission and domination or of possession and competition. He described a state in which there would be space and freedom for growth, and in which each partner would be the means of releasing the other.

 How beautiful. I see that with us.

For we are, actually, pioneers trying to find a new path through the maze of tradition, convention and dogma. Our efforts are part of the struggle to mature the conception of relationships between men and women—in fact all relationships…every advance in understanding has value.

We are not following the paths of our parents. We forge a new way based on tradition, convention and dogma. It fits us. It does not fit the mold. I am primarily at home. He is the primary cook. I clean. We both take care of the children, but I primarily take care of the baby. Some of it seems so traditional, and yet some of it puts tradition on its head.

In fact, I wonderful if both man and woman must not accomplish this heroic feat. Must not man also become a world to himself? Must he not also expand the neglected sides of his personality; the art of inward looking that he has seldom had time for in his active outward-going life…

A relationship with a woman can change a man so much, and vice verse, if the relationship is doing what it ought. Then comes the peace, the silence. That stage I have yet to see. There would be more time. If we are ever seeking growth than once that time comes we can grow to enjoy the virtue we have been struggling so painfully to practice. I must be strong and independent as I prepare a meal or take three children to the store. He must be soft and gentle in the face of irrational emotion. This will serve us well one day. I’m sure of it.

It cannot be reached until woman—individually and as a sex—has herself come of age, a maturing process we are witnessing today. This is the essence of “coming of age”—to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, not feel she must prove her strength by competing with another.

“Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” After the fall, the temptation was for woman to seek after the man, to need him in an unhealthy way, to not be her own person and recognize her strength. His temptation would be to treat her as an object, to rule over her as he would an animal, not to recognize her genius and contribution. As time passes, there are more opportunities for women to realize their potential. I am the daughter of a feminist who would never label herself as a feminist. I’m trying to swing back, a little closer to the middle, taking the good from both poles of tradition and modernity.

In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the enter, the true center of being a whole woman.

It will be a continuum process of correction, we will always swing too far whenever we swing. As individuals we can seek to find the middle way, the center, the understanding of who I am as a person. Men and women complement each other, but they must recognize their wholeness separate of each other as well. That is integral gender complementarity (search for Sr. Prudence Allen’s writings for more on this). God meant us to be complete, yet to learn from each other. It is wrong to say “these are the qualities of a woman” and “these are a qualities of a man.” That breaks us into fractions (fractional gender complementarity), unable to be complete. The concept that to be brave, bold, aggressive is part of man, but put a woman in a protective stance for her child and you will see “mama-bear.” Did she ever seem more womanly than at that moment?

How nice that Tom Cruise can say “You complete me.” If it stopped there, the relationship would be terrible indeed, ever dependent on the completion she provides him. I can say less dramatically, “when I met you, I saw in you something that would draw me to become whole, a complete person.” What a beautiful thought. “When I met you, I saw an image of who God intended me to be, and I knew, walking with you, I would find it.”

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Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Five

It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life…

I have questioned myself on this. We have so much stuff. I used to feel guilty when I would pack so many things to travel. Why do I take so much? Everyone seemed to have smaller suitcases than me. Yet it seemed I needed each item. Whenever I attempted to pack light, I found myself frustrated or unprepared in the moments that followed. So now life, with our accumulations. We moved from a strange, albeit spacious, dogtrot home to overflowing a three bedroom 1980’s home to nicely filling a four-bedroom with intelligent storage design. So many things! Do we have too much? It seems ridiculous to rid ourselves of many of these things since we will likely need them again within a few years (bassinet, changing table). So we needed more space.

The oyster has fought to have that place on the rock to which it has fitted itself perfectly and to which it clings tenaciously. So most couples in the growing years of marriage struggle to achieve a place in the world. It is a physical and material battle first of all, for a home, for children, for a place in their particular society.

