Tag Archives: christian

Triduum Fail.

1950s church family

As you may know, if you’ve been reading my constant bragging, I’ve been doing a little work lately for Jesuit Publications (bear with me, I’m going somewhere here). One of the pieces I wrote a few months ago for Australian Catholics was a sort of how-to guide for taking children to Mass. Words can’t describe how smug I felt writing that article. I was the guru. I had all of the answers. I had finally made it and could now dispense wisdom for the masses (‘Masses’?).

I did not yet have twin toddlers.

Over the past several Sundays, my complacent words have been echoing in my ears as my husband and I have struggled to grapple with two rowdy little people who seem to have a liturgy allergy (sorry). They are so noisy. And they’re always making bids to escape. And they conspire against us.

Daisy and Poppy also have their own language that they’ve settled on between themselves. For example, they don’t call Christopher Robin by his actual name. Christopher spent so much time trying to get the girls to say ‘bum’, that they have decided that this is his name. We’re all kind of used to it. But when the altar servers process in to church and Daisy and Poppy see their brother solemnly carrying the candle, it gets a little awkward when they start shouting “BUM! BUM! BUUUUM!!”

Things were at their worst last Thursday. It was Holy Thursday Mass, which started at 7:30pm, which meant I had to get the children fed and dressed and into a crowded church at a time when everybody was tired and cranky, especially me. We were all squashed in together at a pew up the front, near the side door. The twins were fairly well behaved (though not completely silent) throughout the Blessing of the Holy Oils, and the Liturgy of the Word, and the special-edition homily, and the rather ponderous Washing of the Feet (since when was Holy Thursday Mass so LONG?). But when it got to the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, Poppy decided she’d had enough. For a while now, Poppy had been making bids to escape and I had been stopping her. I knew from experience that if I let her go, she would dash out of the church, or go dancing around the aisles, or dart into the sacristy and emerge, beaming, from the side door out onto the altar, like some special guest on This is Your Life.  Poppy was making her indignation loudly known.  It was time for me to scoop her up and take her out.  As I stepped into the side room of the church, I noticed the neat, fortysomething man who had been sitting behind us at the beginning of Mass.  Had he moved here to escape us?  He did not return my rueful, apologetic smile.  As I remonstrated with Poppy, I could hear Daisy’s loud proclamations from inside the church.  I winced.

We managed to survive the rest of Mass, but it was a slog.  Daisy also had a turn in the room next door.  Neat Man was still there and still unsmiling.  By some miracle, my husband and I managed to keep our faces straight when Annie constructed DJ headphones from her Alice-band and two Project Compassion boxes and pretended to spin discs.  But it wasn’t until afterwards, that my husband filled me in on what happened when I was in the other room.

While I was having stern words with Poppy and sharing awkward space with Neat Man, Daisy was chattering loudly in her dad’s arms.  Neat Man’s wife (who is also very neat and who looks like Sarah Palin) tapped my husband on the shoulder.

“You will have to take her out.  I just can’t concentrate!”

My husband remained where he was.  He wasn’t going to leave the other children by themselves and he knew that the Consecration happened by virtue of the Holy Spirit and not Sarah Palin’s brain power.  Later, at the Sign of Peace, Sarah Palin turned her back abruptly on us and only shook the hands of the people behind her.

I must admit I felt a little heartbroken when I heard about this.  I didn’t know Sarah Palin that well, but I had always imagined she was my ally.  She was a mum, after all.  Didn’t she know how hard it was to raise children in the faith?  Did she think I brought my children to Mass on purpose just to mess with her?  All of a sudden, I didn’t feel welcome at the Lord’s table.  Perhaps Mass just wasn’t supposed to be for young families.  Or perhaps it was only for families that had it all together.  I decided in that moment that we wouldn’t go to the big Easter vigil Mass with the fire and the candles and the incense and the bells, but instead attend the more subdued Sunday morning Mass.  I didn’t want another run-in with Neat Man and his Alaskan wife.

