An Open Letter to Our Children

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Dear Loves of Our Lives, Our Favorite People on the Planet, Our Precious Children:

Daughters, we are so sorry.

We are so sorry that when we saw a boy at a concert, or a ball game, or at a church service goose you or snap your bra strap or grope you or touch you anywhere at all we didn’t do more than yell, “Hey!” at him. We are sorry we didn’t chase him down. We are sorry we didn’t call security. We are sorry that nobody else stopped him or chased him down or called security. We are sorry that our generation hasn’t fixed this yet. We are sorry that there are any young men your age who are still allowed to believe that women are responsible for their inability to control themselves, that they have a right to your body or anyone’s body they want. And we are sorry that we ever suggested you should watch what you wear or only drink a little, without suggesting the same to your brothers and male friends.

Sons, we are so sorry.

We are sorry that you heard the message “boys will be boys” in relation to teasing and bullying, if not from us than from teachers, coaches, friends’ parents. We are sorry for the times you were the recipient of that bullying.

We are sorry that when you made a mistake, some kid called you a “faggot” in derision. We are sorry that you didn’t hear us tell that kid to shut up. We are sorry that we didn’t come to your defense, instead giving you the toxic idea that boys are supposed to “grow a pair”, “man up”, “not be a pussy.” We are sorry you ever got that message, along with the message that being gay was somehow so terrifying as to be acceptable as a curse to use against someone else. We are so sorry that whatever we taught you, you still hear the message from peers, from coaches, from television, from the internet, from EVERYWHERE that you are not capable of controlling yourselves, so that you are not responsible for your own actions.

Our beloved children, we are so sorry that when you were groped, or molested, or assaulted, or raped, that we didn’t believe you. We are sorry that on the occasions where we did believe you, we just let it go, when what we should have done was let you rest and heal while we fought the monsters who did this to you.

Children, we are so sorry that we understood, all too well, your urgent desire to pretend it would go away, when we knew, WE KNEW that it was going to forever change you. We are sorry that our own experiences of being groped, and molested, and assaulted, and raped made us heartbroken that you had to join this horrible club and bear this brutal secret, like us and so many others, instead of enraging us into action. We are sorry that we weren’t enraged into action BEFORE you joined the club.

We are so sorry.

We are so sorry that we had to teach you, Daughters, to walk in groups, and carry your keys in your fingers, and to be wary of men. We are so sorry that no matter how smart, how strong, how amazing you are, that you are still a woman in this world, and that means that like us, like women everywhere, to far too many people you do not matter.

We are so sorry, Sons, that though we tried to give you an example to follow of how to treat everyone with respect, we missed the mark. We tried to teach you that you don’t have a right to anyone else’s body, but failed, because we didn’t do enough to overcome far too many conflicting messages from elsewhere. We are sorry that we didn’t stand up and shout down those messages consistently, from the beginning. We are sorry that we did not teach you that you are smart, strong, and amazing without having to take anything away from your sisters, or anyone else.

We are so sorry.

You are smart and strong and amazing. You matter.

We love you.

Your Mothers

 

Today’s Sign of Hope: Monarchs

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Photo by  Mary Bishop

A few years ago my youngest came home from school distraught, because he’d learned that the numbers of Monarch butterflies are dwindling. He’s a sensitive soul who dearly loves all of nature, and he just couldn’t abide by the loss of something so beautiful.

I promised him we’d plant some milkweed (the Monarch caterpillar’s source of food), but it took us a while to find some. Last fall I planted a few small bushes that promptly wilted and stood sticklike through the winter and most of the spring.

One day around May, we looked out and saw that they had not only sprung back to life, they’d grown and spread a bit. Throughout the summer we saw various species of butterflies taking a sip from the flowers and in early September we even saw a few monarch caterpillars munching on the leaves. I never saw any chrysalises, though, so I assumed we had ourselves a Monarch roadside stand rather than a home (which was just fine—we all need rest stops along the way!). Then last week I caught sight of this beauty in the tree near the bushes. She’s a late bloomer for sure, but such a welcome sight.

I’m Not Afraid: Accepting the October Challenge

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For October, Kristen has challenged us to venture more toward the “thin places,” the potentially spooky aspects of where our faith and our world intersect.

She correctly said that I’d be thrilled about this, because I love October, horror stories, and all things spooky. This has always been my favorite month, and I enjoy reading and watching horror stories all year long (though lately, with the late autumn in Maryland, the fog-horn-chilly days of mid-November have the most appropriate ambiance).  As a kid my friends and I would regularly play in the local cemetery. We weren’t trying to be daring or brave; it was just a quiet area with lots of interesting places to hide where the adults left us alone. It didn’t occur to me until high school that some of my peers might find this odd.

