Breastfeeding as Spiritual Practice

When my husband and I signed up for our labor and delivery classes at Meriter Hospital, I looked forward to these sessions with both excitement and trepidation. It was unfortunate that we missed the last class, which was on breastfeeding. I never really thought it would be a big deal. After all, my mother never had any problems, and I knew women had been doing this for ages. The thought of taking a class on a “natural” biological event seemed a bit strange.

When my infant son was born with a full head of hair and a round little face, the nurses plopped him on my breast as I was lying prone recovering from surgery. I didn’t know anything about latching him on, nor did he. He lay on top of me like a little papoose snuggling into me for warmth. As we waited and waited for my milk to come in Elias, my little baby, started to lose weight. In the meantime, I felt so helpless and was helpless to the helpless.

I was amazed that this tiny creature had to be taught how to eat, how to breastfeed. I thought of our Lord as an infant getting his own clenched fists in the way of his mouth and of his source of life. Who could imagine that the King of the Universe would have struggled like Elias did to learn his source of sustenance and succor? While Elias had his own struggles, his mother wondered about her ability to mother, especially without the powerful gift of strong feminine milk. The milk finally came in, but soon we were to learn that the mother/son pair just couldn’€™t find a great symbiotic rhythm.

After a couple of weeks of lots of trial and error, it was discovered that I did not produce enough milk to keep my son going. It was no wonder we started to pray the hours more than even a monastic community.  You see, every time Elias needed to eat we would set ourselves up in the breastfeeding chair. During those moments of desolation, that place became a place of prayer. A simple, “Please, Lord, help him get enough” was enough to keep the prayers going to God. Once I was put on medication to produce more breastmilk, my prayers changed in nature. Read more

Storytime; We Crucified: Poems

This month’s Christ and Creativity feature…

Storytime

They thought I was one of those teenage mothers who turned out all right.
But the county health department nurses didn’t know
that the young tornadoes in their waiting room
were only mine occasionally.

Both settled on my lap,
sister on one leg, brother on the other,
and I breathed unwashed blond hair
with every page of Berenstein Bears.

Home stayed home.
Hyper, Punch, and Kick took the afternoon off.
I was the Mama and Papa Bear hug that ends every story.
“Read us another one,”
tamed cubs chanted.

Occasionally, heaven visits earth for an hour.

The nurse told them how lucky they were to have a mom who reads to them.
“She’s not our mom!”
they yelled as they raced out.

But I could’ve been, wasn’t I?

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Mom, Please Stop Vacuuming the Red Carpet

But what I didn’t expect is what happened to my parents on the other side of the country. In my hometown, they have become minor celebrities.

Because nobody else has a pastor for a daughter.

Whenever my parents attend social gatherings or run into people they haven’t seen in a while, people nearly pounce on them and ask about me. How is she doing so far away from home? What do pastors really do, anyways? What does she do on the other days that aren’t Sunday? Does she have any friends? Does she like being a pastor? What do people call her? Somebody once asked my mother, “How do you raise a child to become a pastor?” My parents shrugged helplessly. “We don’t know,” they said. “It just sort of happened.”

I keep thinking people will get bored of this and eventually go back to their usual topics of conversation. After all, I’m just a curiosity to them, right? Ordained ministry isn’t exactly on a lot of career opportunity radar screens. It’s not a common aspiration. Hearing my parents say, “Oh, our daughter is a pastor in New York,” is a little bit like hearing, “Oh, our daughter lives on Mars and makes her living relaying messages from outer space.” No wonder people are curious. No wonder they are full of questions. But they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Read more

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

“Do you want to be made well?”

What an Ash Wednesday question.
On a day where we traditionally hear about our own sinfulness
and are faced with our own mortality,
“to dust you shall return,”
what a question to consider.

Of course we want to be made well. Of course we do. Duh.

Why did Jesus even have to ask?
He’s at the pool by the Sheep Gate,
the one rumored to be stirred up by an angel of the Lord from time to time,
the one where the first person to get into the moving water gets healed.
A site of miracles? Perhaps.
Rumors of miracles, at least. And for some of these folks…well, a rumor was enough.
A neighbor’s cousin’s friend stepped into the stirred-up waters and was blind but now can see!
And when you’ve been ill for, say, thirty-eight years…well, there aren’t many options left.
A miracle pool looks pretty good.

