Does Spiritual Growth for Parents Pause While Kids Grow?

TL;DR: I invite you and your kids to come on a retreat.

Roar and I have gone to church twice now. It’s a mostly new experience, Rebel was in the nursery for the first year while I was working. Also, what will surprise no parent of more than two children: my two girls are very different. Roar roars. She can roar so loudly my eardrums rattle. (I’ve started facing her towards my bad ear when she cries, so my good ear doesn’t go bad.) She doesn’t always roar, most of the time she’s just making baby noises and trying out her smiles. Even though she’s got lungs to match the angels, I keep her in worship with me. (There’s no nursery, but, she’d stay with me anyway.)

I keep her in worship because I believe it is never too early to let children know they are loved by God. The community reflects God’s love especially when it welcomes children who act like children. Churches are richer when there’s a kid or two or seventeen present. If Roar starts roaring, I do get up and go change her diaper in another room, but then I stand in the back and rock her. As I was rocking her on Sunday, I got smiles from those around me who heard her cooing, they know the value of seeing the face of God reflected in a child.

I am grateful for spaces where I feel welcome to be present with my small children. There seem to be far too many spaces in our culture where kids should be allowed, but aren’t welcomed. It’s kept me more isolated than I need to be. (So is the fact that simply leaving the house can be a production.)

Even in the midst of constantly caring for my two young children, I seek to grow spiritually. I’m going to turn 35 this week, and I don’t want to wait until after I’m 40 to grow deeper in my spiritual development. So I want a space for spiritual reflection and growth with babies welcome. I’m going to lead this retreat. We will create space for messy holiness. The Spirit can speak in many places including both in silence and the squeals of the littlest child.

We will partner together so each participant can have a time of silence and solitude each day (a minimum of half an hour a day), but most of the time we will gather together with our babies and learn together. If you don’t have children, you are also welcome, just know there will be kids there, too.

Spiritual growth doesn’t have to wait until you can be away from your kids for two days. You don’t have to spend an hour a day in your morning quiet time to grow spiritually. Children learn from their parents, a good way to teach them is to show you value their presence even while you retreat.

I’ve not encountered this idea before. Who wants to pilot it with me?

Mending

I’ve been missing for a while… I moved and had a baby since my last post. I’ve begun writing again. You can see what I wrote for my UM conference here, and what follows is what I am writing as I begin the practice again on a regular basis. 

It’s taken me a while to mend. It has been thirteen weeks since I packed up my house and took a final walk down to the creek and back. I received a gift that day. The Great Blue Heron that frequents that little stretch of water waited until we were down at the base of the hill to take off. It was a bit late for her to be there, the day was growing warm, but still she was there, lifting off into the sky, giving us one final goodbye before we locked the house and got into our cars for the last time.

Twelve weeks ago I was holding my daughter, hours old, wondering at her long fingers and toes, her utter reliance on me for everything, her way of transforming my life completely. I was utterly spent, exhausted from bearing her through her entry into the world.

Eight weeks ago I took another walk, this time from our new home, down to another creek where another heron was taking off and showing me that this, too, is home.

Four weeks ago I began working at my new church, learning people and an entirely new culture. Grace has been extended to me and my family as I have entered this new many-faceted transition. I feel the love that those around me have for my daughter in the way that they have cared for her while I make the transition to working motherhood.

And today I have begun working full time, exploring what it means to be away from my daughter for hours on end. This is not a new thing, but it is new to me. I am learning, still, how I will fit into this new place, how I will live into this new calling.

I had the exquisite opportunity to bless elements today that will be going out into the world, so I had a little Eucharist in my office with a couple of the staff.

Call to Prayer

One of the fascinating details from my experience in Kenya was the prevalence of members of the Islamic community in the area in which I lived. There were so many Muslims living in the town where I lived that there were four Mosques in our area. Even though the home where I stayed was a mile from the nearest one, I heard the call to prayer with regularity. I loved to hear the reminder for the people of the community to stop what they were doing and pray. I didn’t get to catch it all five times of the day, only when the wind was right. If I was really lucky, I would be walking on my route to town, which took me directly next to one of the mosques at the outskirts of the city. They had a school there as well, I know because I would see children coming with backpacks out of the meeting area at the end of the day. They, like all the children in the area, played pick-up games of football (global football, mind you, the round ball kind) with their makeshift balls formed from discarded paper, plastic, and twine.

