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If You Worry, Why Pray? If You Pray, Why Worry?

Lake George and the moon

This sounded so manageable before I had kids.

Arriving with the boatload of life-change my offspring brought in to
my tidy little life, was a continually developing habit of worry disguised as imaginative thought. This habit became the default setting for my mind.

One small event is expanded upon. It is as if a Sears catalog of horribles opens with the merest slight. My mind draws on all resources including hearsay, titles from grocery aisle magazines and Huffington Post blogs, everything I have ever heard said about, say, concussions or menstrual cramps or faulty brakes comes forward. I not only deal with the facts at hand, but I have this Wagnerian chorus chanting doom in the background.

Some days the chant murmurs.
Some days, it lofts to colossal measure.
Worry prepares me, I think. I check through my resources and concoct solutions to possible outcomes.

I found myself at the kitchen table the other midnight. I laced my Sleepy time tea with elderflower syrup because that is what Janet would do for me, if she was there
in her jammies, reading and keeping company. But I was alone, and though I know I am never truly alone-by this I don’t mean mice or my husband upstairs snoring, I mean that I am never truly abandoned by the Holy. But, the Holy was not there in flannel at the table with me to talk through my concern about something that had happened to one of our kids that day.

Winter Berkshires

I do pray. Without ceasing, really. Not in the way that I learned as a child, I don’t grovel or abnegate. But I face this Power Greater Than Myself, and for the sake of brevity, please call that Power whatever you will and let us allow each other that name in our hearts. I do pray earnestly with a heart full of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I read, on another night at the kitchen table, Danielle LaPorte’s words, which so closely resemble my own.

In The Desire Map, Danielle writes “My relationship to prayer has transformed in parallel with my relationship to life. My name for God has changed. My location for God has changed. My capacity to feel God has changed. What I used to call him, I now call Life.”

Believe me, I have sat with people who are dying, people who I knew to have lived long lives devoted to a religious practice, others with a deeply personal relationship to the Holy not attached to an organized religion. There was no debate in these hallowed moments, where the lapses between breaths were counted, where time slowed and the shimmery veil between life and death rested on our shoulders. There was no debate in these moments about which club they belonged to or not. There was no checking of credentials. There was life and there was Life and as I sat with these cherished souls making their way, picking their way with tender aliveness over the last rocks and crevices of their time on earth, which is to say, there was care and time here, slow, very slow time, I never ever felt that the religious or the not religious ones were more or less welcomed in to death.

This strengthens my resolve that though I do worry, and some days, I worry a lot, my prayers are answered in ways that I cannot know immediately. It struck me during a perfectly horrible time with my son, when his teenagerliness overshadowed any kindness between us and our conversations were minefields, that this, even this, was exactly how things were supposed to be.

My heart, bless my heart, my heart or my deeper knowing that is revealed in quiet hours, asked, “What if this is exactly how things are supposed to be?”

Magnificent Goat

There was a moment, at 10:17am on a Saturday 3 years ago, when my husband called from a Berkshire ski mountain to say that the EMT s had him, but our boy had a badly broken leg and I should come, now, right now, and meet them at the hospital in Hudson. I leapt to my knees to pray. It anchored me in grace. I don’t think there was a second of consideration of to whom I was praying. Names were not mentioned. Grace was provided. Courage and stamina for a grueling day of holding my son’s head in the ambulance as they transported him from one hospital to another on a very very very rough, icy wintry road where every bump caused him to gasp and tears to flow. The EMT who sat with us in the back of the ambulance breathed with us. There was plenty of grace. No names mentioned.

So, this week, when I was murdering Wednesday night with worry, I let my prayers become, as Danielle suggests, declarations. I love my child. I “immersed myself in the pure wanting” of this child to be safe and well, to heal and feel comfort. There was something different in this praying than I have ever experienced. Rather that seeing the horribles, I envisioned all that was possible, I envisioned that child well. The Wagnerian chants quieted. I was able to finish my tea and crawl back in to bed.