It does feel like a fight. We move and move and though we have our friendships, and love those friends from before our marriage, to find our way of life is another story. It is good to have old friends. But we need friends here, in our town, on our street, in our parish. For goodness sakes, we need a parish. And living for the first time in town (we won’t count Washington D.C.’s surrounding towns), we want a parish less than 25 minutes away. We’re drawn again and again to a parish we did not expect to pursue. Talking with neighbors. Blessed to have two families next to us who are faithful and traditional Christians. We’re ever searching for those families with whom we can foster friendships. In Virginia, we knew them before they were married, now they are married and we live far away. The women with whom I read this book are examples, if space does not distance us than the hectic pace of life distances us. So we keep working to find those friendships and that place within our community.

The battle for children? I shudder to think. Yes, we fought. We fought in our hearts time and again: fought to grieve, fought to accept, fought to open our hearts to the strangeness of God’s plan, fought to survive the fear that the baby would never be born. Yes, we have fought. I see my heart bloodied and in agony whenever I visit the cemetery. And I remember crying out in sorrow, kneeling, rocking on the ground on All Souls’ Day before that grave, 9 months pregnant with another child. We have fought. It says just “Baby Casey” because there never seems to be enough money to buy the tombstone.

The material battle? And what was this battle? My husband’s search for work, year after year, to find his calling. All that time it was right before him, but we were afraid to trust. We were afraid to accept the lesser income in order for him to find the great happiness of his calling. But we did accept it. I work part-time so he can build the number of students he teaches. He feels wonderful because he provides, he is valued and he contributes something that only he can contribute.

For, in fact, man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward…Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base.

We continue to work. This is something we always knew. When we dated, in friendship we faced the same God with different devotions but the same desire for holiness. Now we have hardly any shreds of that life of devotion, but we are working, are pushing outward to make some success of the life we’ve been given.

Here the bonds of marriage are formed. For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm.

For some reason I consider often if one of us died. I think it is because I cannot imagine such a life. We are so bound together. It felt the first child was our first bond.

The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship.

I think there never could have been a more romantic love…

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Ring and Hands-yes

It is made of loyalties: I stand by him, and he to me. It is wonderful to praise him and embarrass him…

Interdependencies: He does not do dishes or laundry. I do not repair machinery, kill spiders or give bathes to children. We can do the things we never do, but we choose not to. I don’t crave independence. It is wonderful to need him.

Shared experiences: the Beetlejuice house, our honeymoon, Jamestown, biking riding to wineries for tasting, Virginia, the Christmas Attic…what a fabric they form, all complete with their inside jokes and catch-phrases.

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Memories of meetings and conflicts: Thank God the sting of those conflicts fade, but I remember them. I can remember them and think I’m grateful they passed. I’m grateful we are not the same people, even yesterday, that we are today.

Triumphs and disappointments: job interview, no call, job opportunity, no interview…

Communication, a common language, acceptance of lack of language: We know what works and what doesn’t work…the use of a look, a phrase, a sigh, the phrase, “I know you didn’t mean to, you are the best intentioned person in the world…”

Knowledge of likes and dislikes: He thinks if he really likes it than I must not like it.

Habits and reactions, both physical and mental: He says things to get a rise out of me, he acts as though he is burdened to hang shelves or pictures just so I will dote on him with gratitude, or act ridiculously bashful as I request a favor.

The bond of romance…leaps across all of them, like a rainbow—or a glance…

Katy and Kyle, October 11, 2008

If that fragile link is snapped in the storm, what will hold the halves to each other?

We would have nothing! It is so much these details, these little moments and habits, as she says, that bind us together. Otherwise, these children would undo us!

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Will we ever return? Will it ever be just us again, a little peace?

One has grown too big, too many-sided for that rigidly symmetrical shell.

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No, it can never be again. We are not the same person as we were before. Our hearts are too large. I have no idea what the future holds. The second have of the chapter meant much less to me, because the first described so deeply my current experience. But what she writes is beautiful. I’m sure the future will be beautiful. How amazing that God created this web of bonds that I might have someone to share it with!