1950s Church Family

I might also mention here that we got through the Good Friday service without too much trouble, because the twins slept through most of it.  The family behind us had small noisy children, however, and, while I felt deeply for them, I was also acutely aware that Neatman and Palin (who were sitting further away this time) probably assumed it was us making all that noise again.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we tumbled into church, almost on time, though Poppy was still in her pyjamas.  I was working so hard at focussing on all the nice parishioners who smile and look dotingly at the twins that I didn’t notice that NeatPalin were standing rigidly at the other side of the church.  When Poppy let out a yelp towards the end of Mass, Neatman turned and looked right at us.  EEK!

Sarah Palin's Book:

I’m feeling better now for telling you about it, my blog friend.  And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the family who was really upset by it.  Mr Knightley takes all things in his stride.  Daisy and Poppy continue to run things their way.  Annie is stoked with her charity-box headphones.  And as for Matilda, Bum and Harry, they couldn’t be happier.  They’ve discovered a new recruit to work at the Barbara Feeney Shush Helpline!

Meanwhile, I think I need to contact the Australian Catholics editor.  I want to add a footnote to my article: “Please note: if you have toddlers, none of these rules apply.  All you can do is pray for God’s sweet mercy and wait for the storm to pass.”

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The Holy Family

Icon of the Holy Family

Although it might be later by the time I actually publish this post, as I write, today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  I always find going to Mass on this Sunday a bit of a rude shock.  I mean, we only just went to Mass on Chrismas Eve, three days ago.  I can clearly remember acting as a human straitjacket for my five-year-old in a stifling heat that no number of ceiling fans would dispel.  The time that followed was filled with sugar and excitement and late nights and tears and tantrums, and, what’s more, the children have been misbehaving too.

It felt like a bit of a stretch to get everyone out of bed this morning to go to Mass.  I know it’s wrong to feel that way.  I do love Mass more than anything, deep down.  Really, I do.  I just don’t enjoy putting clothes on children and saying ‘shush’ for forty minutes.

I know some of you will be thinking “Why are you so strict on yourself?  Surely God will understand if you don’t go just this once?”.  This is a good question with a long answer, so perhaps it’s a conversation for another day.  The short answer is that I know myself well enough to realise that the moment I start making excuses for not making the effort, it becomes a whole lot easier to not make the effort the next time and the next until I find I’ve stopped going to church altogether.  I’m the same way with exercise.  Plus, the children are watching (that sounds like a good title for a horror movie, don’t you think?  The Children Are Watching…)  and it’s important that they know that going to Mass is a part of who we are.

I just wish I could have called these noble principles to mind this morning as I tried to prise my reluctant three-year-old out of bed and convince my eight-year-old that ‘glacial’ is not the best speed-setting for his morning weetbix consumption.  Mr Knightley had taken Matilda to 9am Mass early so that she could be an altar server, and it was up to me to get the remaining children clothed and in the car and to Mass on time.  Harry was dressed and ready like a champion, his methodical nature is a godsend on mornings like this.  I was even willing to overlook the fact that his outfit was the same  one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days.  Christopher Robin, as I mentioned, was performing some sort of tai-chi inspired slow dance with his bowl and spoon, but was dressed at least.  Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her breakfast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword.  The twins were asleep in their cot.  And it was five-to-nine.

So I started my sheep-dog routine, gathering bags and babies, rounding everyone up into the car.  I had already decided that the pyjamas Annie had been wearing (a plain pink t-shirt and black Star Wars shorts)  looked enough like regular clothes to get away with.  There was no time.  It was only later I noticed that she’d somehow managed to get vegemite stains down the front of it.

I read a lot of blog posts about the importance of dressing your best for Sunday Mass.  I’ve written before about this desire of my heart.   My children were not looking well turned-out this morning.  Even the babies’ jumpsuits seemed grubby.  Nothing about their clothing expressed respect for this blessed institution.  But there was no time; there was no time.

Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins.  “Annie, are you wearing shoes?”  I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness.  “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.

And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.

