Naming babies

I’m always curious about how babies get named. Maybe you are too. I acknowledge that this is my version, and my partner might have some different ideas, details, and values about naming these children. 

The day I took my first positive pregnancy test was the same day my husband was mugged at gunpoint. I have never felt less in control. My whole world was a thinly stretched spider web, all vulnerability and uncertainty as we figured out how to finish our masters programs and find jobs and discern priesthood and become parents. We knew his middle name would be James—it’s a nod to my late grandfather, the Greek form of Jacob who struggled and fought with God, and most of all, for James Baldwin, whose writings shaped us both tremendously. Baldwin’s words on courage and resistance, his incisive clarity on white supremacy, his beautiful but never naive belief in love and community have been our compasses. When we found ourselves looking at a different life than we’d expected, preparing to love this new little stranger, how fitting it was to return to the passage that helped me articulate courage for lifelong commitment to Austin in the first place: “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in a personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” (The Fire Next Time) We stumbled across Sylvan by accident. It’s the masculine version of the name of a French author and sociologist, Sylvie, assigned in one of Austin’s seminars. Her book was good (not life changing) but we thought the name was just lovely. “Of the forest.” A name that is simple and beautiful, reason enough. Little one, may you be full of tough and universal love, a state of grace. May you have a life of simplicity and beauty in the midst of struggle and courage.

Amos is named for the biblical prophet who poetically proclaimed one of God’s essential hard truths: we are all responsible to each other, and our identity as God’s children is wrapped up in our treatment of each other. And he is named for Dorothy Day, the activist and journalist who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement. Her story and work has also moved and shaped us both, particularly in her vision of common life for Austin, and an activism rooted in sacraments and gospel for me. This babe has arrived in a season of more stability than we’ve ever had as a family, and we receive this steadiness with gratitude, not guilt. But Day’s voice keeps us accountable and engaged, looking beyond false political polarity and false comfortable faith, calling for vigilant resistance and for peaceful flourishing without giving up either. “Even when they admit it is bad, they say, “What can we do?” And the result is palliatives, taking care of the wrecks of the social order, rather than changing it so that there would not be quite so many broken homes, orphaned children, delinquents, industrial accidents, so much destitution in general. Palliatives, when what we need is a revolution, beginning now. Each one of us can help start it… If we don’t do something about it, the world may well say, “Why bring children into the world, the world being what it is?” We bring them into it and start giving them a vision of an integrated life so that they too can start fighting.” (“All the Way to Heaven is Heaven,” 1948) Little one, may you see the beauty and responsibility of our connectedness. May you hold onto peace and vision as you heal the world around you. 

This Life That Is Ours

I’m rolling into my third Mothers’ Day 9 months pregnant, with frustration and tiredness to match my girth. I waddle after my willful toddler, less and less physically able to keep up. I’m less and less patient with him, too, as the muggy Tennessee summer sets in and these back aches and Braxton Hicks seem stronger than they used to be. I prep for the new guy, with much more peace of mind than the first time around, but it’s still feeling like a lot to keep track of midwife and chiropractor appointments, check-lists and kegels. I’m refreshing myself on Bradley birthing and tracking down numbers to call for insurance and daycare and medical leave after he arrives.

And all the while I’m still priesting and writing as hard as I can, trying to pre-plan and delegate 3 months of ministry into trello boards, fielding last minute requests from my book editor, and checking off revision requests from my thesis advisors.

So when Lauren Burdette’s little book of bite sized stories, wisdom, and prayer showed up in my mailbox a few weeks ago, it was like she had shown up in my living room in the flesh with a big hug and the reminder to breathe. This Life That Is Ours: Motherhood As Spiritual Practice has been inviting me to consider that the struggle and hustle and round ligament pain and potty training might hold more grace and power of Spirit than I can comprehend at this moment. “If God desires to meet us within our parenting,” she writes, “how can we experience that?” 

Lauren’s call and gift as a spiritual director is all over this book, as she draws out holy encounter from the most ordinary moments. Her snapshots of daily life as mom of three, observations about the body changes after child birthing, and struggle to understand herself apart from the ever-expanding work of mothering had me chuckling and nodding along in understanding. But the questions and wisdom Lauren pulls out of this ubiquitous experience pushed me to see the mundane a little differently. She knows time for reflection and prayer is limited, so each reading is brief, but potent, with questions that point toward God’s heart and God’s presence in my own story.

