Tag Archives: God

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.

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?

Not a God Post

toast in toaster

This is not a God post.  I wish it were.  I haven’t written a God post for ages.  I long to write something witty and heartfelt and spiritual and profound.  But you just won’t find that here.  I’m sorry.

I look back at the God posts I used to write, Soul Diet and Mary, Help of Kitchens and Clomp, Clomp, Clomp.  What gives?  I used to be so spiritual, so tuned in to my faith.  And Mrs Monk.  Did you ever read Mrs Monk?  I was so holy when I wrote that.  I wanted to “transform my home from domestic to monastic in eight easy steps”.  I totally wrote that.

I guess I’m just not like that at the moment.  I think that’s why I haven’t written a God post in such a long time.  I don’t feel like I have anything to offer.

It’s not like there’s something very wrong.  I’m not having a crisis of faith (I’m really not that interesting a person).  God and I are still on good terms.  I’ve just lost the sort of rich, fragrant faith that permeates everything I do and everyone I meet.  Instead, I have something a bit stale and cold.  Kind of like the toast you put on for breakfast, but then forget about until the end of the day when you happen to look at the toaster again.

It wasn’t some big, dramatic change either.  Bit by bit, I’ve somehow lost all of my prayer habits.  I used to be in this lovely mum’s prayer group that met every week, but that stopped running.  I used to meditate as I hung out the washing, but when rainy weather came, I had to resort to clothes horses and dryers (and wearing dirty clothes) and sort of fell out of practice.  I used to get up early each morning and read the bible and pray, but – and this one’s really embarrassing – when the house next door was demolished, a mouse moved in downstairs (lured in, no doubt, by the smell of abandoned toast).  I was so terrified of spending alone-time with this small, nocturnal beastie that I stopped getting up before dark and gave up on my morning prayer ritual.  For the record, the mouse’s sojourn was very short-lived, but the damage had been done.  This is why I always maintain that mice and rats are the DEVIL’S CREATURES.  Ugh!

I can sort of see why the Church insists on Sunday Mass attendance, much as it makes her sound like a bossy parent.  It’s like an anchor when all else falls away.  If it wasn’t expected of me, if the deal was “Come along whenever you feel like it” or “whenever you feel up to it ” or “whenever you feel holy enough“, then that would be the end of it, I would keep sliding away until I had nothing.

So what’s the solution?  How do I find butter for my cold-dry-toast faith?

Well, I guess part of it is in what I’ve just done.  I had to overcome my pride to write this awkwardly-worded post.  I say I talk about ‘God in the Mess’, but I would rather avoid the mess.  I would prefer to have it all together all of the time.  To be such an awesome Christian that I don’t even need God at all.  The rest, I suppose has something to do with little things.  In building back gently what has been so gradually eroded.

There might even be a God post in that.

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.

Matilda’s Gap Year

Woman and child reading

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cassatt_Mary_Nurse_Reading_to_a_Little_Girl_1895.jpg

Part One

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while now.  I’m not sure how to tell you without making you thinking I’m totally bonkers.

See, this thing is, this year, when Christopher Robin trots off to Grade One, at our local Catholic Primary, Matilda will be doing Grade Four.

At home.

With me.

A few months ago, I was sitting with Mr Knightley on what we lovingly call our front ‘porch’.  Those of you who have visited me physically (and not just virtually) will know that this description is rather generous, but we love the chairs and table squished up next to our front door very much indeed.  As we sipped our coffee, we watched Matilda playing in our front yard, lost in her own happy world.  I sighed.

“I just don’t want her spirit to get crushed.”  I announced suddenly.

Mr Knightley looked at me and looked across to Matilda.  It’s not unusual for me to burst into a new topic of conversation like this.  I didn’t need to explain.  We both knew what a rough year Matilda had suffered.  The constant undermining and alienation from a group of girls who, while I’m sure are lovely individuals, seem to create a toxic culture when put together.