But if graveyards and stories of monsters and ghouls don’t bother me, I have come to realize that I have some thick, rigid lines that I do not cross. My home town also boasted a neighborhood that was purported to be occupied by devil worshipers (it had the ironically adorable name “Bunny Run”). And although my extremely religiously conservative parents were pleasantly mum on Dungeons and Dragons, we were strictly forbidden from “messing around” with things like Ouija boards and tarot cards. Slightly less damning but still on shaky ground were things like astrology, crystals, and attending a non-Catholic religious service, with yoga, charismatic practices, and mystic saints like St. Hildegard of Bingen being firmly labeled “hippy-dippy new agey nonsense,” best avoided to be safe. The fear of these things was instilled so deeply that it never occurred to me to even look into why they were forbidden—I just knew I needed to avoid even thinking about them. (The one exception was yoga. Even my mom tried yoga eventually. Sadly, inversions make me ill so I can’t practice it regularly.)

So I accept Kristen’s challenge, not to take up “spooky things,” but to more thoroughly understand things that have spooked me in the past. I will not be buying an Ouija board, but learning the often-rich history of “scary” religious practices feels like a perfect October pastime.

 

Sign of Hope for Today

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Mary and I are both knackered by current events in the church and our nation, and we know we aren’t alone. A few days ago, I started looking for a sign—any sign—of hope in my fellow humans. You know, one tends to find what one is looking for, eh? It felt good to recognize a small demonstration of kindness here, a step in a positive direction there. We thought we would continue seeking signs for a while. We welcome you to share your signs of hope with us, too, in the comments. We are all in this life business together, after all.

Today’s sign: I chapereoned a parade today. As we arrived at the marshalling area, I was struck by the sheer number of people assembled. This is a big 10 division parade. In the one parking lot we were in, there were easily 10 high school marching bands, not to mention representatives from dozens of community groups (Scouts, dance schools, sports teams, local service clubs…), fire engines, classic cars, some stilt walkers, a pair of gorgeous older ladies in a fiery red sports car representing the local Red Hat Society, and even a t-rex.   It was a visible sampling of good stuff going on all over my community.

Then we started marching.  There were thousands of people along the route. All ages, all races, all socio-economic backgrounds. All of my neighbors were all out with their families enjoying the parade. Dozens of times my fellow chaperones responded to praise for our student musicians. Not to mention the people who knew me from my work in the community who called me out by name, and reached out for a hug or wave (and one unexpected demand for a selfie!).

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Photo by Kristen Allen

A Challenge for October: Head into the Mystic, Try Not to Get Spooked

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Each month, we extend a challenge aimed at teaching us something about ourselves, our community, our faith, or maybe just to amuse us!

How can it be October –the twenty-sixth week of ordinary time–already? I haven’t finished planning my July 4th barbecue, and now the entire countryside is sprinkled in pumpkin spice!

This month’s challenge is one that Mary just might be giddy about. She loves all things October and Halloween and horror.

Me? Well, I have to confess that along with cutting ritual and symbolism in an attempt to be more practical or something, I also knocked the mystical out of my spiritual life. After I had my first child, I found that I had lost my stomach for horror movies and books. Being a mom was terrifying enough for me. That I spent two decades in a Pentecostal church that believes that all spirit beings that aren’t the Almighty or the archangels are demonic, and that celebrating Halloween is courting Satan sort of sealed that deal for me. After talking with Mary, and some other thoughtful, smart, creative people (I’m looking at you Sick Pilgrim folks!), I’m willing to consider maybe thinking about revisiting spooky stuff.

During last month’s exploration of ordinary sacramentals, I was surprised to recognize some thin places between, well, between my coffee cup and the heavens. I think I’m ready to venture a little further down this road, and what better time than the days leading up to All Hallow’s Eve?

Come with me! (And hold my hand, please.)

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September’s Sacramentals

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For September, I challenged Kristen (and myself) to identify current or establish new habits in our daily lives that connect us to God—what we labeled as Sacramentals.

After that we pretty much went silent for the month.

September hit us both a bit like a cement truck, and our carefully laid-out schedule for posts was an early casualty. But the seed for sacramentals was already planted—so how’d we do?

 

From Kristen:

I have not filled my days with magic and mystery or anything. Still, I was surprised to recognize some ordinary everyday sacramentals I already have in my life.

I start my day, every day, pouring a cup of coffee while the dogs are out doing their morning business. Like most of the people I know, I have a ridiculous number of coffee mugs that I have collected over the years. I only use three of them, though. My number one choice is the mug my kid brother gave me for Christmas my freshman year in college over thirty years ago. It’s ringed with Boynton’s quirky animals at school desks. It says, “The little joys of teaching are without number.” It makes me smile every single time. Sometimes, though, it is missing (read that as “it’s in one of my sons’ bedrooms becoming some sort of frightening lab experiment.”) Then I grab the St. Damien of Molokai mug I got at the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Retreat Center. The retreat center is a beautiful place that never fails to bring me peace and some sort of enlightenment. And I always had a thing for Father-now-Saint Damien, the priest who risked—and ultimately lost—his own life to care for the lepers on the island of Molokai. What kind of love must that be? I want it. The mug is always a good reminder.

