Friday, March 26, 2010

God, Mothers, Children and Spirituality

The other day I posted on the despicable statement by feminist MP Carolyn Bennett to the effect that stay-at-home moms should put their children in day care and get "a real job."

Well, here is a far better response to this sentiment than anything I could have written in the form of a post by my daughter Beth on her blog Red and Honey. Every so often you read something that is so obviously true that you wonder why you didn't think to say it a long time ago. This is a beautiful meditation on motherhood and the spiritual life. She writes:
"A while ago I stumbled across this article online, but for the life of me, cannot remember how or when. I think these were words that God intended for me to read in my mothering journey. They’ve certainly been like honey to my soul whenever I get restless and discontented in the midst of this precious season of mothering a little one.

“Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company, milking a goat for his food, and translating the Bible into the local Bedouin language, he prayed for long hours by himself. Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty years of her life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God’s.”

I absolutely love this. I love thinking of my life, as mommy to my sweet little boy and a darling little girl on her way to meet us this summer, as a spiritual exercise in and of itself. It’s easy to get discouraged as the mother of young children, finding yourself at the end of the day having not spent “enough time” with the Lord, yet again, and falling exhausted onto the couch when he’s finally in bed, wanting to just spend time with your husband and go to bed. Instead of having that guilt trip laid on me by the evil one (who wants me to be unhappy and guilt-ridden), I can choose to use the mundane ins and outs of motherhood as an opportunity to commune with my Savior, and a lesson in relying on him as my guide moment by moment. My time is not my own, but ultimately His.

“The mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the “monastic bell”. All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it’s time for that task and time isn’t your time, it’s God’s time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God’s agenda.”

When Isaac is fussing and insisting on being held, or getting into something I don’t want him in, just as I am making dinner, writing an email, or trying to relax for two seconds, or when he wants to play with the soapy water (bubboos!) I am using to scrub the floor… I can choose to seize the opportunity to die to self and become more Christ-like though selflessness and obedience. After all, it was Christ himself who have himself up to the cross for my sake. How little a sacrifice in comparison is it to drop what I am doing to tend to my children with love and patience. How little a sacrifice it is to meet their needs with compassion and understanding, though they may seem trivial or trite, just as my heavenly Father does for me day by day."

A central reason why feminists find it impossible to be Christians is contained in this unanswerable conundrum. If women can only be fulfilled by pursuing careers like men and abandoning their children to strangers, but God makes women in such a way that all their maternal instincts bond them to their children and make them long to nurture and raise those children, does that not mean that God hates women and has deliberately set up the world in such a way as to frustrate them and to keep them from being fulfilled no matter what they do? Thus it seems impossible to believe in God and the goodness of the natural order and, at the same time, to accept the central dogma of feminism that women can only be fulfilled by imitating men and pursuing careers in the world away from the home and children.

Perhaps there is no final answer to this conundrum unless one learns something of the cruciform nature of reality. And perhaps that is best learned in a monastery where the bell is a little person with needs.


Peter W. Dunn said...


penny farthing said...

That's amazing. I've never understood why feminists think women have to act like men to be as good as men - doesn't that mean women aren't as good a men? Then again I've always admired my mother for the way she raised me and my siblings - she stayed home with us, and supported her friends who made the same choice, in the face of opposition and misunderstanding from the culture.