 

 

Reflections on Gift from the Sea, Part Two

With a small group of ladies, I am reading Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We begin by noting the quotes that resonated with us and why. I will share them with you now.

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I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core of my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.

  • This is my desire as well and has been for some time.

I mean to live a simple life…but I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity.

  • I struggle with this. I want a simple, uncluttered life, yet I grew up surrounded by the act and encouragement of accumulation. I want it, but I always want things. I am attached to things. Then I struggle not to condemn myself for that (condemnation was a toxic struggle for me when I was younger). When I read this woman, who I know nothing about, and hear her voice the same desires and the same yearnings in a poetic voice that resonates with me, saying, I am like her, she is like me, and then I hear her say her frame of life does not foster simplicity, then I hear her say “it is okay. You desire it, but it is okay that you do not possess it in the way you think you should.” With the review of just a few pages, she became a comforting mother for me. I did not expect to find that in these pages.

Her description of a life of multiplicity. “And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude; it is the life of millions of women in America.”

  • What is this? Am I not alone in this longing and in this struggle?

But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be.

  • Again I read her example to me and it is a consolation. I would not want to be. It is true. I desire it and yet I do not want it fully. Because I want my shell to be beautiful. She describes her actions to make her “little seashell house” beautiful. It is a simple beautiful. We can be active to do this, but in a simple manner, with that spirit of the sea.

Yet the problem is particularly and essentially woman’s. Distraction is, always has been, and probably always will be, inherent in woman’s life. For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. We must be open to all points of the compass…how desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint—the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

  • It is something true to woman. And when I read this I feel that I can I see myself more clearly. Yes this is something about me, deep at my core. My interests, my many, many interests which cannot be expressed in a single profession or project. My visions blurs a little less. It is something of woman. And isn’t it? I look around me and see the women in my life in a new light, a little more clearly. This facet of my personality, that it is multi-faceted it not something that sets me apart, but is something that helps me to be part of something greater.

It is not limited to our present civilization, though we are faced with it now in an exaggerated form. It has always been one of the pitfalls of mankind.

  • Ah how true this is! And now that many years have passed since she wrote this how much more painfully true this is today! We not only have a multiplicity of things, we are enslaved by them, compulsively checking and checking and checking. Bored, and so we check. A dull moment, a thought, a question comes to mind, and so we check. A ping, and then we check. It helps with directions, it simplifies life. But it increases the buzzing and the distractions and harms in the way it is meant to help us. We are even deeper in this sickness than in her day because of our glorious technological revolution.

Capitola waves

“To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say—is it necessary?”

  • Thus I come to the conviction I feel most deeply from this passage. These last words echo in my mind. “Is it necessary?” I read a spiritual exercise online wherein a woman laid out the opposing vision to the woman of Proverbs 31. What stayed with me is the description of the woman who spends the money her husband has earned. I spend too much money. I want things, distractions. I want to take my worth in what I wear. I want to be beautiful. I do acknowledge I enjoy the art of fashion and some things are simply the artistic exercise of putting things together, much like I enjoy in my home or on a table for a party. But if that were all I would be more content than I am…always looking, always distracted, always wanting more.
  • And with the urge to condemn myself I might have stopped there, but I come back to the act of decorating her seashell home. I do not have to live the life of a nun when I am a wife and mother. Elizabeth Scalia, who I read devotedly, debated over the purchase of a purse and the struggle of desire and materialism. She comes to a conclusion. She purchased two purses. If one were perfect, she would simply return one and keep the other. Neither are perfect, and rather than continue searching for the perfect one, she accepts this. She will use one for summer and one for winter. They have a function. They cannot be perfect. She is not absorbed by materialism feeling they will answer every need.
  • I have to remind myself it is okay. There is a middle road and that is what I am called to. I am still learning. In a few years I will come back around again and need to hear these words again, because I will have forgotten them once more. To me that is grace, for the author, it is the call of the sea, bringing us back to where we belong. It is a gift from the sea.

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