Reflections from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 1)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, I will publish it in two parts.

There are three aspects that stand out to me as I read this chapter, much longer than the first chapter. First, the juxtaposition of grandeur and humility. Second, the qualities of joy and hope present in, what we now call, the Christmas story. The third aspect is the deep portrayal Pope Benedict gives of Mary. To be honest, theology is not my favorite type of reading. For me, exegesis is very interesting, but on the drier side. Some of it is very inspiring and it certainly enriches my later reading of scriptures.

It was many years ago when I first studied the tenants of our faith. I admit the extreme limitations of my memory. I will likely never do a formal debate on matters of doctrine. But there was the time when I had my questions, I asked my questions, and I found deeply satisfying answers and explanations to those questions. Since then, the information I encounter now deepens what I already know, but it is not often that I am shaken by a new revelation. A part of me thinks that probably sounds terrible, or maybe terribly foolish (only fools are satisfied with their level of knowledge, right?) but I’m being honest.

That being the case, I stand by my previous statement that this information can deepen later reflection. So I apply the overarching aspects that stood out to me to my current mental fodder, which I will share with you now.

First, the idea of the temple and the mustard seed (p.21). The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist takes place in the temple, as Zechariah, a priest, enters. This is the height of greatness, is it not? For a people who will not utter God’s name, the role of the priest is sacred. It is he who can enter the sanctuary. And the temple in Jerusalem must have been magnificent. Then we contrast this with our Lady, a young woman, traditionally portrayed as in her home, perhaps at prayer or in bed, when the angel appears. The number of paintings striving to capture the beauty of this moment is mind-boggling. My favorite is this, by Henry Ossawa Tanner:

Making the Whole World Kin

The temple versus the mustard seed. Pope Benedict’s highlights the incredible humility of the setting, the recipient and the reaction of Mary as she receives the angel’s message. She quietly ponders how it shall be, which is different from Zechariah’s doubt. The temple and the mustard seed. God chooses the mustard seed for his greatest gift.

I have to learn to accept the mustard seed. “We are lower class who live like middle class who want to be rich,” my husband said. And it’s true. It is a lesson I come back to time and again, accepting the gift I have with all its blessings and letting go of the greed for money, power and ambition. I won’t say I was groomed to be a career woman. My parents were ever supportive of whatever path I wanted to pursue. The role of motherhood and the work v. stay-at-home debate were never discussed. There were two temples in my childhood: a career or the convent. As of now, God had neither in mind for me and it has taken some doing for me to get used to that. Of course, it helps when we consider what the mustard seed is (Mt 13:31):  it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

In the smallness of our home, our life, the simplicity of raising children as one’s work we will find our fruit. And I have. That part is not difficult to see. But there are still times when I must quiet the ambition. There are still times I must sacrifice because this job or this ministry or this path are not options for me at this time. Yet this is precisely what the Lord wants me to see. In my story, A Girl and her King, the girl is taken from the battlefield, the place of glory, and asked by the king whom she loves, to return to her home inside the walls: a dusty, dry, plain place that lacks all the romance she experienced on the field. She has to talk herself into believing the challenges that exist in returning home have any merit at all. So whether worldly ambition or spiritual ambition, I had to learn to let it go.

And who is my saint? St. Therese of Lisieux, the author of the little way. Why was I drawn to her? Her desire for glory, her audacity before the Lord to ask for whatever she wanted. Never did I realize that God would take me the same little way as he did she. Desire for glory, ambition, he would turn it to his own direction. We must see the glory available to us in the little things, to make countless little sacrifices as a great offering to give him glory, not ourselves.

Stay tuned for part II.

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: The final sections (6, 7, and 8)

When I was in 8th grade, I fell in love with Christ. Every year following that was romance, beauty and yearning for his battlefields. When I married, my world became smaller. The trials we experienced were pressing and though a part of me still looked out to the larger world, planetal awareness, as Mrs. Lindbergh calls it, my attention was necessarily focused, and is still focused, towards the little world of our family.