When I left Kenya, I missed hearing the call to prayer on a regular basis. Even though it wasn’t my tradition, I knew that it was reminding people from another tradition to pause and pray, and so I also would pause, and pray. In the Christian tradition, we don’t have much of that. The only times I tend to hear sounds emanating from a church is when I probably need to be in church, because it is the bells of the beginning of worship. There are a handful of churches with bells that ring the hour, and sometimes a song here and there, but nothing like the intense regularity that comes from a Mosque.

When I went to school at Duke I learned that the bells were played by a carillonneur who began at five o’clock each evening. Perfect timing for a pause after a long day in class. A few friends and I would make at point of going out to listen to the two or three songs that he would play. It was a space to pause and reflect on the holy. And even if I was not able to pause and listen, I still got to hear the bells as I walked away, though the sound didn’t carry as far as I would like.

This week Duke University announced that they would sound out a call to prayer for the portion of Islamic students at the school once a week. The students had already had a worship time each Friday, which was in full practice while I was still there. This single call a week would be a reminder for the students to come to that prayer service, to remember to pray in their tradition.

Unfortunately, the call to prayer broadcast has been cancelled. I don’t know all the reasons why. People spoke out about the proposed broadcast of the call to prayer for reasons of ignorance and fear, saying that the sounding of the call to prayer would crowd out the lifeblood of the Christian symbols present in the University. They must have never stepped foot on the grounds of the University, or seen any symbols from Duke, because the presence of the cross is everywhere on campus. Christianity is not in danger because another group from another faith is saying “God is Great” in their mother tongue.

The Islamic community of faith will continue to gather for their worship and prayer. The Christian community on campus will continue to have its nearly dozen opportunities for worship around campus and in the Chapel. The university is a space for inter-religious conversation and community, where students, faculty, and staff learn from each other, challenged and strengthened in their growth in faith.

If anything, the Islamic Call to Prayer should be a reminder for Christians to also be called to prayer, to our God, who is Great. My faith is not so shallow that someone else worshipping in another tradition does not negate my own worship of the God I serve. I hope your own faith may be strong enough to celebrate the faith of others.

Folks from the school have put together a petition to support religious diversity on campus. I invite you to go read it for more information, even if you don’t sign it. 

Waiting

Happy Little Christmas Eve. (The day before Christmas Eve. A Little Eve.)

Today and tomorrow are my favorite days of the year. Especially Christmas Eve. We gather together to worship with Communion and then we light candles in a darkened sanctuary. As we fill the space with light we also fill it with song, singing Silent Night, written especially for this special night. And the whole world takes a deep breath and pauses in waiting and expectation for what is to come next. My favorite part is the expectation. I could do without the presents or the hullabaloo or the movies or the Christmas specials as long as I have that time of worship the night before Christmas, where we gather in silence and hope.

It is one of my favorite times of the year.

One year, I had a slightly different experience of worship than normal.

I was visiting my sister, who was teaching in France at the time. We went to Paris for Christmas. Cold, yes, but beautiful. For Christmas Eve, we went to a ballet at the national opera house, and then we went to go to midnight Mass for Christmas Eve. We were in Paris. Where better to go than the Notre Dame Cathedral. We had to stand in line outside for a long while in the cold, and once we got in, there weren’t really seats available, so we stood for most of the service. But this service. Yes, most of the service was in French, and I don’t know much French, though my sister is fluent. But then they began to sing.

Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant, one of my favorite French carols, filled the cathedral. Heavenly voices floated around us and drove deep into our souls. Other hymns were sung. Scriptures were read. And then they sang Silent Night.

We didn’t have candles in our hands. We were not going to be taking Communion that night at the Catholic church. My feet were aching and cold.

But none of that mattered. We were worshipping with over a thousand other people, singing or humming along with a carol that has travelled the world. We were singing in expectation and hope. We were ready to welcome the Christ Child once again.

Red Sea Prayer of Confession

Delivering God,

When we look at the wilderness around us

      and the turbulent waters before us

      we see danger and destruction.

We recognize the call of the Israelites

      as we desire the familiar

      rather than the unknown.

You call us forward on a path that we cannot see.

Cleanse us from the mud of our sins

      as we journey through the waters.

Shield us from distractions that pull us

      away from your path of dry ground.

Be the pillar of cloud and fire that protects us.

Soften out hearts to trust in you.

As we walk through your grace

      lead us into your way of life. Amen.

 

For those who are looking for last minute confessional liturgy for Exodus 15, the story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea (or Reed Sea, if you are a hebrew linguist).