The third mug is the one that made me realize that my three coffee mugs are sacramental objects.

The third mug came from the gift shop at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. About twenty years ago, one of my husband’s coworkers-become-closest-friends-who-then-became-part-of-our-family came back from a visit to his folks’ with the mug, along with a cedar cribbage board and a balsam filled pillow from Sequoia National Forest. It just tickled him to give us such goofy tchotchkes from tourist spots. His laughter was booming and infectious. It was one of the best things about him. When he died tragically a year later, the mug became my way of remembering him. This past week, I discovered that one of my sons accidentally broke the mug, leaving the pieces on the kitchen counter for me. He (whichever he it was) knew that the mug was too important to just throw out. At that moment, I realized that I treated it—and the other two mugs—as sacramentals.

The other sacramentals in my life are more transient. On my meditative walks, I have a habit of picking up some small natural objects—stones, shells, acorns, feathers… I will put them on my desk or in the small dish on my nightstand for a time, eventually swapping them out for new collections of objects. Last Sunday, while making my first visit to the series of meditation gardens and labyrinth at a local Episcopal parish, I was especially touched by one small space that is nestled under a huge oak tree. A square of pea stone marks off the area. There are two benches across from each other to sit at while praying. In the center of the square was a stone that had been worn away on top, so that it loosely resembled a bowl. In each corner of the square were planter pots filled with small stones. A sign at the entrance to the space encouraged people to take a small stone and hold it while they prayed, imagining their intention being put into the stone. When the prayer was complete, the stone could be added to the stones in the center stone bowl. It was a lovely way to think about our collective intentions and prayers. And it has given me new insight into my practice of collecting as I walk.

Just today I realized that I have another garden-related sacramental. Spring bulbs. For the past thirteen years, since we moved to this house, I have planted tulip, daffodil, and crocus bulbs. Looking back over the years, I realize that this has become a ritual for me. Planting bulbs in my yard is a radical act of faith—the soil is iffy, the weather is unpredictable, and the moles are voracious. Every fall I plant them, not knowing what will bloom come spring. It’s a tangible act of hope and faith.

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From Mary:

I honestly thought this month’s dare would be easy for me. I like tangible reminders of faith, and it felt like a logical way for me to remain connected to God while the politics and scandals of organized religion keep buzzing around everywhere I look. I just purchased a used copy of the Liturgy of the Hours that I was excited to delve into, and I was going to carve out time to finally sift through The Catholic Box—the various religious keepsakes of my parents that my brother gave me after my mom’s death, since I was the last sibling still Catholic.

I grossly underestimated the depth of my own anger and sorrow.

When I thought of plunging into the eternal current of prayers of the communion of saints, I just felt cold, like a stranger. And when I looked in the direction of the Box—well, I cried.

Words failed me this month, and as someone who relates to the world largely through words, and who considers them the closest thing I have to an art form, that’s a scary and isolating experience.

The one thing that did comfort me this month was playing the piano. Revisiting pieces I played growing up, pieces that were my mom’s favorites, or that dad always commented on, or that I remember my piano teacher pleading, “No, with more feeeeeling” with a pointless sigh because my 15 years on the planet had been blissfully free of the depth of feeling she was looking for—playing them to an empty house allowed my heart to speak through my fingers without having to engage my brain. I do not play piano well, and I do not play for an audience. But this month I was able to pray the notes directly to God when words just could not suffice.

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I Accept the Challenge for September

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Sacramentals intrigue me. I never thought of my habit of filling my pockets with stones, or my muttered prayers while doing repetitive gardening chores, or anything outside of church as a sacramental. I totally see it, now, though.

So, yes! I accept your challenge.

I will pay attention to my personal habits that perhaps are more like rituals. I will seek to identify the ordinary objects that could actually be sacramentals in my day-to-day life. While I am at it, I will see if I can find spaces in my day that NEED a ritual, or maybe could benefit from some sacramental object. I feel like I have got something  missing. Maybe sacramentals are it.

Once upon a time, I was a girl who saw the magic and the mystery in the spiritual realm, and honored it through ritual and symbols. Somewhere along the line, though, I purged all of that out of my life. It was impractical and unnecessary and foolish. Or something like that. I don’t even know anymore.

I don’t know if a few weeks of intention will answer my questions, but I have to start somewhere, right? I’m going to go light a candle and get started.