Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Monastic Mothering: Or In the Service of the Church

I always assumed I’d go be a single missionary somewhere, either as part of an order, or with a mission group, or something. I was rather surprised to meet Matt and fall in love with him and discover together that babies are well worth the work and hassle. But, of course, we’re both horribly introverted and it’s a lot of psychological and spiritual work to be around people all the time, even and especially if those people are small children. It’s not like your introversion suddenly disappears when you have children. Fortunately, so far and for the most part, our children are looking to be introverts—disappearing often to play by themselves. I’m not alone in this, you can read someone else say it much better than me.

So it’s nice to think about mothering in a monastic sense—that the spiritual lessons of the monastery can also be learned in the home, lessons of patience, time, worship, service, but also being pulled out of the world. In a world where many and most women work outside the home, I am often the only person at home during the day on our street. It’s not like I can pop next door for coffee and a chat. There is a sense of isolation, of being set apart from the world for a more worthy goal.

But as I read through this article and then this post it occurred to me that I’m not really oriented toward the ‘home’ as such. I’m essentially oriented towards the ‘church’. By no means does this mean that I spend all my time at church—in the office, in the atrium, at vestry, calling people back—in all its maybe 1/3 of my total time. But it does mean that my home is really in service to and centered around, the church. The house needs to function and be clean because anyone might pop by. There needs to be food in the fridge so that the kids aren’t starving when I pack them all up and hustle them out on Sunday morning, or Wednesday morning, or some evenings. The answering machine can’t fill up because someone from church might be needing to leave a message.

As I’m writing this, horror stories are flying through my head of families that killed themselves for the church, all the kids pitching off the spiritual cliff into agnostic mushy Buddhism or something equally awful. Indeed, many of my Missionary Kid friends and classmates grew up to reject Christianity, in large part because the work overtook the family and they never heard the message that Jesus loved them too. Holy Week is always a moment where I realize that we are only a few steps from this disaster. My children have to come First. If they don’t know that Jesus loves them, then everything else I’m doing at church is a waste of my time because my priorities are out of order.

On the other hand, at this moment in time, church is fun. The kids love coming and spending all day here. For all the complaining I do, I actually do like churning out the bulletin, keeping the calendar, painting little people for the atrium, keeping up with various people, doing this noon Wednesday Lenten Eucharist. I particularly like the outreaching part—that the church is always (or at least this one is) stretching out into the world, into the neighborhood, catching the spiritual eye, offering a hopeful handshake, serving another meal. I’m really really grateful that I get to be here and work here and that my kids can sprawl out and be at home here. This morning, during Morning Prayer, as we began to say the confession (Rite One) R lay himself out on the steps of the altar and raised his voice and wept, from unhappiness, and for his sins (or he ought to have). And then he picked up his enormous head and ran to the back of the church singing.


Summer said...

Absolutely fabulous writing...I appreciate the honesty. Isolationism, something every stay at home mother deals with, can be overwhelming, but to see it as monastic truly helps. However, I've never seen monks who look like they had the tools to deal with the insanity of motherhood. Maybe changing a few wiggly toddler diapers would do them good?
I'm so tired of mushy Buddhists who call me to pray for them and then never recognize their inconsistency!

At A Hen's Pace said...

I enjoyed your Mali pics!

Had to comment on this tho--I feel much the same way, introvert and monastic and in the service of the church. We don't spend the kind of time there that you do, but "the higher purpose" is a big part of our family identity and our kids embrace it. I can't believe how many of their friends we've transported to WI for a 3 hour round trip car ride on Sunday mornings!

We explain often that there is no more exciting way to live life than following and obeying the Lord, and they get it--especially as they see that fleshed out in our decisions and in the stories of how God led us to where we are.

I am so grateful for this lifestyle!