As I was pulling into the church car park, I made some quick decisions.  Unloading the pram and strapping the babies into it would take too much time.  Christopher and I could carry a baby each.  Let’s go, let’s go!

I pulled back the middle seats to let Annie and Harry out.  Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like it was the punchline to some wonderful joke.

I’m not sure I can properly describe the full extent of shouting and searching that followed.  Annie alone remained calm and unruffled.  We found one shoe hidden in the car.  There was only one.  I think this was a million times worse than if there had been no shoes at all.

25-clarks-1

I had two options.  I could rush home to get shoes for Annie.  This would make us abysmally late for Mass.  We would achieve nothing more than a Drive-Thru Communion Service, if that.  Or, in another failed attempt at ‘Natural Consequences’, Annie could attend the Holy Mass barefoot.

The Gospel reading had just finished as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children and slid into the pew next to Mr Knightley.  Annie remained unshod.  If we kept a low profile, we might just get away with it.  In a quick series of whispers and a fair bit of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought Mr Knightley up to speed with the situation.  His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:

“We’re on Offertory.”

In theory, being invited to bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I really should have felt honoured that somebody had tapped my husband on the shoulder before Mass started and asked him to participate with his family in this special way.  Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one.  The corner of my husband’s mouth was twitching ever so slightly.  But I didn’t punch him.  I had other problems.

When I took the babies out of the car, I forgot to grab their bunny rugs or wipes.   I was a little distracted, you see.  Now Daisy was in my arms, forcing her fingers into her mouth wrist-deep and bringing up little pockets of spew, like some deranged supermodel (I’m sorry.  That joke is inappropriate, I know.  But it’s been a long day for me).  I only had a couple of tissues to work with and those tissues had to work very hard.  I could sense the people in the pew behind me silently promising themselves not to shake my hand when it came time for the Sign of Peace and I didn’t blame them one bit.

When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression.  Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, people might not notice that my three-year-old was sans footwear.  That aisle seemed a lot longer than usual.  Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another altar server were miles away.  After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl of communion wafers to Matilda and not the priest.  Father Jacob seemed to be struggling to suppress a snort of laughter.  I didn’t punch him either.

The rest of Mass passed smoothly enough apart from the following:

  1. Annie and Harry had a rowdy disagreement as to who got to complete the maze on the parish notices helping the Wise Men to find Baby Jesus.
  2. Daisy got bored of trying to swallow her knuckles and decided to wail enthusiastically instead.
  3. Annie announced, for the benefit of all parishioners: “I’m hungry!  I haven’t had any breakfast!”
  4. Poppy, well, Poppy made use of her nappy.  She was, well, she was very thorough in this endeavour.

The final hymn was Joy to the World.  I joined in lustily.  As we prepared ourselves for a swift exit, I felt somebody grasp my elbow.  It was Mrs Price Who’s Ever So Nice.

“I just wanted to let you know how much joy it gave my heart to see your beautiful family bringing up the gifts,”  she said with genuine warmth.  My heart melted a little bit.  Mrs Price is almost old enough to be my grandmother.  She has raised six children herself and is still grieving her beloved husband who passed away last year.  Mrs Price chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style.  She saw a family trying their best despite all their imperfections, and loved us.  In that moment, Mrs Price was God to me.

I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling.  Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.

And that, my friend, is why you should always wear shoes to church.

Barbara Feeney

pop art design - close up of a woman gesturing "shhh"

I’m not sure I should be telling you about this.

It started innocently enough, but now it’s spinning out of control.

You see, it’s like this.  Our local parish is pretty much run by old people.  The women tend to be named Pat and the men are all Grahams and Bills (except when they’re actually Brian, but I digress).  Some – like my hero, Pat Baker – are warm, giving folk, full of wit and wisdom.  Others can be rather narrow-minded and fiercely opinionated: what our late PP referred to as the ‘Parish Antiques’.  Many have a good measure of both these aspects, and all are hard-working souls with deep parish loyalty.