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I recall the lesson of Mother Teresa. How to change the world? Drop by drop.

I asked a priest once, can one still experience total union with Christ if one is married? He answered, yes, all three of you.

How does it all happen? On a practical level, how does it happen?

We don’t often hear these stories and even if you do, is it ever really enough to fully fit the image into your psyche?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has painted a picture for me. Shell by shell, step by step, she opened up my awareness to the beauty of alone time, of creative work, of alone-togetherness, of the middle functional period of marriage, and the evolution that takes place so that slowly we become whole persons able to give like we’ve never given before, because we’ve never been so complete. And now what?

Two sections ago I was thinking, these are good things I am working on. I feel so good, so satisfied. Each week I read a little, write a little, do some craft or design. And I feel good. I’m spending more time with my eldest, delighting in her a little more, missing her when she is at my parents’ home for a visit. Then I thought, this is all well and good, but shouldn’t I be working on my spirituality too?

If it feels good, just don’t do it, eh? I’m told that’s an old Irish philosophy. If I feel this happy, I must be missing something, right? (My low self-esteem talking)

Then comes the last section, “The Beach at my Back.” Here are the quotes:

Modern communication loads us up with more problems than the human frame can carry.

It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.

Can we solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own?

If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers I have been discussing: the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.

The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and—from time immemorial—the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite, forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family.

The path to holiness that I must walk takes into account the world in which I live, a busy, chaotic world, where we are informed nonstop of the plight of others and not just the masses, but human, personal stories of individuals. And it’s painful to bear it.

Start at home. Start with one’s community. We are here given permission to let go a little of the troubles around the world. We are not meant to bear all these crosses.

The feminine genius, according to St. Pope John Paul II, possesses a particular openness to the person. This genius acts as a light to guide mankind back to its center. The ebb and flow of life. We can be go out but must return inward.

Perhaps it feels good precisely because it is right. As Mrs. Lindbergh says, I must take these seashells with me, for me these are these reflections I have written, let them be the eyes of the sea for me, reminders, guide posts of what matters, in order to point me on my way.

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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!

 

 

Reflection on Gift From the Sea: Part Four

I began reading this book as an exciting venture into the world of book clubs with a good friend of mine. I did not know what to expect. When I last posted my reflections I ended with an acknowledgment of the need and will to build, refresh and restore the relationship with my little four-year old. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, appears to me, to be an amazing writer. I marvel at how it can be that Part Three drew me into reflection as it did, and then that Part Four should be almost entirely about alone-togetherness.

For the first part of every relationship is pure, whether it be with a friend or lover, husband or child. It is pure, simple and unencumbered.

The simplicity of first love, or friendliness, the mutuality of first sympathy seems, as its initial appearance—even if merely in exciting conversation across a dinner table—to be a self-enclosed world…There are no others in the perfect unity of that instant, no other people or things or interests.

Katy and Kyle, October 11, 2008

And then how swiftly, how inevitably the perfect unity is invaded; the relationship changes; it becomes complicated, encumbered by its contact with the world.

  • And then it changes. We lived our dating relationship with abandon, deep in love, working hard through issues that arose. We married and it was like a fairytale. Not more than two months after marrying I was pregnant. It was the overflow of our love. Then not two weeks after that it was over, we went to the emergency room and found out two days later I was having a miscarriage. How quickly it changed.
  • More children came. Life became busy and our world was full of school or life stress, grief and financial struggles. But between us there was still a glow, because we were a team.

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…We mistakenly feel that failure to maintain its exact original pattern is tragedy…it moves to another phase of growth which one should not dread, but welcome as one welcomes summer after spring.

  • I’m grateful to say I knew this. I have no regrets regarding this marriage of ours. We look back nostalgically and long for the day when we take the breaks, the vacations we desire to be together, just us, unencumbered.
  • I never before understood this concept relating to anything other than the romantic relationship. I did not think of that pure, original form for friendship, or for the mother-child relationship.

But woman refinds in a limited form with each new child, something resembling, at least in its absorption, the early pure relationship. In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child.

