Friday, September 19, 2014

7QT (Vol. 102): God is unchanging. We aren't.

Every now and then, God decides I am not going to pick up on subtle hints and sends me a direct message. Such was the case in Confession recently. I have wrestled with maintaining a quality prayer life for years, a struggle which has become more acute in the past few months. I take my kids to daily Mass regularly and say a Rosary with Jeremy before bed, but I often feel like I've spent time near God instead of with Him. While talking this over with our priest, he mentioned something that has been a huge eye-opener for me:
"Our relationship with God must change."

I've heard before that our relationship with God must grow, that a stagnant relationship is an unhealthy one. I have sought again and again ways to take my relationship with God further. But whatever I tried, I could not maintain the discipline, even as I pleaded in prayer for the grace to keep on. I would slip back into the busyness of life and get so caught up in everything else that prayer had to be slipped into my schedule instead of being the focus of it.

As Father talked, I could almost hear God clear his throat and see him raise his brows pointedly. I have changed. My life has changed. My relationship with God must change as well. I realized that what I've been trying to do is continue the relationship I had with God as a college & grad student and into my first years of marriage. My life then had a very predictable timetable. When work or classes were done, I had hours of uninterrupted time in which to plan my leisure, chores, and prayer life. I attended daily Mass, prayer groups, and Bible studies.

And sometimes I multi-tasked, having friends visit me at work :-)

Then I had Peter and life changed. It changed slowly at first, as newborns sleep a lot and don't much care where they are. But as he grew, life became less predictable. I learned to let go of a rigid schedule and accept a general rhythm of times of activity and quiet. My friendships changed; we learned to meet during the day and chat while watching the kids or wait until late in the evening when they are asleep. My marriage changed; we learned to tend to the immediate needs of the children before our own wants.

But I refused to let my relationship with God change. I had found such comfort and strength in the relationship we had that I was clinging to it. I was sure I could find that security again if I just tried hard enough. I begged God for the self-control to stick to a prayer schedule, to prioritize Him above all else, but in vain. I got so discouraged.

My relationship with God has changed.
Our priest counseled that I embrace my vocation as an act of prayer. The act of bringing the children to Mass is a prayer, an offering of our time to God. Responding with love and patience is a prayer, recognizing God in the least of these. The honest cry for help when I am overwhelmed and touched-out is a prayer. Drawing close to Mary, asking for her heart of love for Jesus and faith to say yes to God, is a prayer. Our priest didn't discount the need to have God at the top of my priority list, but suggested that there is more than one way to do that.

There is still value in simply sitting quietly with God, something I still do often. But it is not my only prayer, nor do I feel like a failure on days it doesn't happen. Now I know the truth, and the truth has set me free.

Read more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

When Cognitive Age and Emotional Age Don't Match

First geography lesson: building a map of our town

We have been having a lot of fun doing Kindergarten! I am so thankful we have this opportunity to teach Peter where both his academic and social needs can be met. Academically, he is in the right place to begin Kindergarten. He can write most of his letters, can count to 109, knows letter sounds and text direction, easily masters patterns, and can even do some basic arithmetic. He has the attention span to listen to a story for over half an hour. 

If we were doing typical school, I would be very torn about sending him, though, because he just turned four. He wants to be with me and - even at home - retreats somewhat regularly when he is overwhelmed. I think sending him to a typical Kindergarten would be a disaster. Homeschooling gives me the chance to slowly help him build a tolerance for stress. Usually we get together with other kids weekly and have joined a monthly co-op where he will spend two hours with his peers without me. He also takes gymnastics lessons. These experiences are giving him the confidence and resilience to continue to expand his horizons. In the mean time, we'll be riding bikes.

Second geography lesson: transferring the map to the driveway
He and Anne rode all around town!

Friday, September 12, 2014

7QT (Vol. 101): Skirts are not modest

Let's start with a definition. Modesty is defined as freedom from conceit or vanity, also propriety in dress, speech, and conduct. I would paraphrase to say that modesty means avoiding undue or improper attention. Modesty, therefore, is extremely culturally dependent.

I believe most people in the modesty discussion accept the modesty is cultural. We understand that being topless in some cultures is completely modest at the same time that showing one's knees may create scandal. Here's the problem: we Americans each believe our own culture is the American culture.

I function in a fairly insular culture. The vast majority of my social interactions are with observant Catholics, many of whom homeschool. In my culture, skirts - even long ones - are modest. However, I live in a suburban small town. I can tell you that wearing an ankle-length skirt around town is not modest. I attract much more attention just walking down the street. People notice me. They look more closely at me and my clothing. I make no assumptions about whether the attention is improper, but it is certainly undue!

The skirt in question looks a lot like this one

We live in America, a land of many cultures. What is modest in one setting is not modest in another. We choose our clothing to send a message (even if the message is "I'm just wearing this because it's comfortable"), but those receiving the message see us through their own cultural lens.

What about the idea that skirts are less sexual than pants? I mentioned this to my husband, who shook his head. "Skirts are always more sexy, unless the pants are basically painted on. But even a pair of fitted pants is never as attractive as a skirt. Think about a camera panning up a woman; when is she ever wearing a pantsuit? Skirts are feminine; femininity is attractive." We asked a male friend of ours who said it depends on the girl and the pants, but agreed that it is ridiculous to say skirts are less sexually suggestive across the board, even discounting short skirts. (... or across the broad... hehe)

There is also the claim from the "cover everything" camp that women are responsible for protecting the men around them from their base instincts. This does a great disservice to men (see How the modesty police are hurting my son) and women. What at first glance may seem like a call to accountability and high moral standards can also pave the road for shaming and blaming the victim.