Lauren gives her reader the practice of noticing (which she summarizes in instructions for the spiritual practice of Examen of Motherhood): noticing God, noticing myself, noticing my family. And the best part of that practice—of taking pause to really see what this life is doing, who these folks are, how God’s grace is saturating it even when, and especially when, we can’t feel itthe best part is that noticing begets loving. To journey through This Life That Is Ours, to wonder with Lauren what it means to see and meet God in the sweet and hard chaos of parenthood, is to fall in love with God a little bit more. It’s falling in love with our kids and partners a little bit more. It might even let us fall in love with ourselves a little bit more, too.

“Go in peace”

The stories of Mark 5:21-43 may be familiar to you. The dying girl and the hemorrhaging woman are two profound examples of God’s love, mashed together in one powerful chapter of God’s attention to healing and to the plight of women and children.

First I want to acknowledge that while they end in miraculous restoration, these stories are difficult. They are painful. They are painful and they are familiar.

If we pause for even one moment, offer the text one smidge of empathy, we can see ourselves here. We know these stories.

Our community has lost children too soon. Our community struggles with and cares for those who struggle with chronic illness. We have felt the desperation of Jairus,  advocating for his child. Like the woman, we know what it is to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And we have also seen that death and disease, grief and exhaustion, the depletion of our financial and emotional stores, is not the end of the story. They are not the end of our stories. We have seen that God doesn’t ration out God’s power and love, but that it is surprisingly abundant, plenty for us all.

I want us to focus this morning on the hemorrhaging woman who interrupts Jesus. This woman had suffered from ongoing menstruation for twelve years. Twelve years! We know that women’s reproductive health concerns aren’t always taken seriously in our own day and age, particularly for poor women and women of color. We can only imagine the struggle to be heard and treated with the limited medical knowledge and access of her time, no sonograms or blood tests to give clarity. When the problem first began, maybe she went to her local healer, but his treatment didn’t work. She was referred to another, and then another, and another physician. Their remedies ranged from harmlessly ineffective to miserable, some gave her other symptoms, worse than the sickness in the first place. We know that story. And without proper treatment, what would become any dream she might have had of a baby? We know that story, too.

In the culture and time of this gospel, there were guidelines for cleanliness and purity that pertained to women’s cycles. With bleeding that never stopped, she would have been continuously restricted in her religious participation with her community. She would have had to maintain a stringent hygiene regimen, going above and beyond with every interaction, every household chore, to avoid sharing her impure state with others. Modern medicine tells us that side effects of this type of condition would include dizziness and fainting, irregular heart rate, low energy, and, likely, continual physical pain. For 12 years.

We can’t know exactly how her community has responded to her sickness. People may have been offering her all the support and compassion they could, making meal trains and going to appointments. Or people may have been tired of offering her support, and offer only resentment or avoidance — the text doesn’t say. We do know that she had hit her limit. In spite of her overwhelming fear, in spite of all the social boundaries that said she should not, she was going to advocate for her healing, go straight to the best option for freedom.

She is sick and tired, and she’s had enough.

Now, the gospel of Mark is a rapid fire story, the comic book equivalent of the gospels. Everything happens quickly, and Jesus is on the move, the man of action. But in this portion of the text, he takes a passive and objective role as the bleeding woman takes center stage as our protagonist. This is her story. She is the one on the move, and this reversal of the script, so different than what we expect, fits with the way that she crosses boundaries and our expectations of what a Jesus-healing looks like.

She thinks, “If I can just get close enough, if I can just touch him, I’ll be ok.”

Can you see it? Close your eyes with me and imagine.

Imagine being tired, more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, and walking out into a bunch of people in the street. It’s a big crowd of people. You spot him in the center, but you’re on the edge of the group. You duck and move and squeeze between bodies, some of them strangers and some of them folks you’ve known your whole life, trying not to lose sight of him, trying not to lose your pace with the group. Your toes got stepped on, now you’re practically in this guys armpit over here, someone notices you and says hello, tries to draw you into conversation — but no, you won’t be distracted.

