Post Author: April Berends
Everyday Sacrament is available at Liturgical Press.
My spouse and I rarely touch when we sleep. Before we drift off, we lie close together, holding hands, or with our limbs entwined. He wraps his arms around me while we talk, or I hold him. When it is time to go to sleep, however, we inch away, still close enough to feel one another’s warmth, but occupying our own real estate on the bed.
As someone who has always required a bit of space in order to be comfortable, I was surprised by how quickly this fact about myself changed when I became a mother. Suddenly, I was completely joyful with my baby asleep in a carrier, snuggled up close to my body. My husband would spend hours napping with a baby on his chest. Now that my children are toddlers, they come to me frequently to be held or comforted. When I am home with them, it is difficult to go even a few minutes without one of them pressing against my body or tugging on my arm. When I am away from them for overnights, I long to have their small bodies nestled close.
One of the things that I appreciate most about Laura Kelly Fanucci’s new book, Everyday Sacrament, is that it approaches parenting and the life of faith in a completely embodied way. She ties the matter of the sacraments, those holy things which we can taste and touch and see, to the matter of life—mealtime, bath time, time spent tending wounds and holding children close. She speaks vividly about the changes that happen to one’s body when one becomes a mother, and helps readers to see God at work in something as simple as tousling a child’s hair or bandaging a cut.
Becoming a parent changed the way I thought about God, and it also changed the way I thought about church. As a parish priest, too, I have often seen parents returning to church when they want to have their children baptized. In many ways, there is no better time than recent parenthood to reconnect with one’s faith traditions, to consider what it means to raise a child in that tradition, to ask oneself what these rites and rituals mean. Here is where a book like Everyday Sacrament can help. Fanucci asks parents to consider the question of “what I ask of God’s church for my child, and what I believe about what I am undertaking.”
Fanucci writes as a Roman Catholic, addressing the seven sacraments of baptism, communion, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders. As a priest of the Episcopal Church, I found myself asking questions about how my own faith tradition views each of the sacramental rites that she addresses. I found much truth and wisdom in her reflections, and I suspect that other types of Protestants will also find common ground, as well as encouragement for the daily work of faithful parenting.
The book begins with baptism, about which Fanucci says, “We are welcomed into a community that has great hopes for us. We are called by God who dreams of all that we might become. But this first sacrament also celebrates the simple fact of being beloved. Of knowing that we do not need to achieve to be worthy or succeed to be faithful.” What a refreshing thing to hear in a book about being a parent. What a wonderful thing for parents to teach their children—before you are anything, dear child, you are held and named and loved by God.
So many books about parenting focus on methods—sleep training, discipline, feeding. Those kinds of books often make me feel as though I’m not completely adequate as a parent. They may contain good advice, but I often lack the will to overhaul family life in order to accommodate new patterns that don’t work in every situation. Fanucci’s book is not a parenting manual. It is designed to help new parents see God at work in the world, at work in this new thing that has begun. She speaks of both the sacraments and about parenting as acts of becoming. As I read Everyday Sacrament, I thought of all the parents, young and old, whom I have encountered over the course of my ministry. If I have learned anything from serving among these parents, it is that the work of parenting is never finished. It is a love and a life and a struggle that unfolds moment after moment, year after year. Fanucci treats parenting as a vocation into which we continue to grow, honoring this truth.
I began reading the chapters on marriage and ordination with a bit of trepidation, as these are the areas in which the Roman Catholic Church seems most different from my own. I needn’t have worried, though, as the author graciously addresses both of these sacraments within the broader context of calling. She talks about how the commitments that we enter into transform us, how our relationships present ongoing invitations to listen to God’s call.
I found myself especially moved by Fanucci’s writing about ordination. I became a priest long before I became a parent, but growing into each of these vocations has taught me something about the other. I wasn’t absolutely certain that I was called to sacramental ministry until the first time that I actually stepped behind an altar. I know that our ordination processes are supposed to help people discern this before ordination, but how can anyone be sure of such a thing? While I was standing there, letting God do God’s thing through me, I had an overwhelming sense that for that moment, I was standing exactly in the place where I was supposed to be.
Similarly, I wasn’t one hundred percent certain about a call to parenthood until I became one. Again, it would seem wiser to discern this before becoming a parent, but I remember one night when I was bone tired, and up most of the night with a feverish toddler. It was an awful night, involving the clean-up of several different kinds of bodily fluids, but I knew with my whole heart that there in that bed next to my sick child, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. In reflecting on ordination, Fanucci finds grace in dirty work and responsibility, she looks for the holy amidst daily messes and frustration, and beautifully articulates what it means to serve others with a whole heart. She speaks of parenthood as vocation, as work that makes relationships possible.
This is a lovely book, filled with honest reflections on being a faithful person within the chaos of life with small children. As a parent, I spend a lot of energy figuring out how I’m going to raise my children to know Christ’s love. I have realized that this is all well and good, but that I also need to make sure to seek sustenance for my own soul, as well. Everyday Sacrament provides just such nourishment.
April Berends is an Episcopal Priest and the mother of two small boys with big imaginations. She lives on a mountain in Tennessee.
Image by: Image provided by Liturgical Press
Used with permission