The holiness of motherhood
“Turn here, Mama!” I follow Charlotte’s finger and turn the car. On our left the one-story church building stands on a small hill next to the cemetery. The sign in front glows with the words: Christ and Trinity Lutheran Church. Turning to her brother, Isaac, with a gasp and smile, she says, “I go with mama there, when I was a baby.”
“Yes, you did,” I say, remembering her first year of life. From two months until just after she turned one, Charlotte grew up at this church. Our days together included visits to members’ homes, worship planning in my office, naps in the nursery, nursing while I typed emails, toys strewn about the floor, phone calls, typing sermons on the computer, writing handwritten notes, and Sunday morning worship where she was passed between members.
As a pastor, my feelings toward the work vacillated between doing things that were Something Important and wondering if anything I did made a difference. But during my daughter’s first year of life, Charlotte, my most important thing, sat next to me, on top of a blanket on the floor, continually pulling me into her orbit.
I picture her listening to the strange words I spoke - sacraments, baptism, means of grace, discernment, contemplative prayer - and hoping that they somehow lodged themselves in her body, like the way I hope the baptismal waters soak into our foreheads forever marking and transforming us.
Four years later, the church building is just a building that we pass. It’s no longer the place where we spend our days, but rather the place that holds the beginnings of my learning about the most important things for my life. It’s the place that showed me I could find glimpses of the holy through writing and mothering, where the call in my life pivoted from the church building to the intimacies of my days.
Most mornings the breakfast plates haven’t even been cleaned before the kids yell, “Read books, Mama!” Both Isaac and Charlotte grab a stack of books heaving them onto the couch. “Sit next to me,” they say in a chorus. I squeeze in between the two of them and open our books. For this moment, these are our holy words dripping with inspiration and creativity.
Summer days include time in the garden where I water and the kids pick ripe fruit. “Is this one ready, Mama?” Isaac holds up a blackberry, fitting perfectly between his small fingers. Waiting for me to say yes he holds it to the sun.
“Yes, it’s ready,” I tell him as he quickly pops it in his mouth with a smile, a bit of juice dripping from the side of his mouth. I keep watering the garden, a hint of rainbow shines through the water’s spray. A bounty before us, new life bursting from the darkness of the ground. This is our holy feast, our bread and wine, an abundance of tangible fruits pointing to God’s goodness.
After naps, Charlotte’s refrain is always the same, “You know what? Today is a perfect day to go swimming!”
“Go swimming, yeah!” Isaac agrees.
Lathered in sun screen and wearing bathing suits that are starting to fit snugly after a summer’s worth of pool visits, we take turns jumping into the pool. As soon as the floaties go on, Charlotte is the first to jump in, her splash cascading in the air inviting us to do the same. I jump in next followed by Isaac who reaches for my hands. Day after day at the pool, I see their confidence growing as they tell me, “I swim by myself.”
Pulling herself out from the shallow end Charlotte tells me, “I be brave today. I’m going to jump off the diving board.” I watch as she waits at the steps to go up to the diving board, her face watching the diver in front of her. When it’s her turn she walks slowly to the edge, her eyes on her feet, step after step. “Ready, Mama?”
“Yes, I’m ready,” I tell her from the side of the pool. But before I finish my sentence she’s belly flopped into the deep end. I see her head bounce up, a smile across her face as she shakes the hair out of her eyes. With no hesitation she makes her way to the ladder and walks back to the diving board. These are our holy waters dripping with grace and abundant possibility.
It’s nap time, with one last look to the monitor, I see both kids sleeping. I grab my pen, journal, and Bible. Under the shade of three maple trees I sit in our yellow adirondack chairs. With a few deep breaths I feel the wind on my face. The birds sing a song for me. I write, I read, I pray; each helping me find holiness in the important things from my day.
I hear the front door open and see Charlotte’s head peek out. She rubs her eyes and makes her way to me as I sit on the chair writing in my journal.
“You writing, Mama?” she asks me and points to the writing in front of us.
“Yes, I’m writing.” I write one more sentence, this important thing I do, before closing the journal and following Charlotte, my important thing, back inside.
**This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury.