The Vacuum Hymn

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Diaper Day

Whenever I take out the vacuum – which is often in these days of little hands, small pieces of food, and lesser fine motor skills – Christopher crawls behind me and shouts at the same cadence as the hum of our little handvac. It’s the same shout he made one morning at daily Mass when he figured out his voice echoed against the church’s classical style marble. “He’s singing to the Lord” one of the older daily communicants said, assuaging my guilt that the short 7:30am Mass had suddenly become a choral one thanks to my ten-month-old.

Despite my aversion to true squalor, I am a terrible housekeeper. I would say I’m still learning – after all, I’ve only been married for less than two years – but I think it gives me too much credit. This Lenten time of eliminating distraction has shown me that it’s not a matter of not having enough time or that cleaning our tiny one bedroom apartment is too much to handle. Laundry, mopping, the bathroom, laundry again: like Bartleby, I simply would prefer not to.

At the first women’s retreat I attended weeks after our entrance into the Church, the priest leading the reflections mentioned a story about one of Mother Teresa’s visits to a community of the Missionaries of Charity. She toured the whole place and when she got to the bathrooms, they were immaculate. Mother Teresa turned to the people around her and said, “The Sister who cleaned these toilets must love Jesus very much.” It’s a sentimental little story, I know, but I think of it often.

I want to love Christ and He has provided the way for me, not only through my time in prayer or spiritual reading or doing special “Christian” things, but through the responsibilities entrusted to me in my vocation. The hum of the vacuum is a song to the Lord. Putting dinner on the table is an image of the supper of the Lamb. I miss out on these opportunities when I neglect this aspect of my vocation.

I don’t think our apartment has to be museum-quality every minute of every day, especially since a twister named Christopher comes through daily, and I truly don’t think Martha-like busy-ness is a virtue. But I hope with a mingling of duty and grace, I can make our home a less chaotic place where we can be like Mary and sit at Jesus’ feet in peace. My singing shadow reminds me of this as he sings to the Lord for me while I vacuum up the crushed Cheerios under his high chair. I hope that in forming these habits, I, too, can learn to love Jesus very much.

7QT: Witness. Also, more on Puff the Magic Dragon.

These quick takes are not about the film with Amish Harrison Ford, but hopefully they’ll do for Kelly’s linkup.

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I’m still reading Edith Stein’s Self-Portrait in Letters and it’s bearing a lot of fruit. I’m to the point in her life after she has entered Carmel and her mother has just died. Some of my thoughts this week were inspired by this part of one of her letters.

edith-steinA Benedictine sister wrote to Teresa Benedicta to ask for a quotation from Teresa of Avila “in which she literally directs one to read Holy Scripture.” A footnote says that this quotation, though Teresa loved Scripture, would certainly not exist because vernacular copies of the Bible were not permitted. This still really bothers me, that the Church would withhold the Scripture from the laity and I think it should bother me, even though I’m part of the Church now. But then I read TB’s explanation that the two nuns’ (St Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa Margaret Redi) lives testify to the whole of Scripture and thought how much more important to have lives attesting to the truth than only words on a page. She writes:

“You can see the fruits in the quotations we copied out for you from [the writings of] the two saintly Carmelite nuns. These two alone would give rich material for your essay, for their entire life in the Order was a translation of Sacred Scripture into life.” (pp 218-9; letter 212)

As incarnational people, we worship a person and it is other people who will truly testify to Christ. Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of God, yes, but the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. We are to become like him, co-heirs to eternal life. How can I attest to the truth of the Scriptures with my life so that those who have no interaction with the Bible can know the truth about Jesus? Both with my words, but even more with my life.

The two priests on the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast explored some of these theme this week. When we say we have faith, we don’t mean we have knowledge, but that we believe in someone. Look at the Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” It’s not “I believe there is one God” but that we believe in Him, a person. How is the faith transmitted? Through people. We see this in Romans 10:13-15:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

It makes me think of a recent post on LMLD about living Lent with your children instead of doing Lenten activities. Just make faithfulness the tone of life – that is what the liturgical year is for: to live into the rhythms of the church and the rhythms of a faithful walk with the Lord. Hopefully our lives will show more of Christ and less of us, so our children – and the world! – can see what it means to believe in a Person.

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Sous Vide, Cold Birds, and Humility

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter for this week’s Lenten pretty, happy, funny, real. Sorry about the formatting of this post, but WordPress was driving me bonkers so I gave up.
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Chris has won Valentines Day every year we have been together and he continues to win. This year he cooked perfectly medium rare steak in a homespun sous vide using our Crock-Pot, roasted potatoes, and baked his famously decadent flourless chocolate cake for us and we had a romantic dinner after Christopher went to sleep. He illuminated dinner with the dozens of votive candles we still have in our closet from our wedding strategically placed around the apartment.
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The picture doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere, but what picture could?

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Fat Tuesday and a Happy Lent

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We left the house solely to get a donut this afternoon. And Christopher fell asleep in his car seat on the ride home. A truly decadent Fat Tuesday.

