For the months of May and June, Spectrum's Spirituality section will feature moms and dads exploring the spirituality of parenting. We begin with this reflection by Sarah Fusté, honoring the sacrality of motherhood, even in dirty diapers.
Just imagine this: a young woman is visited by a celestial being who tells her she will conceive the Son of God. Without any of the usual sweaty, earthy exchanges, the Most High “overshadows” her and she becomes pregnant. For forty weeks, or perhaps the rest of her life, she is left to wonder over this mystery.
Then her time comes. She moans and waits, pushes and stretches, squeezes out a wet little head into the world. Clasping the slippery, messy body to her breast, their eyes lock. He is perfect and Mary’s heart swells with the love of a mother.
Very soon after, in his soft swaddling clothes, this Son of God-perfect-little-baby empties his system. Dark, sticky, tar-like—divine meconium.
From mystery to manure, this crazy juxtaposition of God on High and God who fills his diapers doesn’t seem strange to Mary. She cleans the bottom of God-with-us. She washes it tenderly, mercifully, naturally.
What a beautiful picture for us earthlings, for those of us who are parents. We understand changing soiled pants. Busy, breathless even are we, running after little ones and staying up late, taking care of house chores and volunteer roles and work that spills over the edges. We may not have much time to sit with Scripture or receive celestial appearances, but ordinary life we get.
It is a sunny day in May. Rain has soaked the ground this week, and the thermometer reads 79° Fahrenheit. We have a yard full of tulips, and a lawn full of flowering weeds. My husband and I groan over the dandelions.
“I’ll pray, Mommy,” our girl, Melanie, says as we gather around a picnic lunch.
“Dear Jesus, thank you for the field of sunflowers and please help them to grow and not be thirsty. Amen.”
Thank you, Jesus, for the field of sunflowers. Daddy and I smile. With new eyes we gaze upon our dandelion patches, brimming with bouquets to decorate windowsills and tables and Mommy’s hair, our field of sunflowers.
My baby boy is awake coughing one night. I suffer to hear it, little lungs and body working so hard and leaving no space for rest. After onion-infused honey, saline and suctioning, humidifier and a hot shower running in the bathroom, he is still hacking. Finally I climb into the chair in his room, nurse him, hold him upright, and he falls sound asleep. Stiff mother trying to bend cold feet under myself while ignoring the crik in my neck; baby content in his mother’s arms. The night coughing is exiled for a few hours and with that, gratitude and love well up and fill my exhausted body with contentment too.
A thunderstorm rolls in from over Lake Michigan and lights up our room. The thunder vibrates our old glass windows and Melanie starts to whimper. “Mommmmmmmmy.”
I climb into her bed and she tucks messy curls under my chin, asking me to sing “What do you do when you’re scared?” My sleepy voice croaks out the lullaby and her eyes widen as the storm flashes. “Look at the white lightning!” she points to the window, safely cozied up next to me. “I love you, Mommy.” Pretty soon, even, slow breathing, and I slip back into my bed, tired but warm with the sweet intimacy of the scary storm.
Did you notice that this is holy stuff, you caretakers of little ones, you mamas, you papas? These ordinary moments pulse with the presence of Christ, shimmering in the love we offer to each other, inhabiting the love that our children demand, hovering in the midst of dandelions, comfort, and thunderstorms. The truth of God-with-us is that the holy appears everywhere.
When the mundane threatens to overwhelm with its broken dishes and plugged toilets, laundry mountains and rejected bread crusts, we must turn our hearts toward Love. Hey little munchkin, it’s okay, accidents happen. Jesus, may this plunging action give me toned triceps, and humility. Thank you for clothing and little ones to wear it—help me forgive the mountains. You are merciful in giving us our daily bread; show me how to teach my children the value of food.
When the little ones make our lives feel sucked away in order to care for theirs, we must honor the soft little bottom as an Incarnation, a little naked one, of whom Jesus said, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, a little tummy-growling one, of whom Jesus said, I was hungry and you fed me, a little one in need of a cozy bed, of whom Jesus said, I was homeless and you gave me a room. “But when did we do these things for you?” the parents will ask. The King will answer and say to them, ‘I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’
And when the fullness of our days pushes prayer to the margins, we must seek new eyes to expand our definition of prayer. It is in letting go: I resist the urge to say no and allow my daughter to crack an egg even though it may scoot onto the floor and there is sure to be bits of shell in the mess. It is crying out in helplessness: Jesus, I can’t do this today! Have mercy…in the midst of this wild cocktail of sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums, and crying babies. Prayer is even happening through the irresistible love of being a mother: Tiptoeing into their rooms at night, I apologize to them as they sleep, for my mistakes. I watch their breath go in and out, slowly, peacefully. I wonder at their beauty, at how perfectly they are made: soft eyelashes fringing quiet eyes, lips closed, body at rest. I run my fingers gently over their fine hair, pull their covers up and fluff them to keep them warm.
The holy is there, Mamas, Papas, caretakers, everybody. No wonder the Bible talks so often of eyes that see and ears that hear. This can change our whole spiritual experience, to notice the love of God echoing through our existence. Mary cared for a soft little bottom that was Jesus himself. Her daily work was caught up with the divine. And we too are called to let go of the illusion that the spiritual resides elsewhere than in our messy lives with kids. It is here and now—celestial appearances with the manure.
Sarah Fusté is mother to a 1- and 4-year old and lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Painting: Mary Cassatt, The bath
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5258