The person I want to tell you about today is a formidable lady by the name of Barbara Feeney (well, OK, not really.  I had to change her name.  But we can all pretend.)  Barbara Feeney is a sacristan (she gets the church ready before Mass) and a special minister (she helps to distribute Communion), and her facial expression of choice is a disapproving frown.  Barbara would best be known to the parish school children as the lady who stands near the door of the church aggressively shushing them as they file out after a school Mass.  Unlike her duties as a sacristan or special minister, this policing of juvenile noise-making is a self-appointed role.

Barbara is also very strict with the young altar servers, pulling them into line for spilling wax when they walk with candles and fidgeting in their seats during Mass.  There is a person in the parish who is in charge of training the altar servers.  It isn’t Mrs Feeney.

In the sacristy (it’s like a ‘green room’, but for priests) after one particular Mass at which Matilda was serving,  Barbara descended upon the small knot of altar servers with another Stern Parish Lady (SPL) to back her up and launched into a tirade about their terrible behaviour (The altar servers’ behaviour, I mean, not the angry ladies’).

I must have missed it, but apparently towards the end of Mass, some of the altar servers had been fiddling with their tassels and giggling.  Mrs Feeney berated them for ten minutes and SPL nodded grimly at intervals for good measure.

Had I been nine years old and in the sacristy at that time, I would have fallen to pieces, become a quivering mess.  Matilda, however, is nothing like her mother and I think this is where the trouble started.  To be fair, Matilda listened demurely enough to this post-liturgy tirade and did not answer back in any way.  But the seed had been planted.

It started small.  When Annie and Harry were chatting animatedly after lights-out, I overheard Matilda calling out a warning: “You better be quiet or Barbara Feeney will come and shush you!

Before long, Matilda and Christopher Robin had developed an advertising jingle:  “Barbara Feeney’s Helpline says ‘Shush!  Shush!'” (to the tune of Motor Finance Wizard).  In retrospect, I should not have giggled at this.  Nor, I suppose, should I have fallen about helplessly with laughter when Matilda used Microsoft Power Point to devise a full-scale advertising campaign for said helpline (Noisy neighbours ruining your life?  Barbara Feeney can help!  Call now and get your first shush free!).

You see, it’s hard to explain to your daughter that it’s not at all respectful to refer to dignified SPLs as Barbara Feeney’s ‘sidekicks’, when you’re focussing so hard on stopping tea from pouring out of your nose.  (Do you know where Barbara Feeney got her qualifications as Chief Parish Shusher?  It was at Monassshhh University.  She got a double degree in Stern Lectures/Finger Wagging).

It’s getting worse.  All of Matilda’s friends know about her hero, Mrs Feeney.  At a party recently, several children were jumping on the trampoline at once lustily singing the helpline jingle.  This wasn’t even at our house.  And Matilda’s friends live all over the place.  Slowly but surely, the Legend of Barbara Feeney is spreading all over Victoria.

I’m scared.  It’s only a matter of time before Barbara Feeney herself finds out.  More than once, in the middle of Mass, little Annie has called out “Oh no!  Look, Mum: it Baa Baa Fee Nee!”.  I try to make her be quiet.  I try talk to my children about ‘respecting your elders’, but Barbara Feeney is their favourite topic of conversation and I don’t know how to stop them talking.

If only there were a helpline I could call…

Abundance

An illustration by Annie of two happy people, arms outstretched

I have been dying to tell you this for so long. But you’re not the absolute last to know – I haven’t told Facebook yet…

A couple of months ago, I went to visit my obstetrician. I like my obstetrician: he’s a reassuring man with a deep voice who exudes calm, warmth and good humour.  He’s been helping me give birth for almost ten years now.  OK, so maybe I did the lion’s share of the work when it came to labour, but he has definitely been a good person to have in my corner.  In my mind, he’s the best baby doctor in Melbourne.  But I wouldn’t tell him that.

Anyway, I was visiting my obstetrician a couple of months ago and – well – it wasn’t a social visit (excited squeal).  I was eagerly anticipating Baby Number Five and very keen to hear that everything was in good order.  Mr Knightley was at work, but he wanted to hear the heartbeat too, so I planned to give him a call so he could listen in when the time came.

