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The Spiritual Practice of Parenting

June 28, 2013

After I published my last Spiritual Practice of Parenting, I started questioning myself.  I wasn’t grilling myself on heat sheets, but rather, how are wrestling with heat sheets really a spiritual practice?   Was I making anything that challenged me about parenting into a spiritual practice?  Was I stretching things quite a bit?

I looked then to Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World:  A Geography of Faith.  Here’s what she says:

No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggest that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it.  The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior attitude or special company.  All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need.  The only thing missing is the our consent to be where we are…

…For want of a better word, each focuses on a certain practice–a certain exercise in being human that requires a body as well as a soul.  Each helps me live with my longing for More.  Each trusts that doing something is at least as valuable as reading books about it, thinking about it, or sitting around talking about it…

…To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger–all these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology.  All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir.  Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy.  And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone.  In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.

That’s it.  That’s why my response to heat sheets is spiritual practice.  It is the practice of living outside of myself.  Any time I put someone else before myself, I am living my faith.  Any time, I recognize that the purpose of life is not wealth, power or success, I am living my faith.  Anytime I teach my kids to enjoy what they do and encourage them to LOVE their activities, I am living a life of faith.  For loving what they do and forgoing power, wealth, and success, is part of who we are called to be.  We are only called to love.  To love our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

While these may be spiritual practices for me, they may not be spiritual practices for you.  Maybe you don’t struggle with a competitive spirit.  Maybe you don’t have difficulty trying to make your child be who you want them to be, instead of who they were created to be.  I struggle with these things.  It is an act of faith for me to let go of competition.  It’s an act of faith to watch my son swim 30 seconds slower in backstroke and be chill and non-judgemental. (He’s only 6!!!  I had no idea how to swim at 6.  Six year olds are supposed to be unpredictable and unreliable.)

I just finished reading two novels (more about those in my What I Was Up To-June Edition in a few days).  In both books, I found similarities between two of the supporting characters.  In both books, a supporting character lived with excitement and joy.  Each of these characters experienced pleasure in mundane activities or new activities.  In Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, Katey Content describes something her father has told her as it describes her good friend, Tinker:

Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane–in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath–she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger.   What my father was trying to tell me, as he neared the conclusion of his own course, was that this risk should not be treated lightly:  One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.

You probably won’t find my spiritual practices listed in any other book, bestselling or otherwise.  These are my practices, the things that bring me closer to God.  They may not be things that challenge you.  But then again, they might be.  I keep writing, just in case.

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