Ah, Lent. What to do? How do I want to grow in love these next forty days? What daily small choices do I make that prevent me from loving God and neighbor as I ought?

I know it should probably involve more prayer and less Netflix. More meal planning, less grumbling. More attention, less distraction. The more I think about it, it comes down to my desire for distraction.

A few weeks ago, Chris and I flopped on the couch after Christopher was asleep and got to talking about what we really thought made for the good life after we both had had frustrating days. I named four things that I thought made me truly happy and Chris pointed out that TV and social media, usually huge parts of my days, had no relation to my list and I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe this Lent is the opportunity to repent of those things that prevent me from living the happy life and to hunger and thirst for righteousness instead of the distraction that does not satisfy. The spirit is willing but that darn flesh just wants to spend nap time watching stupid television. Even now, I waffle on what I actually want to give up for Lent because I think of everything I will “miss out” on (Is it going to be Whitney, Becca, or Kaitlyn, guys???).

But if I name these things as distractions that cause me to miss out on the daily stuff of the good life – prayerful mornings, happy days with my husband, cuddling with Christopher, investing in friendships, a clean house, planned meals, more books – it reveals how petty that FOMO can be.

I’m praying for a Lent that cultivates true happiness and lets the desire for distractions from the good life die.

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Linking up with Blessed is She and the #BISsisterhood.

Banishing Zuulia

I had a really grumpy week last week. My neck is still super sore and between that and the pity party I threw for myself, I didn’t get much done aside from irritable sighing. Eventually it felt like the storm cloud moved in. Remember the scene in Ghostbusters when Dr. Venkman tries to get through to Sigourney Weaver but there is no Dana, only Zuul?

There was no Julia, only Zuul, but with much less eyeliner. Zuulia, if you will.

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7QT: Baby selfies, murder, and the Cold War

Linking up with Kelly for my first Seven Quick Takes. I feel like a real blogger now.

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My grammar students have a quiz on Monday so I put together a Powerpoint Jeopardy game (their favorite) for them to help review this chapter. Since I have to make up thirty questions for this thing, I usually take inspiration from the books I’ve been reading recently. This time they happened to be Rebecca and the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels. One of my students: “There’s a lot of murder in these questions.” Yes, yes there is.

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In order to buy some more time lying around in bed in the morning after I nurse Christopher, Chris and I sometimes (often) give him our phones – or our “shiny rectangles” because babies don’t know what phones are but our nine month old definitely knows what a rectangle is? – with the selfie camera on. He likes looking at himself. We have a narcissist baby. He took this selfie all by himself this morning.

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Work those angles.

 I have to say he has the duckface down.

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The Mooney School of Snowcraft and Blizzardry

How’s that for a ridiculous title? Linking up with Like Mother Like Daughter to talk about the ton of snow that got dropped on us on Monday, more than from the historic blizzard that wasn’t last week.

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The morning started off rather pleasant and beautiful with friendly flurries just enough for some good cozy snow peeping. Here’s the church across the street.

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But then the snow started picking up during Christopher’s afternoon nap, which was very exciting and a guaranteed snow day for the co-op where both Chris and I teach classes. Chris was in one of his own classes when it really started coming down and he had to walk home from class in this. Look at that umbrella lady struggling against the wind! What is this arctic tundra in which we live??

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I didn’t know we moved to Hoth.

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Christopher and I were all snuggled up inside when Chris sent me this missive:

I thought we were going to have to thaw him out with the boiling water or throw it on the stairs to make a path or something because I’m from Southern California, what is a weather? Maybe that’s how these things work. But no, it was for hot chocolate, the perfect accompaniment for blizzards  and freezing rain alike.

He made it home! Very snowy, but safely. He briefly (very, very briefly, grandparents) took Christopher out to see the carnage and wave hello to the man dealing with his car in front of our house.

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We sat on our couch, sipped hot chocolate and watched the snow and Return of the King, which even held Christopher’s attention after breaking our “no screens for babies because I’ve heard too much about The Shallows rule.

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On Tuesday, I dug out the pick up truck we are borrowing from my in-laws so I could go to the grocery store. I was very proud of myself for doing something everyone else in Connecticut thinks is a normal part of life. In the midddle of my celebratory drive to Stop and Shop I discovered my neck was massively stiff and the next thing I knew, it was physically, not just figuratively, painful to deal with a mid-grocery store hangry (hungry and angry – it’s a thing) Christopher meltdown. I’ve been laid up since.

You win, Winter. You win.

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What I’m Reading Wednesday

Linking up with Jessica for What I’m Reading Wednesday!

Usually, I like to stick with one book, power through, and move on to the next but I find myself having started three books at the same time. I think it helps that I’ve got a novel, a theology book, and a collection of letters so the genres are varied enough.