After the intial boring stuff (checking blood pressure, reading over blood tests, getting weighed on the rude scales that tell me to ‘GET OFF’ before they calculate my weight), it was time for Doc to play with his ultrasound machine. This is the best bit.  Doc squirts my belly with cold goo and examines the screen as he presses the wand thingy onto my bump.

And then he stops.

And he takes the wand thing off.

“What?”  I say.

Doc just looks at me and tries to frown.  But his eyes are twinkling.

What?!” I demand.

Doc shakes his head solemnly.  His mouth is twitching.  I wonder idly what would happen if I throttle him with the curly cable from his ultrasound machine.

“WHAT.  IS.  IT?”  I enunciate in sheer desperation.

Doc draws a deep breath.  Then he somehow manages to find three words to say.

“There are two.”

It proves impossible to continue the ultrasound for the next few minutes as I can’t stop giggling manaically.  My belly is wobbling all over the place and it makes the pictures all blurry.  Then I call Mr Knightley.

“Are you ready to hear the heartbeat, George?” (That’s Mr Knightley’s first name.  It’s only mentioned once in the whole of Emma, but it’s there if you know where to look.  And did you know that Mr Darcy’s first name is ‘Fitzwilliam’?  No wonder he’s so uptight!  But I digress…)

“Yes.” says Mr Knightley

“Erm…which one would you like to hear first?”  And then I burst into a fresh peal of giggles which makes everything impossible again.  Mr Knightley is laughing too, although I think I also hear him groan “we’re going to need a new car!”.  Doc waits patiently for me to calm down again.

Larger version of earlier illustration by Annie.  Shows caption: "The Twins"

And then I manage to lie still and the three of us listen to two perfect heartbeats.  As I lay there, watching two small babies kick their tiny legs and wave at me, I reflect on God’s sense of humour, his abundant generosity and his rather unnerving faith in me.

Christopher's illustration of me carrying two small babies

This is unpredictable, insane, terrifying, a major challenge – and yet somehow it makes perfect sense.  I can’t explain it.  I have no control at all over this situation, but that’s OK, because I feel in my heart that God does.  And relying on God is something I need to get better at.

A painting by Christopher of "Mum and the Twins"

Now, does anyone know the patron saint for procuring good-quality, second hand, 8-seat people movers?

The God Who Pokes

God from The Creation of Adam (poking)

Part Two

So if you don’t already think I’m nuts for homeschooling my daughter this year, you might when I tell you why.

You see, I was resisting the idea a lot.  It was a stupid, harebrained scheme.  Who homeschools?  How would I even begin to explain this to people?  How was I going to cope with it all?  Would the school be upset with me?  But God kept poking me.

What is a God poke?  Well, it’s not like I hear the voice of God and he tells me to do things in a deep, rich baritone, or there’s this big thunderbolt and I fall off the horse I’m riding and the statue of Mary gets all weepy and the fish poke their heads out of the water to listen to me preach and it starts raining flowers.  It’s kind of like this persistent gut feeling every time I pray.  And good people seem to turn up in my path with the right advice at the right time.  I know that I can tell God to back off with these crazy suggestions and he would.  But I don’t want to tell him to back off, not right away.  I’m curious and a little excited.  I know that in the past when I’ve gone along with God in his ridiculous suggestions, it’s turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

This all might sound mental, but it’s not really.  It’s not like some compulsion – like I have to do something right now or something bad will happen.  And it’s not like I feel compelled by creepy voices in my head.  Nothing bad will happen if I don’t listen to God and his quiet suggestions (except I might miss out on an adventure exactly suited to my personality and stage of life.  I might miss an opportunity to grow and reach my true potential).  And I don’t feel compelled (or hear voices, for that matter) – like I said before, I feel really conflicted.  I keep telling God his ideas are mental and he keeps bugging me.  I need to really trust God, there’s always that leap of faith required, I guess.