  • Without any significant interruptions I experience this with our eldest. From the moment I knew we were having a girl, I knew, this will be my buddy, my little sidekick.
  • We still seemed able to maintain our relationship and special moments even after the boy was born. It was a beautiful balance, once I got the hang of things. The eldest made it easier, even though she was still very young.

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  • Yet because my husband could not find full time work, we decided I needed to start working again, at least temporarily. I would go back full time. My son was eight months old. The world moved in.
  • It seemed like he never cried with me before those days. He wailed when his father held him at night, quieted when I took him back. After I began working, he wailed with either of us. I felt I no longer I had my special place with him. Our bond seemed to disappear. I went down to four days and after I was six months pregnant went back to part time. But then it seemed too late, another baby was coming.
  • And she came. When enough time passed I was able to get on the floor and play again with the boy. Our bond returned. He would now run to me, ask for me, be comforted by me. At times I still feel like I don’t know what he needs, that my husbands knows better. My heart still aches from the absence.

Actually I believe this temporary return to the pure relationship holds good for ones’ children too…Does each child not secretly long for the pure relationship he once had with the mother, when he was “The Baby,” when the nursery doors were shut and she was feeding him at the breast—alone?”

  • It was a natural change, only with us, it felt forced and happened all too soon. I must teach myself not to regret. I believe I can do so now with the words from Mrs. Lindbergh.

This is not a tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth.

  • It won’t be easy to believe it, to forgive myself when for so long I have felt as though I abandoned him. But here is an explanation for what took place. It is part of life and would have happened anyway. I have to take this wisdom and remembered it, create the special moments.

We all wish to be loved alone.

  • It isn’t enough just to have the moments alone. As she said regarding simplicity. We have to have internal simplicity, not only external simplicity. We can go away to reteach ourselves. I have to create the moments with my children. And I must savor those moments. I must allow myself to feel the intimacy of those moments, alone together.

Life must go on.

  • This is the way it should be. This is the way we can learn.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: Part Three

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Part 3: Below are more quotes and reflections on this section in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Words on how now we need never be alone – truer now than ever before. So many distractions, we have endless distractions to keep us occupied. Her writing calms my breathing. I feel I am at the ocean, with the sounds of the waves in the background.

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.

  • I love my work but I feel drained. Drained from being with people all day, from being “on,” from giving and thinking and perceiving. Drained from being in an office, the appearance of which I cannot alter beyond a program poster I find attractive and a little postcard of Van Gogh’s “First Steps.” I come home and although I ache to be with my children, I seek asylum. But then I err. Instead of seeking prayer or reading in order to be truly alone with myself, I go online, pinterest, facebook, hostess with the mostess. I find I am not refreshed.

The need to fill the pitcher to the brim, rather than spill out in driblets.

The artist, naturally, always resents giving himself in small drops.

  • I feel so selfish. I gave in driblets, again and again. Yell at the child, step away, pray for patience, come back ready to be calm and controlled. Another incident, another whine, another act of toddler resistance, ahem, toddler independence and I fall right back again. I have not thought of this act of allowing the pitcher to fill to the brim.

I believe that what a woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly.

  • I find some comfort in that I do give myself purposely. I am trying to make things better. Intentionality drives me. Putting together the home, creating routine, establishing discipline.
  • Yet still, I have been purposeless these days. I have felt buried under it all. The constant whining, the battles, the inability to please and motivate.

We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as man does in his work.

  • I feel this. At work, the impact is very clear. My clients are very open to what we are about. At home, progress is so…so…spiritual, intangible. Beyond maintaining hygiene and decency, I do not feel like I see progress. I hear others praise my child, but feel she gives the worst to me. So it is draining. That phrase makes so much more sense in the context of what the author writes about. Going down the drain. Purposeless, driblets.

Purposeful giving is not as apt to deplete one’s resources; it belongs to that natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give.