Except, this man, who’s been ill for thirty-eight years,
isn’t physically able to get himself into the pool.
He’s alone, for whatever reason.
His family has all died,
or left him, unable to deal with his sickness.
Or maybe he left them, out of shame, or out of a sense of duty.
We don’t know.
So like Blanche, he’s “always relied on the kindness of strangers.”
Apparently, and unfortunately,
in the throng of miracle-seekers pushing toward the seldom moving waters,
the kindness of strangers is hard to come by.

So when Jesus asks him,
“Do you want to be made well…?”
I want to scream at him, “Of course he does! Why else would he be there, at that place?!” Read more

The Conversation

In the time since my ordination, I’ve gotten a better at navigating The Conversation in all its permutations. A lot of practice and a little bit of confidence go a long way. I try to be gracious and understanding and educational, but sometimes I wish I could just be feisty. Recently, a guy came to do an estimate for some work in the parsonage. He knew it was a parsonage, so when I opened the door to let him in, he asked, “Are you the pastor’s wife?” I politely explained that no, I am the pastor, but I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to retort, “Are you the sub-contractor’s husband?”

I wrote this story a couple years ago, when I was still quite new to The Conversation. I called it “What It’s Like to Be a Female Pastor with a Back Condition”: Read more

Getting Out

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the flash of the simple, silver cross I usually wear when preaching. Just before I slipped out the door, I swear I heard it whisper, “Remember, you’re still a minister.” As if I could possibly forget!

It wasn’t that I planned to do anything scandalous. I’ve never really been one to lose control of myself. You won’t find my bra hanging above a bar or spy me stumbling down the street with a stranger in the wee hours of the morning. However, what is a minister to do on those nights when you’d just like to go out, have fun, and maybe even meet someone? Is a minister even allowed to be “on the prowl?”

The formula for other women our age seems to be: wear as little clothing as possible, be prepared to remove even more if called upon to do belly shots or dance on bars, and shake your booty at every opportunity. I like to burn up the dance floor as much as the next girl, but the rest sounds like a recipe for a quick loss of both dignity and job. Read more

puppies playing tug of war with a knotted rope on the grass

Sibling Rivalry

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

The lyrics of our final hymn at the Christmas Eve service rang in my ears as I peered into the cold silent night outside the church doors. After closing the doors to this holy night, I blew out the candles that had lit our way to the birth of peace. I gazed out the window to wonder about this tender and mild child that tore open the heavens and came down incarnated in Corinth.

It had happened again. Jesus Christ was born again this day. The mysterious wonder of the incarnate had torn through the heavens as the prophets had hoped. And yet, as I blew out the candles, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed. We have been waiting for this for the past four weeks. We’ve been preparing for this miracle of birth as Jesus came through the birth canal. We’ve gotten ready for this moment when he was named King over the powers that be, this helpless child over the State, over the ones who loved to oppress. We have been waiting these days for justice to reign. And yet, as I settle into my new home and see this world with new eyes, I wonder about this silent night.

 

As I blew out the last few candles, my breath mingled with the lyrics of the familiar hymn.

 

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five eggs balanced on top of each other

Should I Stay or Should I Go (Part time)?

In a moment of candor, I said to the group, “You know, with both my husband and me working full-time, plus two kids, our life just barely works. As long as no one is sick, and all the cars and household appliances are operational, we really get along quite well, and I love our life. But there’s no buffer. So when a monkey wrench gets thrown into our lives, things just go to pieces for a while.”

The very next day, I stood in our bathroom, not breathing, and watched a thin pink line turn darker and darker—and said hello to the mother of all monkey wrenches.

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christmas ornaments and lights on Christmas tree

Merry Christmas

christmas ornaments and lights on Christmas tree

May Christ be born anew in you
this Christmastide!

inspired by “The First Noel”

they looked up,
and saw a star shining

in the east

beyond them

far—

it hung fat in the
sky

and taunted them
for days.

when they moved,
it slid alongside,

when they stopped
and turned, it halted too

and winked like an
idiot.

no-

eloquence

in its message: approach.

no-

elegance

in their response:
buzz off,

swatting it;

but a few sighed:

all right.

we’ll go that way,

just to get you

off our backs.

so they turned,
faced off with the light,

and walked a
lingering day and night,

but the further
they traveled, the more the beckoning star

remained far,

far beyond them.

___________

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