I should probably point out here that I don’t think I’m some child of destiny, that God has a plan for me and me alone.  Everyone gets poked by God at some time or another.  Some of us ignore it, some of us don’t call it ‘God’, but ‘intuition’ or ‘conscience’ or some other name that best fits our chosen religion.

I can hear as I write this what my atheist friends would say to all this.  What about all those awful people who commit atrocities and say they were doing God’s will?  Surely it’s dangerous to blindly follow an idea like this?  It’s true.  Not all ‘gut feelings’ come from God.  I don’t like to give him too much attention, but there is an evil mischief-maker out there who likes to trip us up.  That’s why it’s important that we don’t follow our concept of God’s will blindly.  Here’s a helpful test set out in the beautiful form of an ordered list:

  1. What is my motivation for taking this path?  Is ego and vanity a big factor?  If the answer is yes, it’s probably not God.  If the answer is no, proceed to question 2
  2. What are the fruits of this ministry?  Of course, there will be obstacles, but are good things happening because of it?  If you have declared war on another nation and are claiming it’s God’s will, you might have some trouble finding good fruits.
  3. Did I take this on because I really feel it’s where God has called me to be, or am I loading up with more commitments for ‘extra credit’, so that I might impress God?
  4. Do I feel a healthy measure of doubt about this?  I would worry if not.

Of course, I always try to make God fit into a box, but God does not conform to ordered lists, and the best way to discern his will in a tricky situation is to pray, pray, pray.  Read the scripture and pray,  Sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and pray.  Peg out the washing and pray.  Pray formally, with the rosary or a novena.  Pray informally, in silence or amidst the noise and mess.  Ask others to pray for you.   Ask Mary to pray for you (she said yes to God’s harebrained scheme too, remember?).  Just pray.  Pray lots.

Then maybe it might be time to poke back.

Soul Diet

So I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people lately about food.  It seems everyone is on a special diet to help them feel better.  So we go gluten free, low FODMAP, cut out milk, limit caffeine, cut out processed food, go organic free range, eat brown-not-white, and avoid flavour enhancer 621 (it makes me hyper).

I suppose it’s all about looking at what we put into our bodies and how it affects our wellbeing.  As far as conversations go, it can be a deathly boring subject, but it got me thinking – what kind of diet is my soul on?  What do I watch and read and do that is healthy for my soul?  What do I watch and read and do that is toxic?

pizza

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Catholic.  One of the – I don’t know – “membership requirements”? – that we have is that we go to Mass once a week on a Sunday unless we’re really sick or something.  Please wait a minute whilst I shudder inwardly at the abysmal grammatical mess I just created.  I don’t even know where to begin fixing that sentence.  Please forgive me.

Maybe a new paragraph will help.  A lot of people I know take issue with this obligation and think my church is a cranky parent who likes to make rules and boss people around, as if the church itself is somehow separate from the people that form it.  These people say things like “it doesn’t really matter if you go to church or not, so long as you are a good person” (because it’s one or the other – take your pick) and “you don’t have to go every week – it’s too hard.  Just go when you can – God will understand” (because parties, sport and wandering around Bunnings should always take priority over your spiritual health).

The thing is, Sunday Mass is supposed to be the minimum I do to look after myself and my community spiritually, and if I commit to it regularly, it becomes a part of who I am.  It makes me think of something my friend did the other week.

I had some friends over at my house to watch the Grand Final / gossip and eat food whilst the Grand Final was playing.  My friend, whom I will call Lydia, turned up with bags and bags of fruit (and a cask of delicious vodka cranberry, which counts as a fruit), which she then proceeded to transform into healthy fruit platters.  As we munched strawberry and pineapple and felt very virtuous (and drank vodka cranberry and felt rather tipsy), we praised Lydia and her healthy generosity.   It was at this point that Lydia made a sheepish confession: she had eaten KFC for lunch and the fruit was part of a rueful attempt to get back on track.