And then, just like that, he’s right in front of you. You grab the hem of his clothes, just a little brush, a moment, one finger skimming over fabric, and. . . .relief. You feel blood pressure stabilize, fuzzy thoughts clear and focus, strength surging through legs and trunk. Can you imagine it?

She went where she wasn’t supposed to go. She broke the rules. She crossed all kinds of boundaries to claim healing and flourishing. And when Jesus realizes what has happened, realizes that his power has gone, his boundary crossed…. he greets her with love.
He knows his own abundance — he goes on to raise the little girl, after all — he knew the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, that “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
From the abundance of his own power and resources, Christ affirms her transgression, and greets her with love.

She broke the rules for the sake of safety and healing, to claim a future for herself, a connection to her family and community. Her self-advocacy and faith for her wholeness was the right thing! And Jesus honors her courage. “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

———–

Our church has the tradition of reading the letters of apostles, such as Paul, in worship. This morning I would like to conclude with a letter from one of our modern-day apostles, Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, published last week.

Right now our church and country has a chance to model ourselves after Jesus in this story. We have thousands of people crossing boundaries at great risk in hope of flourishing, safety, healing. As you listen, I invite you to hold in your heart and mind, our sister, the hemorrhaging woman, and her courage to seek a better life. I invite you to you to hold in your heart and mind, the assurance that the power of God, the compassion of God, the family of God, is far bigger and more abundant than we could imagine, more than enough for any human need.

From Bishop Michael:
“The screams of children being taken from their mothers and fathers at our border, under our flag, haunts the nation. Across political and religious divides, the nation – and the world – is aghast and Americans are refusing complicity in all the ways they can. Millions of people are crying, protesting and praying in our houses of worship and in the public square. In a moment of national shame, huge swaths of people are acting in love.

The families making treacherous and often dangerous journeys to seek refuge in the US are desperate. They face extreme violence, persecution and poverty in their home countries. You cannot deter people who are fleeing for their lives, even with policies as cruel as taking children away from their parents. People who come to our borders only hope to give their children a chance. We should be meeting these people with compassion.

Christians have recoiled against the notion that ripping children from their parents – euphemistically called “family separation” – in any way comports with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, Mary, and Joseph were refugees who fled persecution and emigrated to Egypt. Love thy neighbor is the Christian way. There is no biblical mandate or warrant for what is occurring on our borders. Christianity must never be confused with cruelty.
While the president has rightly declared families will no longer be separated at the border, he wrongly continues to promote a hurtful immigration policy greatly devoid of human compassion. Even with the new executive order, immigration officers will keep families who are legally seeking asylum in detention.

The agony of migrant parents at our border is immense. Every parent has feared the unthinkable: my child is gone. For me, it was a flash of dread in an everyday experience while shopping with my two young children in a department store. My oldest daughter wandered away and for the 10 seconds before I found her nestled between hanging clothes I felt a panic I had never before imagined.

Those remain the longest 10 seconds of my life and are seared in my memory. I can still taste the fear and I relive that sick feeling in my body remembering what it was like to be physically shaken by the fear that I had lost my daughter and would not be able to find her. Imagine those seconds multiplied by days and weeks and months.
Today, there remain thousands of children scattered in foster homes and child prison camps with no system in place for reunification. Each of these children needs our prayers, our voices of outrage and our help to reunite them with their families and heal from this terror. And the children who came before them, those who have crossed the border as children alone and some who were remanded to youth prisons that are under scrutiny for abusive practices – these children also need our intervention.

The rhetoric from our government leaders, which casts “the other” – in this case, families seeking refuge – as dangerous, inhumanely violates the Christian tradition. Selfishness is a sin. We cannot live up to our country’s ideals if we embrace only our own desires and put our needs above all others – even above God. Being a US citizen does not make us more human than people on the other side of our border.
We are in the midst of a global migration crisis, where millions of families have been separated after fleeing their homelands due to violence, conflict and persecution.

This crisis touches almost every continent in the world. The US is on track to resettle the fewest refugees since the refugee resettlement programme began in 1980. God does not condone our attack on immigrants. Jesus says: “Love your neighbour.” Jesus says: “Love your enemy.” Jesus says: “Welcome the stranger.”