Tilly isn’t your typical eight-year-old girl.  She is an individual.  While she is articulate and has well-developed social skills, she would probably prefer to attend a political rally than a One Direction concert.  At my birthday party, after getting fed up with all the bonfire smoke blowing in her face, Matilda disappeared inside briefly, only to reappear nonchalantly sporting a pair of swimming goggles.  She was the hero of the party and pretty soon the other kids sent her back inside to fetch goggles for them too.  She wouldn’t have dared to stand out so much with her group at school.

It wasn’t often these days that we saw her relaxed and cheerful like this.  Over the course of the year, Matilda’s confidence had plummeted whilst her anxieties soared.  The school had valiantly tried different strategies, but none had worked for longer than a week.

The lowest point came a few months ago when Matilda confided in me that some of the girls in her group had accessed hard-core fetish pornography on their computers at home and were describing it in graphic detail over lunch time.  When Matilda objected to this topic, she was branded a baby.  Eventually, she made some excuses and nicked off.

I tried to write a post about this when it happened, but it was just too difficult.  Besides, I try hard to keep this blog PG-rated and I don’t think that would have been possible if I’d gone into any more detail than I have here.  It’s not that I’m prudish and think that eight-year-olds shouldn’t be curious about sex, and I’m happy to answer any questions (Matilda thanked me politely but said she didn’t feel she was ready to learn about sex yet.  She promised that when she did she would come to me, and not YouTube…), but I find it deeply disturbing that they have access to such damaging misinformation as porn.  It also struck me that, while I can go nuts with passwords and filters and monitoring screen time, I have no control over the boundaries that Matilda’s peers have with their computers.

Of course, I spoke to the school and the school spoke to parents (and I felt like a rotten snitch) and everybody was very shocked.  But a few months later, the girls were still talking about it, only this time, they banished Matilda from the conversation so that she wouldn’t dob on them again.

Mr Knightley sipped his coffee, “We could always try homeschooling,” he suggested.  I laughed.  Mr Knightley had been extolling the virtues of homeschooling since before Matilda was born.  But this was no off-hand comment.  Mr Knightley went on to put forward some very convincing arguments for giving Matilda a year of homeschooling, to give her a break from the stress, to challenge her gifted brain, to lean in to the relationship, and to give her back her childhood.  But it wasn’t this that convinced me, nor the excitement I felt bubbling up as I thought about curriculum and excursions and the fun we could have together.  A classroom with one student who itched to learn.  There was something else, quiet but persistent.

It was God.  He was poking me.

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.

 

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…

Church Fail.

I would really love to get to the stage where I sail into church on a Sunday morning with four children all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests.  All with shoes on and with a good amount of cash for everyone to put on the plate.  I will get there one day, but in the meantime, the best I can claim is that we turn up and that most of the time they behave themselves.  On this particular occasion, the best I can claim is that we turned up.

While we were in the process of turning up, as we were driving to the church, it dawned on me that the school term had started and I had not checked the roster for Children’s Liturgy (I help out once a term).  I pulled out my phone and jabbed away at my email until I found what I was looking for.  Here’s what I figured out:

  1. I was on duty
  2. I would have to present the gospel to a group of impressionable youngsters
  3. I had prepared nothing
  4. Mass would begin in one minute.

Thankfully, the gospel was one I had presented before and could talk on without too much trouble.  I dashed inside, grabbed the book, threw the cloth and candle on the little table, forgot the matches, and told Father I was there, thirty seconds before he processed into the church.

I managed to muddle through the Children’s Liturgy program without imparting too much heresy, I hope.  We had a good discussion where I told them all about shepherds in the time of Jesus and they told me all about lizards, chocolate, Roary the Racing Car and why Thomas is the best of all the engines.  After this, the children brought the gifts up beautifully in the Offertory Procession, even if half of them bowed backwards and sideways and one of them fell over,  before dispersing back to their families at top speed.

Now that the panic was over, it was gradually dawning on me that:

  1. Harry’s face was covered in Vegemite.
  2. I didn’t have any wipes or facewashers on me.
  3. Well-turned-out children do not attend Mass with Vegemite on their faces.
  4. I did so want to have children that people would describe as well-turned-out.  Especially Mass people.