I feed my soul a lot of junk food.  Every day I feel like I battle an onslaught of Buy-Now-Pay-Later, Post-Baby-Bikini-Body, Give-Your-Little-Precious-a-Head-Start-in-Advanced-Calculus, Kim Kardashian, First-World-Problem-Facebook-Rant, What-Does-Your-Loo-Say-About-You, Miley Cyrus, She-Bought-a-Jeep, Seven-Signs-of-Ageing, What’s-Hot-and-What’s-Not, Who-Wore-it-Best, Adultery-Dot-Com.

One hour a week feeding my soul fruit in the form of Sunday Mass doesn’t seem like a big ask.  I need to be challenged on the way I treat those around me.  I need to be reminded that what I buy really isn’t that important, it’s who I am that counts.  I need to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength and love my neighbour as I love myself and all that.  And it’s the minimum, it really is.  And sometimes I only do the minimum.  Far too often I turn up at Mass only to realise that the last time I spent in prayer was a week ago in Mass, whilst holding a wriggling baby and saying “Shush”.  I need more wholefoods in my spiritual diet.  And I need to cut down on the junk.

fruit

So what does this mean?  Here are some things I need to work on:

  • I’m cutting out the sort of radio where the announcers make a career out of being cruel and then cut to a song extolling the virtues of anonymous sex before half-an-hour of blaring ads.  Light FM might be a little daggy, but it’s got my vote.
  • I’m not ready to cut out TV completely, but I want to cut right back – especially the sort where I’m just staring at the screen for the sake of it, to ‘relax’.
  • If I were to spend as much time catching up with those friends who give me joy as I do fiddling about on social media, I would be a much happier person.
  • I need to stop reading the sort of magazines that teach me to hate my body and feel depressed and wrinkled and fat.
  • I need to spend more time with God in prayer.

I had a plan for that last point this morning.  I set the alarm for six o’clock and snuck downstairs for some quiet prayer time and maybe a sneaky bit of blog time as well before the rest of the family got up.  I started digging around in search of the nifty devotional I’d recently purchased when I heard the distinct clomp-clomp-clomp of a small person making his way down the stairs.  There stood Harry, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, wearing only his night-nappy (he’d thrown a tantrum the night before and refused all pyjamas that didn’t have Batman on them.  His Batman pyjamas were in the washing machine.).

“I want a cuddle, Mum.”

I tried to patiently explain to Harry that it was “still night time” and that he could “go back to bed had have a bit more sleep”.  Harry shook his head.

“I just want a cuddle, Mum.” and settled himself on the couch.  I sighed and continued my search for the devotional.  Harry giggled, “I’m right here, Mummy!”. He thought I was looking for him.

And so I made my prayer whilst holding my three-year-old third child, feeling his small heart beat in his narrow chest and smelling his golden hair.  I gave thanks for him and his healthy, sturdy little body.  In a few short years, he won’t want to be held like this.  Last night I was short-tempered with him.  He kept climbing on me in a bid to win my attention.  I’d had enough of being a Mummy for the day and I just wanted five minutes with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.   So I prayed that God’s grace might enter my life, that His light might shine through all the cracks of my shortcomings and imperfections.  Most of all I prayed that I might remember to pray when I needed to most.  It was beautiful and profound, it really was.

Then Harry dirtied his nappy and woke his baby sister and poured cornflakes all over the floor.

But I picked up the broom with a serene smile (after changing two nappies and fixing two breakfasts).  I felt peaceful and recharged.

It’s amazing what a healthy diet can do for you.

PS: After I was halfway through writing this, I discovered The Simple Italians at Simple Living ABC’s had written an excellent post on this very topic.  You might think I copied their idea, but I didn’t, I promise.   And it’s definitely worth a read.

Mrs Monk

forget me nots

I forget about God a lot. You’d think forgetting God would be difficult to do. We’re not talking about the lid of the orange juice here: God is huge and everywhere. Yet I manage to do it on a regular basis.

I don’t hate God.  I don’t run about like some ranting atheist, desperate to convince people that I can’t stand God and, what’s more, he doesn’t exist.  I love God and I think I should put him at the centre of my life.  But, I guess, before I put him there, I kind of … misplace him.  I get distracted.  I forget about God.