Kripalu Mountain

Years ago, when we were planning our wedding, the celebration of our faith lineages uniting as one (read: Lutheran meets Jewish, Escanaba Michigan meets Coney Island New York), we found a verse that resonated for us then and has only increased in importance to us now. Our best friend Benita read from Psalm 121:

A song of degrees. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Looking in to the hills at night is not so easy, but the stars help. Looking in to the hills from my desk right now is one way that I gain perspective and calm myself. Truly, we have all witnessed horrible events in our lives, which cannot be explained or mollified by “being the perfect thing”. But, having witnessed those things myself, knowing grave loss and tragedy, untimely death, stupid mistakes and earth shattering changes, I know that I live differently because of them. Perfection arrives in knowing more, in learning, in gaining confidence standing close to the edges of life and feeling the presence of whatever you call the Holy. And though I cannot stem the losses, my living differently, this slowing down is the gift.

Worrying, how I love thee. Worry, you bring me in to necessary relationship to slow, to prayer, to requests for help and light. Worrying, though I carry you as a horned Viking screeching agonies, you drive me to candle light and to seeing what I desire.

“Desire joins you with God, with Life.” writes Danielle.

All is well today. Bumps are healed. Legs are strong. Tests have been taken. Life bumbles along. There was a bluebird, a female, at the feeder near our kitchen window this morning. Almost too heavy to perch without shutting the feeder, she batted her wings wildly while grabbing seed- her body engaged with frantic beating while her beak steadied to reach and gather seed. This combination of action and focus is just like worry and prayer for me. I may be worrying frantically, but prayer allows me to focus and rally what I need for the situation at hand.

May your desires bring you closer to God, closer to Life.

I woke up singing this song, which led me to think about mountains, which led me to thinking about worry and prayer, which led me here.
To you.

Thank you for reading me here. Please share this post with a friend. Share it with your people if you are up to that. And look up at the hills.

xo S

 

 

 

 

The Pause and the Precipice: Parenting during the holidays.

 

 

 

Snow Heart by Suzi Banks Baum

Snowing here now.

And T-minus the rest of today and 3 full days til the 20th, the Solstice, the arrival of our son home from school and when the holidays, such as they are celebrated here at my house, will begin. School will be out for our daughter. I will slow down on working in my studio and lean up on the kitchen counter to listen.

 

I have so much I want to share with you in these next weeks, in the waning of 2013, in particular the delicious discoveries I have made this past year, of what has impacted me greatly and may offer you a measure of inspiration.

 

But, this morning, I listened to Marie Forleo. The topic she presents prepares me in a deep way for the onslaught of energy and information that comes along with being the mother of two enigmatic teenagers.

 

After that I read my newly met and dearly loved Tania Pryputniewicz, at MotherWriterMentor. She wrote about creating a timeline of motherhood and what experiences she recalled as she doodled on the timeline. Close LLD readers know I am a fan of doodling, mixing your media, of

writing in the margins of your real life because there is where inspiration takes place…just off to the left or the right of where your laser focus lies.

 

I wrote this response to Tania’s post and I share it here with you. The comfort of knowing that it is the force of life that pulls my kids out in to the world, out and away from the simple sweet rituals of our family holidays, up and away from the well-set table, the intricately planned meal and out the door in to the world, where they meet the presences that will make impacts on them. Sure. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit to yearning for them to stay and play Scrabble with us, stay for Charades, stay to talk in to the night as the beeswax candles drip low. But, they are pulled and it will only be agony if I try to tether them home.

 

Here is what I wrote:

 

Oh that holy edge, that longed-for precipice towards which all chubby knees clamber.
Is the floor of childhood tilted? I feel like my teens still reach for that edge…adventure calls them, it sings songs to them in their night long dreaming so that when they rise, between a ten pound biology text and choosing outfits, between ‘on-call’ notes written on an oily cardboard in this house of paper, the centripetal force which exists over that edge, twines ropes round their bare-in-the-13 degree-air-ankles and they go. Go. Go.