I considered giving my thumb a swift lick and using it to mop up the offending stain, but then I remembered that the Sign of Peace was fast approaching and I decided that the people around me might prefer to behold a dirty-faced little boy than to be forced to shake a hand covered in a mix of spittle and salty yeast extract.  Besides, I had bigger problems just now.

Annie must have disapproved of the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayer, because she started voicing her protest at the top of her lungs.  I tried all my usual tricks, waved little toys from my handbag at her, but they only made her angrier.  Then Father said “let us offer one another the sign of peace”.  Annie abruptly stopped shrieking and solemnly offered her small hand to the people standing behind us.

Now that handshake time was over and Annie had stopped crying, I set to work cleaning Harry’s face.  Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No!  That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”

After Mass, Mr Knightley and I staggered with Annie into the gathering area for morning tea (the children had already raced there and were smearing biscuits across their faces).  Here we faced a gauntlet of opinionated old men which our late priest called the Parish Antiques.

First up, one of the Bills, Who’s as Old as the Hills, hobbled over for a grumble about the noisy baby.  As Bill is getting a little frail and senile, and is usually rather kindly, I let him have his rant in peace.

Next I stumbled into the path of Neville McKinnion, Who has Strong Opinions.  “You’re very courageous to be coming to Mass with the children” he smiled condescendingly, then added, with the air of one dropping a gentle hint, “when our four were small, Mavis and I would come to Mass separately and only bring the older ones.” As Neville raised his eyebrows impressively, I bit back the urge to enquire how many of these grown up children still went to church, as I knew it was a sore point for him.

I returned my tea cup to Barry O’Shane, Who Likes to Complain.  He was having a rant about how so few of the parish school families come to church on Sunday.

“They wouldn’t dare!” I snapped, and stalked out the door.

Except that that only happened in this blog post.  In real life, I smiled weakly and saved my angry rant for my wearily sympathetic husband in the car on the way home.  And in the two hours that followed.

I guess I’m not being entirely fair to my parish in this post.  I could have mentioned that Patricia Baelyn, Who Looks Like Sarah Palin, took Annie for cuddles and politely contradicted Bill for the parts of his rant that were readily coherent.  Or I could point out that most of the time people are warm and welcoming and that the Grumpy Old Men do have kind hearts and don’t shrink from hard work when it needs to be done.

All the same, we went to the neighbouring parish on the Sunday that followed.   Sometimes it’s good to go to an anony-Mass…

Clomp, Clomp, Clomp.

These boots are made for walkin'

Time for another God post. I went away on retreat last weekend and felt all peaceful and inspired. But, now, regular life is back again and I’ve just about forgotten it all and settled back into my usual habit of ignoring God until I need him for something important (like a car space at Chadstone). So I thought I’d better write this down quick before it all falls out of my head.

We were talking about one of St Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 12: 12-31)  in which he writes about the church being like a body with many parts. Everyone has a different role to play and all the roles are important, no matter how humble.

I think I’ve spoken before about how I tend to struggle sometimes with the many invisible and menial tasks involved in my vocation.  Pegging out a load of washing does not really make me feel like I’m building the Kingdom of God.  It’s not like I’m a missionary in a developing country building wells or giving soup to the homeless or tutoring refugee kids.  But according to St Paul, my job is still important.  I think, as part of the Body of Christ, we mothers are a bit like the feet.  Not the most glamourous feature and often taken for granted, the feet just keep plodding on, supporting the rest of the body and helping it do what it does so well.  I think I’d find it easier to be a nice, loud mouth – shouting about my accomplishments and eating up all the recognition.  But God doesn’t call us to do what is easy, he calls us to do what we need to be whole.  So I’m a foot.   I could even take the metaphor further and suggest that it’s important to take care of our feet and have the occasional pedicure, because corns and ingrown toenails affect the whole body.  It’s easy to mistake playing the part of a martyr (which helps nobody, even though it comes with a bonus sense of smug self-satisfaction) with true selflessness (which is not too proud to ask for help).  I’m not so good at this – I need to give myself permission to put my feet up more (OK, I’ll stop with the overworked metaphors now, I promise!)