What is the Christian way to manage borders? Strength does not require cruelty. Indeed, cruelty is a response rooted in weakness. Jesus was clear about what true strength is and it always is driven by love. There may be many policy prescriptions, but the prism through which we view them should be the same: does the policy treat people with love, acknowledging our common humanity? If the answer is no, it is not a Christian solution. Detaining and separating families – children and their parents – is not just happening at the border. Some immigrant parents and care-givers who have lived in the US for decades – and have children who are US citizens – are being rounded up and deported, leaving a trail of countless children in this country without their parents.

President Trump’s executive order has not quieted the cries of the children still separated from their parents. It has not comforted the parents still panicked because they cannot see their babies. It does nothing to stop the heartless deportations of immigrants who are longtime neighbors and members of our communities.

All of those families weep. And so we must respond to the weeping by working to help America to live out one of its core ideals, enshrined in words on the Statue of Liberty.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Weekend Recommendations

Keeping it simple on the blog this week with some recommendations for the weekend. These are the things filling up my heart and mind and keeping our home happy on this Mid-March snow day.

Our dining room window looking out on a spring pollen tree and an inch of snow. Hello, climate change…

To watch: The Great British Baking Show 
If you haven’t found this gem, check it  out. A refreshing, positive break from US American competition shows, it’s all beauty and encouragement and delicious baking ideas.

To diffuse: patchouli and orange
High quality patchouli has more depth and complexity and less funk than you might associate with the name. It’s so grounding and relaxing. The orange adds some lightness and sweetness. Relaxing and sweet—what more could you want from your weekend?

To listen: Laura Gibson Pandora station
Mostly 5+ year old music, but I’ve been returning to this curation since college, and it’s perfect for a slow weekend of home project catch up and quality time with my boys.

To imbibe: stovetop chai latte
I mixed together some goodness this morning and it couldn’t have been easier. Put 1/2 tsp each of cardamom and cinnamon, a crank of black pepper, a smidge of coriander, a heaping Tbsp of looseleaf black tea in a saucepan and cover with water (about 2 cups). Bring it to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add almond milk and honey to taste, then pour through a sieve. This was enough for me and A to each have a big mugful.

To read: this article from The Atlantic
Since moving away from rural East Tennessee, my interpersonal encounters have moved more left of center, having fewer conversations with folks described in this piece. But these were, and still are, my people in North Georgia and East Tennessee. I think it’s important to remember, particularly for white leftist organizey folks, that the backlash against Muslims, immigrants, and people of color is rooted in fear. That fear might not be backed up by statistical evidence or historical experience, but it is real, and it makes itself known through violence. I must stretch myself to remember this part of my formation and to face my violent fears, the remnants of Trumpism that are in my heart. Otherwise I’ll just be responding from my own fear and anger in turn, unable to respond with the compassion that actually brings about change.

That’s all for now. I’m going to slow dance with my baby to Laura Gibson and maybe mix up another batch of that tea.

What are you watching? Listening to? Savoring? Thinking on?

"The Journey," by Mary Oliver

I need this piece of good news  at least every year, and maybe you do too.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Grounding

Term Papers

In conclusion, S., aged five months and one week, has grown two teeth and suffered his first cold over the last week and a half. This has resulted in an incredibly grouchy attitude to the detriment of my schemas of meaning-making and resulted in a sense of alienation from, rather than connection to, my larger community. He wants to nurse every hour and a half, refuses to be consoled with anyone but me, but yells at me just the same. We could, in fact, be construed as the parishioners who are brought into unwilling Eucharistic solidarity through the breaking of a body (his) and the ingesting of a body (mine).

Incidentally, it takes approximately forty-five minutes to: settle him into an adequately distracting activity; use the restroom; fix a cup of coffee; answer a text message; settle him into a new adequately distracting activity; and sit down at the computer. This hour and a half circuit routine has extended into the nighttime hours. My sense of belonging to larger community constructed framework of time has also been demolished. I am trapped in a cycle that eliminates any semblance of futurity.

I am in need of a profoundly embodied and communal sacramental grace to move me through the transformation of this theodicy, so it is in the spirit of theological praxis that I request that you waive the additionally required 5 pages for this essay.

Copaiba Vitality for S., Clarity for Mama.