 

 

Marie gives me the reminder to stop and however awkward, to listen.

And Tania reminds me to leave room for the forces beyond my control that pull my children forward in to life.

 

 

 

Holiday Photomontage Dec. 2009

 

And in this quiet permission, I do think I can find room to celebrate these holidays.

 

 

SBB FeMail Angel 12.13976

 

 

Thank you for reading me here today.

I will surely keep you posted.

xoxoox S

 

What Forces Affect a Woman’s Creative Voice?

Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.
Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.

Whodoggie.

 

The Atlantic published an article that spurred a great round of discussion on the Internet over the past few days about motherhood and the creative life.

The original article by Lauren Sandler asks if the secret to being a successful writer is to limit the number of children one has. The article has drawn many comments, including authors Zadie Smith and Jane Smiley. Here is one of the literary responses on Melville House Books by Zeljka Marosevic.

Sandler’s article opens the idea that women writers would retain their peak effectiveness if they have only one child. She goes on to say more. Please read the article if you are interested. Marosevic’s response states that children are not a threat to a woman’s creativity and supports her points with some of the comments to the original article.

 

If you asked me,

 

Yes, having children does impact a woman’s creativity.

So does having a full-time job. So does having a marriage. So does having a life.

 

Creativity is born out of chaos.

It is a human response to longing.

It is fired by the passion we have to express our inner responses to this fascinating and complex world. We yearn to leave a mark, to discuss ideas larger than our back yards, we yearn to remember or simply to play.

It is vitally important to get to that expression.

 

Having or not having children is a choice most women get to make today. Women, in a historical perspective, only recently got to make this choice. But I think the discussion of children or no children, one or two or twelve, (as Ingrid Hill had and still managed to write Ursula Under, one the best books I have ever laid eyes on), is beside the point.

Creative work, good intellectually valuable work, is borne no matter what your life circumstances. It is up to you to make the choice to nurture that work. Many commenters on Sandler’s article suggest that the way our society values mothering, what services are available to a woman with children are forces that have the most impact on a woman’s creative work. A woman may or may not have a partner willing or able to support her creative work, she may struggle with time and budget and scheduling conflicts that no partner or day care center can completely ease. So, she adapts. She finds a way to work.

 

Here is a bit from an interview with author Ingrid Hill on Bookslut:

 

Hill had begun the writing process the only way she could: in her head.

 

“We had a huge, long table we got from the University of Michigan surplus, taken from an old library. It was 12 feet long, and every night we sat down to that table for dinner. I made dinner, everything. I baked bread twice a week, I made my own yogurt; it was Little House on the Prairie. And I wasn’t thinking about the celery I was chopping or the pajamas I was washing; I was writing stories in my head, and I was doing the writing and revisions in my head.”

 

Certainly we could ask the question, what would Ingrid Hill have written if she did not have 12 children? What would Emily Dickinson have written had she found her way out of her house and into a marriage with children? What would Anna Quindlen or Anne Lamott or Maya Angelou or any one who’s work has inspired you, what if they had more time? Fewer distractions? Maybe they would not have had the yearning to express that they have now. Maybe Barbara Kingsolver would have stayed in the jungles with Steve and never gotten to living a year of living Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that she wrote with her daughter.

 

The crux of this matter, for me, lies in what happens in your life that shutters you, silences you or tells you that your words, images, offerings are not important enough, not worth the time, money, space or effort. If motherhood makes you stumble, it also can make you stronger, just as any other struggle gifts us.

 

Motherhood affects you. Alters you. It changes you forever.

But you are still a human being with something to say, with work to do.

 

Therese, a commenter to the Sandler article suggests that mothering changes the way you work. I am interested in this place of being transformed by mothering. This is why I write, why I teach the Powder Keg Sessions: A Writing Workshop for Mothers and Others (next one meets on June 30 at 1pm) and it is why I run the blog series that fueled the live event and the publishing of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.