I love-love-love an article written by Rachel Jankovic called “Motherhood as a Mission Field”, in it she writes:

“At the very heart of the gospel is sacrifice, and there is perhaps no occupation in the world so intrinsically sacrificial as motherhood. Motherhood is a wonderful opportunity to live the gospel. Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Motherhood provides you with an opportunity to lay down the things that you cannot keep on behalf of the people that you cannot lose. They are eternal souls, they are your children, they are your mission field.”

So perhaps, like Mother Teresa would say, instead of getting pre-occupied with the great things I am not doing, I should focus instead on doing small things with great love.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to peg out a load of whites for Jesus.

Mary, Help of Kitchens

Mary Statue

I have a Mary in my kitchen.

Mary Statue

Isn’t she lovely?

I didn’t mean to make my first “God in the Mess” post about Mary.  I can’t imagine many of the people out there who read this are Catholic (well, Mum is) and I figure I’m pushing the boundaries enough, writing a ‘God’ post without coming out of the closet as a full-blown Catholic.  But here we are.  I have a Mary in my kitchen.

I know we’re talking about a piece of ceramic, here.   I don’t get all superstitious about it and bring her cups of tea or rub her head for good luck or anything.  But she’s there as a reminder.

Contrary to popular belief, we Catholics don’t worship Mary as a god.  We just really, really admire her.  She’s a good role model, I guess.  I had some vague idea that when I was in the kitchen at five o’clock, about to whack some one or other of my offspring with a saucepan (possibly because they burnt the roastdestroyed the laundry or were considering vegetarianism), I would stop, look at Mary, take a deep breath and put the saucepan down.

I was so excited when I first bought my Kitchen Mary.  It was exactly what I was looking for: simple yet special, traditional yet different.  Even so, when I first got home, I didn’t rush to the kitchen straight away.  Mary spent a lot of time in the plastic bag from the piety stall, wrapped in old parish bulletins.  You see, I wanted to wait until the kitchen was sparkling clean before I put Mary in it.  But setting to and cleaning the kitchen isn’t a straightforward task when you have little ones.  There are nappies and spills and bandaids and bath time and the kitchen mess remains.  Then it hit me (the profound thought, I mean, not the kitchen mess – though it WAS piled precariously high…): the thing I was doing with the Mary statue in my kitchen was exactly what I was doing with God in my life.

You see, I do want God in my life.  I’m sold on that point.  I’m a much better person, much more myself and I make much better decisions when I feel close to God.  But I’ve been keeping God out, just the same.  I guess, in the back of my mind I figured I’d become all spiritual when I “had it all together” or when I “had time to pray”.  It was like it was on my to-do list right next to “clear out the linen cupboard” or “tidy the random drawer”: we both know these things are never going to happen.

But God doesn’t want the perfect versions of ourselves.  God embraces our broken-ness and meets us in the mess.  So, with this in mind, I put Mary in the kitchen, mess and all.  The woman gave birth in a cattle shed, I’m sure she can cope.  You might be asking “Why Mary?  Why not a picture of God?”, well that brings me back to that thing I was saying about Mary being a role model.  I need to let God meet me in the mess and Mary was really good at doing that.  She changed baby Jesus’ nappies as a refugee in Egypt, and had to watch him die, naked and nailed to a tree, when he was an adult.   These situations weren’t tidy.  And she didn’t always have it all together (losing child in temple, anyone?) but she always let God in.

Plus, I don’t really like pictures of God.  They make him look all strange and beard-y.  Like Santa Claus on steroids.

So here’s my Kitchen-Mary in a candid shot (taken before I cleaned up the kitchen for the glamour shots above).

Mary in the Mess

Our Lady of the Sausages, pray for us in our hour of need.