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Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers

I’m a sucker for stories about aristocratic dilettantes – I know, such a wide array of books fit that description, right? – so I’m surprised it took me so long to read the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. I’m on the third one now and I am just delighted by them. They’re engaging and easy to read so I like flying through them before bed since I’m trying to kick the “fall asleep to that episode of The Office you’ve seen literally 23 times” habit. I mean, I though this part was particularly funny and it’s from a chapter entitled “A Use for Spinsters,” which is hilarious all on its own:

“Miss Climpson,” said Lord Peter, “is a manifestation of the wasteful way in which this country is run. Look at electricity. Look at water power. Look at the tides. Look at the sun. Millions of units of power being given off into space every minute. Thousands of old maids, simply bursting with useful energy, forced by our stupid social system into hydros and hotels and communities and hostels and posts as companions, where their magnificent gossip-powers and units of inquisitiveness are allowed to dissipate themselves or even become harmful to the community, while the ratepayers’ money is spent on getting work for which these women are providentially fitted, inefficiently carried out by ill-equipped policemen like you.

I also love Parker, the straight man, and the fact that he’s not a complete dolt like his character can be in a lot of detective novels.

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Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942 by Edith Stein

I try to start my day with some spiritual reading, a habit long ingrained from daily “quiet time” in college, which I achieve with spotty success. I decided to get this from the Divinity School library (ah, the joys of the student spouse Yale ID) after asking a friend from our parish who has a particular devotion to St. Teresa Benedicta what to start with of Edith Stein’s. She recommended her letters, which were somewhat difficult to get into. They start with her correspondence pre-conversion when she was studying phenomenology so a lot of her early letters were about her studies, but as I get farther along, I’m starting to get more of a sense of her personality and her instrumental role in many other women’s conversions.

I’m also trying to understand what it means to have a friendship with a particular saint. St. Monica was my confirmation saint and I ask for her intercession frequently, especially for help with our little Adeodatus since she knows sons pretty well, but I still feel like I don’t quite get having a devotion beyond the very intellectual “I have read your books / about you in books” sense. #FormerProtestantProblems, I suppose. I realize now why starting with Edith Stein’s letters is a good move; it gives me some inkling of who she was as a whole person, not just her ideas. I welcome any suggestions on this front.

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After You Believe by N.T. Wright

N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope was instrumental in convincing me of a sacramental view of reality and my friend read this one recently so I thought I’d also give it a shot. He also came to the Div school in November and my husband and his friend got to drive him to and from the airport which was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Christopher and I got to meet him too.

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He’s pontificating at the head of the table. So awesome.

Anyway, that’s my first What I’m Reading Wednesday. I love, love, love friends on Goodreads so please add me over there!

Mystics from cheeses and other daily miracles

I cashed in a birthday gift from Chris – one of eight intervals of baby-less half hours – recently and sat at Starbucks with my free birthday Peppermint Mocha to read Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal. It was delightful and moving and now I want to initiate her cause for canonization.

I related deeply to her desire for holiness, not out of fear of Hell but with a desire to love virtue. The theme throughout her short prayers was a fear of mediocrity, both in her writing and in her spiritual life. “I don’t want to be doomed to mediocrity in my feeling for Christ,” she writes. “I want to feel. I want to love. Take me, dear Lord, and set me in the direction I am to go.” I loved this part from one of the final entries in her journal:

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“What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God can do that – make mystics out of cheeses. But why should he do it for an ingrate slothful & dirty creature like me.”

“Make me a mystic, immediately.” Oh, how I resonate with that desire.

“Lord, make me a saint/better mother/more loving wife/stop watching The Bachelor immediately and preferably without any inordinate effort on my part.”

When I get frustrated with my lack of holiness, I tend to make huge spiritual resolutions and disappoint myself when I do not attain them. But recently I’ve realized it is usually because I neglect the small yeses to grace that come with daily faithfulness. And Blythe’s post about the heroic minute really encouraged with me as I continue to muddle through the sloth and selfishness that hold me back from being a better homemaker and a better Christian. The path to holiness is not about big life-changing encounters – although, those do happen and are very real – but choices as normal as choosing a reaction of love instead of frustration with the baby when I find he has pulled all the books off the shelf again or choosing to put the phone down and bring the laundry to the basement.

I’m slowly realizing grace is not an esoteric theological concept but a minute-by-minute both supernatural and earthy – incarnational, really – reality. Participating in the sacraments have made this very real to me and has made holiness actually seem possible through Christ’s gift of Himself. Though I still groan with creation waiting for all things to be made new, failure no longer seems inevitable. It is incredibly freeing. We have oodles of small opportunities for a heroic minute during the day that help us leave the life of cheddar and move closer to St. Teresa of Avila territory. But hey, even St. Teresa thought there were seven mansions to move through in our interior castle.

A word of encouragement to my fellow cheeses desiring to become mystics (immediately) from another Teresa:
“God leads each of us on an individual way; one reaches the goal more easily and more quickly than another. We can do very little ourselves, compared to what is done to us. But that little bit we must do. Primarily, this consists before all else of persevering in prayer to find the right way, and of following without resistance the attraction of grace when we feel it. Whoever acts in this way and perseveres patiently will not be able to say that his efforts were in vain. But one may not set a deadline for the Lord.” (Edith Stein in a letter to a struggling student before she became St. Teresa Benedicta)