  • Yes, I feel that at work, and I feel it with my younger children because it is so easy to delight them. My eldest needs my attention. She needs more purposeful giving. I can get away with driblets with the infant and the toddler, they need only my body (or so it feels) for nursing or reading or play. The boy is so unaware. It takes so little to amuse him. But the eldest, she needs companionship, someone to talk to, to smile at her. If I could just get some time alone with her.
  • I went to mass today by myself. I entered aching, ready for tears but resistant because I will no longer cry in public, scolding myself that I have a good life, a light cross and no excuse to indulge public tears, making others think, I don’t know, that someone may have died. When the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, my heart opened up. Christ was coming. I felt renewed by the end of it all, albeit not magically.

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No longer fed by a feeling of indispensability or purposefulness, we are hungry, and not knowing what we are hungry for, we fill up the void with endless distractions, always at hand—unnecessary errands, compulsive duties, social niceties.

  • She wrote this in the 1950’s and yet it more true now. We have truly endless distractions. We look for meaning in projects. Or worse, we look for an endless supply of criticisms of self for all the things I cannot do. Have I not engaged in that here? We should be realistic. We should not coddle ourselves. I hate the self-esteem movement. But we should not waste time. We should look at the source.
  • We need to see solitude as necessary.

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of the whole web of human relationships.

  • So what if I allowed myself to heal? What if for one hour a week I took my child out for a coffee (milk in her case) and we chatted as only we ladies can do. What if I finally took the time to go to adoration. I never desired alone time before I had children. I embraced marriage and the constant companionship. I struggled when my husband needed his time alone because I then felt lonely. But I had no project, nothing to create or to love.
  • I see better now. Now, I say with smile, that I have begun writing again.

The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities.

  • I knew reading would quiet my soul, my anxiety. I know it still. Writing, thinking, laying out my thoughts as I have done here, that has really reached into the depth and brought me to life again.

Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think unwittingly lost. In other times, women had in their lives more forces which center them whether or not they realized it… their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone…Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even the humble kinds…must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at super-markets, or doing housework with mechanical aids.

  • I have never thought of this before and so it amazes me. My husband seeks creative pursuits in all corners: gardening, bread baking, composing, teaching our children. I see his delight in it and understand that he loves to see the finished product. Yet still I never personally derived the same pleasure from those things. My creativity centered more on aesthetics: the home, the flower arrangement, the table setting. With my engagement online I am challenging myself to use my camera properly again, to write poetically again.

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  • We have become the chauffeur. The eldest goes to preschool every day for three hours each day. We take her to and fro. I feel better now that I am using a bike and trailer for some of it. I can see what the author is saying.
  • Yet still I fear the time alone, the time without distraction because it is so difficult to get my mind to work again. I am sleep deprived. For the fourth year I am sleep deprived. Because of anxiety it is difficult to fall asleep. Because of my nature, being easily stimulated, after 4am it is difficult to stay asleep. Nursing and oxytocin act as a drug to induce me to sleep. Sometimes I cannot fall asleep until I have nursed her. I am sleep deprived. Some days I look for passive engagement. I claim I seek intelligent thought. Perhaps all this time, it is time alone I seek to allow my thoughts to full develop. Passive engagement was only a mere distraction.

She must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today… it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.

Don’t I seek a magical solution? I think: what if this is it? What is some time alone were the secret to being happy and fulfilled? I know I feel something more complete in my since I began to write more seriously. I am motivated when I see more people following what I write.

This book is opening doors.

I am an extrovert. I was lonely as a child, living in the country, always alone, a latch key child. I wrote, I thought, I imagined. When I did missionary work I discovered so much about myself. I loved to be with people. I was not an introvert but felt energized by company. I was an artist, more at home with host-families in Oregon than my less artistically-inclined, albeit wonderful, teammates.

I’ve taken this for granted. I do not want to do so anymore. Time alone, to think and to write. My first love. I wrote short stories in grade school. I began “novels” in sixth grade. I completed my last work at age 19. But writing has ever been one of my great loves

So here we are, the book and I. Something strange and new is opening up for me. I am excited to reach Part Four.

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  • Tomorrow she and I will have a painting date after preschool.

 

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.

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“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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