 

Therese writes,

 

 

When I meet people who are considering whether to have children, I tell them it’s like eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The scales fall from your eyes, and suddenly you have this new magnificent wisdom about human existence. And then maybe it was something about the prolactin hormones nourishing my brain – I never was able to be so organized or disciplined as to get whole books down onto paper before my daughter was born. There was a year of mommy brain, where all I could think of was her, and then after that year, I started writing in a way I had never quite seemed capable of before.

 

 

In the stew of this discussion float some big chunks of ideas to savor.

 

Do you feel that your creative life is supported by your life choices?
Does taking time for your creative work feel like an indulgence?
What would do for you?
Can you begin to consider that, as Katherine Paterson wrote, “ the very persons who took away my time are the ones who have given me something to say”?
Is it possible to begin to look at the way you live your life as innately creative?
Are there spaces and places in your life where you could redirect your choices to provide for your own creative expression- to read, to day dream or to pick up a pen?

Whatever your place, children or no children, bringing forth your ideas and dreams is worth the time it takes to do that.

I am going to be with Jan Phillips this week at Women’s Voices for (a) Change. This conference at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY is a gathering of artists and activists looking to take our work higher, to celebrate the work of women who have gone before us and to circle, to listen and consider what is possible for our work. Jan, who inspires my creative work so much, has written a new book which I cannot wait to read.

I will post from Women’s Voices for (a) Change this weekend.

Stay tuned.

 

 

xo

S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who is a Little Cuckoo Clock?

Ben and me at Bartholomew's Cobble 1995

Today is my son’s last full day of high school.
When I woke this morning I was singing a song he and I learned in our
first Mommy & Me class at the Children’s Aid Society on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village.

Tick tock Tick tock, I’m a little cuckoo clock.
Tick tock Tick tock, now it’s striking one o’clock.

(Prepare for cascade of giggles and drool as you toss baby up the air with each striking of the hour. Doubles as upper body work out)

If I attempted any such tossing I would be seriously injured today.
My little cuckoo clock is 18 years old and he is 10 pounds my senior.
He did grin a tiny little special grin when I sang this song to him on his way out the door.

And, my little cuckoo clock- (How could I have missed this when I was wiping milk stained slobber off my nursing top back on Thompson Street?) – this cuckoo clock’s gears are whirring with nervousness, excitement, bravura, kindness, anticipation and major projections and no more drooling.

I however, am a tiny bit sad and a lot of bit happy. I am the lady that appears out of the doorway in the Swiss Chalet atop that cuckoo clock, happily waving as the clock chimes, one, two, three, prom is in a week, graduation after that, and then a summer till college starts. My little cheery arms are levering up and down with joy. If I cry too much my gears will rust. Must keep this arm waving. (More upper body workout. Who knew mothering provides such great exercise?)

Anne LaMott comforted, challenged and made me fall off the toilet laughing back when Ben was this little cuckoo clock. And now, when I am a little cuckoo being the mother of a boisterous and bold teenager who is really a young man and no longer a child, except when he needs me, Anne has swung in alongside me again in her recent book Some Assembly Required.

 

Here is the section I highlighted. Heavily.

 “And what do you do in the face of this powerlessness? As a parent?” (Anne)

“You get to be obsessed and angry,” Tom said. “And they get to be the age they are, and act like teenagers if they want to. There is a zero-percent chance you will change them. So we breathe in, and out, talk to friends, as needed. We show up, wear clean underwear, say hello to strangers. We plant bulbs, and pick up litter, knowing there will be more in the twenty minutes. We pray that we might cooperate with any flicker of light we can find in the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

Today, I am cooperating with light.

I am preparing for Rites of Passage, a play my words and art are in the Pittsfield in June.

And I am planting my window boxes which will hang below the window through which I appear, again and again, waving, smiling, waving.

I hope your day is filled with light, just the kind you like.

 

 

 

xoxo,

 

S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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