Finally, much of the cry for modesty smacks of gnosticism (all matter is evil). Since when did our bodies, made in the image and likeness of God, become a near occasion of sin? "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body." Our bodies are not shameful, meant to be hidden away, never admired, dismissed as not "the real us". In different bodies, we would not be who we are. Our bodies are temples. So yes, treat them with respect. Remember that God is living in you; dress, talk, and live in such a way that others can see Him. If you want, wear a skirt.

Read more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

At the Park with Grams and Papa

For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.
"Tigger is all right really," said Piglet lazily.
"Of course he is," said Christopher Robin.
"Everybody is really," said Pooh. "That's what I think," said Pooh. "But I don't suppose I'm right."
"Of course you are," said Christopher Robin.
House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne

Monday, September 8, 2014

On The Hierarchy of Species

Amazon's Gold Box deal today (for a few more hours) is BBC Earth documentaries. After immediately purchasing the Blu-ray of Planet Earth for the awesome price of $17.50, I went to look into the other titles to see if there was anything else we wanted to pick up for the kids (or ourselves; Planet Earth is primarily for me). We decided to pass on Earthflight because of a past experience with Winged Migration (that's another story), and on Life because we found some of the promotional material for it a bit troubling. The series was filmed as part of the BBC's celebration of Darwin a few years back, which isn't inherantly problematic for me, but what caused me to write off owning it (or at least buying it sight unseen) was a "Tree of Life" I found connected with the film put out by Open University. From their description of using a tree as an analogy for life:

"It reflects an outdated assumption that evolution involves progression from 'primitive' to 'developed', from 'simple' to 'complex' and hence from 'inferior' to 'superior', with the human race at the top. Modern evolutionary theory carefully excludes such value judgements and views evolution as more like tangled undergrowth than a branching tree."

I've been encountering this attitude frequently in recent years - the idea that humans are equal to other animals, at least to some degree. The argument against this I typically hear is theological, but I'm not even going to go there, because I think this concept is even scientifically flawed.

There is no other sentient life form that has the capacity to impact every other living thing on Earth to the degree that humans can. Not even close.

Dolphins do not have cars and factories that are destroying habitats of jungle and polar animals. E. coli does not, as far as we know, make a conscious decision to harm its host when ingested. An individual grizzy bear may be superior, in the sense of having power over, an individual human, but humans in the aggregate absolutely have power over grizzies in the aggregate.

You may be thinking this is a matter of semantics, and you may be right. The reason this bothers me is that framing the debate in this way seems to put people in two camps: those who believe that man has dominion over all creatures and therefore can exploit them for any purpose, or those who are "egalitarian" and refuse to take any semblance of authority. I don't hold with either of those views. The problem with not acknowledging the very real ways in which mankind has superiority over the planet is that it's also an implicit lack of acknowledgment of the greater responsibility we have compared to every other species on the planet. Having the greatest power to destroy life also gives us the greatest responsibility to protect it, and downplaying the former by necessity also downplays the latter.

This is especially unfortunate given that, in my experience, the people who are putting forth this "humans as peers" model are trying to achieve exactly that type of conservation, but the people they're trying to convert aren't listening because they think the humans as peers model is ridiculous. If the goal is to bring those who think it's OK to trash the planet around to the idea that environmentalism is vital, the "brotherhood of species" concept just isn't going to cut it. There is certainly a place for misanthropy and "moral superiority" conversations - but biology isn't it. And that's not the view I want my kids to have of the animal world. Hidden Kingdoms seems like it'll do a much better job of that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

7QT (Vol. 100): Camping Memories

100th quick takes! Part of Peter's writing instruction this week was dictating what happened on our Labor Day weekend campout. I typed them verbatim, then he and I took the first story and made a book. I did the writing (except three words); he illustrated. Here is the original transcript.

We went camping one day to the Adirondacks. It was hot in the morning and cool in the afternoon. And we set up our tents and then Grams and I went down to the beach together. Actually, with Daddy. And we went back up to ask Mommy if we had our swimsuits because a boy we didn't know was swimming and we wanted to go too. We DID have our swimsuits, so we went swimming for a little while and I was learning about clams with Uncle Shane. When we had dinner, I got hurt and Grams was there, but it felt better by the time the fire was there. The temperature of the bruise was medium.

The next day we woke up and the loons were saying, "Loon, loon," and we were going to the bathroom to start our day. Because the last night they were saying, "Loooooon." And then Grams, then Papa, then Uncle Keith and Aunt Jen, then V, then A and Uncle Shane and Amy, then S, then Dennis woke up and we all had breakfast.

Then we went down to the beach again with A, V, S and Papa. When it was windy, we saw a frog. He had long legs, could swim, and Mommy held him as if someone was giving her something. I went in a canoe with Papa and Daddy like last year. Uncle Keith and Aunt Jen were on a sailboat. They tipped over. We saw a floating dock and water and a sailboat and the bank. We saw boats pulled up on the sand. We played at the beach and went back up, sooner or later.

We had lunch. After lunch but before dinner, Heesu and L woke up, so it was more of a good afternoon than a good morning. We went on a little hike. We went all the way to the other side of the lake. We saw the Boy Scout lunch and dinner and brunch place. The hike was hard. Most of us had to carry me, but I got down on the other side of the lake. I walked on the bridges because I'm very good at bridges. We saw a very interesting big bridge. That was my favorite part.

When we got back we had dinner, then roasted marshmallows. Then we left and I was sad. (He was. He said he was going to stay under that tree all year, so be sure to park in the same spot when we came back next summer so we could find him.)

Aaannd... completely unrelated, but I needed a 7th take. Here is a picture from Peter's baptism celebration. You can read the details here.

7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary