Sometimes a theme rises up from our days, uniting otherwise random events. Consider these, from my last week:
- I’m at a parenting class on how to use nonviolent communication with our kids. Like many parents I use coercion and shaming—instinctively, impulsively—and only recently am I coming to see this. The instructor draws a flow chart: Your kid does something that stimulates you. You can go down the path of control by judging the situation, thinking up a strategy, and demanding action, or you can go down the path of connection by observing, feeling your response, identifying your need, and requesting action. I’m amazed by how hard it is to take this second path.
- I’m reading my church newsletter. The interim pastor has written a column challenging us to ask ourselves during this time of transition, “What do we notice?” Our habit is to see a change and jump to an opinion or judgment. He encourages us to first simply observe.
- I’m leading a class in a tried-and-true writing exercise: Begin with an object from childhood. Describe it in detail. Only once you’ve brought it fully onto the page, allow it to lead you to other memories. The class, as always, is profoundly moved by what emerges.
- I’m doing Centering Prayer, my candle lit, my knees on the floor. Ideas for this column pop into my head. They’re good ideas, but I remember Thomas Keating’s advice: Even should the Virgin Mary Herself tap me on the shoulder, I’m to say, “Not now, dearie; I’m doing my Centering Prayer.” I observe my thoughts then let them go.
Ask what I’m learning in the Living School and I’ll blather incoherently, enthusiastically, and at great length about the Christian mystical tradition, the significance of contemplation, and a complete overhaul of my faith. I was doing just that at Easter dinner a few weeks ago. My father-in-law asked, and all eleven relatives at the table stared at me blankly while I answered. Afterward, my brother-in-law quipped, “You should say you’re studying an ancient wisdom tradition. Calling it ‘Christian’ just throws everybody off.” Well, yes. (more…)
Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.
Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. (more…)
January 17, 2017
You don’t want to go to the Women’s March this Saturday. I understand; you’re eight, and two summers ago at a climate march you experienced the unfortunate combination of too much heat, exhaustion, and greasy eggrolls. We’re marching anyhow. I’m writing this because I want you to know why. I also want to tell your older self, so I’ll tuck this letter aside to show you again later. (more…)
(My mother, Helen Andrew, died at home on May 5th. Instead of my regular column I’d like to share this excerpt from my eulogy.)
My mother loved through the created world. My first memories are of her hip pressed into my thigh as she tucked me into bed at night, said our prayers, and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” She loved me through the needlework rabbits jumping through a green field over my bed, through the smocking across the front of my dresses, and through the ridiculously intricate 1970s pant suits she sewed for my Barbie dolls. She loved us through her dried beef casseroles and split pea soup and dozens of crazy cakes baked both at home and in reflector ovens while camping. She loved home, being home, and making home. This was my mother’s art form, her ability to make a beautiful, comforting home base for family wherever we were—even in Japan for four years, even at a campsite.
She tended the community this way, too, humbly, by making and ironing the altar cloths at church, for example—which is why we always had white grape juice for communion. (more…)
The other night I dreamt that I had to pee but the toilet bowl was filled with colorful plastic toys. The image was perfect. I’d just spent a week managing the behavior of three rambunctious cousins, trying to get them to pick up and not exclude each other and eat with their forks and please-please-please give the adults some mental space. Even the bathroom, that last bastion of privacy, had been messed with. I could get no relief.
We were in New York so one afternoon we took the kids on the Circle Line around Manhattan. With the kids lobbying for hotdogs in the foreground and skyscrapers vying for airspace in the background—including the new multimillion-dollar high-rises towering over Central Park that are the outrageously and illicitly wealthy’s latest way to hide money—I couldn’t help wondering about humanity’s basic propensity to covet, and then follow greed into evil. (more…)