I even forget about God when I’m doing God things.  I go to Mass on Sunday and I spend forty minutes saying “shhh!”.  I rattle off grace before meals, but I’m thinking “are the kids going to eat this?”.  I fast-forward through the chore of night prayers, desperate to get to the part where everyone’s asleep and I can have some mental space.

I suppose I could put the blame on the pace of my life.  It’s all school run, laundry, nappies, notices, budget, groceries, Book Week, walkathon, lunches, homework.  But that’s not really an excuse – that’s the reason I need God!

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a monk. To spend my whole life in prayer and peaceful contemplation. All that chanting and the bells and the incense. And all that silence! I wonder if I would have as much trouble remembering to put God in the centre of my life if I were a monk.  Can you imagine?  I’m out in the monastic garden, meditating and tending the monastic herbs.  My mind starts to wander – I start to forget God and then – DONG DONG DONG!  The bells ring and remind me it’s time to pray.  Or I’m walking about the cloisters in a bit of confusion – what was it I wanted to focus my entire life on again?  Then I round a corner and there’s a massive great crucifix on the wall – oh, that’s right: God!  Everything I do, everything I hear, everything I look at, everyone I speak to – my whole life would be structured around my relationship with God.

Having said this, I don’t think I was called to be a monk.  Even when you take gender restrictions into account, I know I’m not built that way.  I’m far too extroverted for monk life.  But I wonder – is there something I can learn from the monastery?  Can I take stock of what I’m doing and somehow structure my life so that it can be more prayerful?  There’s an article I’d love to see in Better Homes and Gardens: “Transform Your Home into a Monastery: From Domestic to Monastic in Eight Easy Steps”.  But, seeing as though Tonia Todman isn’t onto it yet, I’ll see what I can do with some vague ideas in bullet points (ain’t nothing like vague ideas in bullet points!).

  • Monks complete repetitive, menial tasks and use them as an opportunity to meditate.  When you’re in my line of work, there is an abundance of these meditation opportunities to choose from.
  • I would like to be more mindful of what I’m filling my mind with.  What do I watch, read and listen to?  Do I find it life-enriching or vaguely depressing?  I could write reams on this, but the short version is that TV as background noise, nasty commercial breakfast radio and any magazine with articles about celebrities losing their baby weight should go. Out.  Not worth my time.
  • Monks get up very early.  I resist this a bit, especially on freezing cold mornings, but I know on the days that I make an effort to get up at least fifteen minutes before the rest of the house, I can find a little pocket of peace in my day.  It would be good if I could find a book of one-minute meditations to work through as well.
  • Monks make it their business to show God’s love to all they meet.  I need to work on this.  Especially when my children are making me want to stick pins in my eyes.
  • Maybe I could get a phone app that rings out with a bell sound for nones and matins and the angelus (I don’t know – when do monks pray again? Lauds?  I think that’s one of them…).  Does such an app exist?  That would be cool.

The other thought I had was to do with my car.  Many years ago, I used to work for a Catholic charity.   My boss was a deeply religious young man, quietly holy, but not in an annoying way.  Sometimes, I would get to use his car when I drove out to give talks at schools.  There was something special about this little red car.  It was such a peaceful haven.  Rosary beads hung from the rearview mirror, sacred music played from the CD player and there was a car air freshener with “incense” fragrance.  OK, so maybe I made up that last one, but my point is, driving my boss’s car was like stepping into a church.  I would arrive at my destination feeling all calm and centred.

So I need to ask myself: now that I spend half my life driving children places (and they spend half their life driving me up the wall), what can I do to make my car a prayerful place?

I’m sure there are many more ideas that should go here.  I hope you share any you think of in the comments (it would really make my day!).

After that, all I’ll have to do is gather these ideas together and, well, do them.  And then one day you’ll see this woman standing at the school gate, all calm and loving and prayerful.  Radiating God’s love to all she encounters.  And it will be me.  Mrs Monk.  The contemplative who cooks casseroles.

It could happen…