In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice (The Practices of Faith Series)

In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice
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They had kids and jobs. Repeatedly, they had tried and failed. They were too tired in the morning, too tired at night, and too overwhelmed in the hours between. They were already cutting corners. At that time Mark and I were without kids; we pressed these good church folk to persist. These folks were simply trying to adapt a pattern of faith that is deeply embedded in Western society to the incompatible pattern of their physical, material life with children, partner, and domicile. The embedded pattern simply does not fit the contour of most people's lives today.

Few had children," notes church historian Wendy Wright. But this is not all. Many of the esteemed champions of the faith tradition modeled an entire way of life at odds with the life of these church members. They pursued God through the "silence and solitude of a hermit's cell or the mobility of unattached apostolic life. Indeed, they "radically cut ties with families" and forbade pursuit and satisfaction of sexual desire and bodily need.

Ardent devotion to God required transcending the body, voluntary poverty, and pilgrimage far beyond the bond and boundary of home. Here lies a wholly distinct pattern for the Christian life — whom and how to love, how to work, where to live, how to care for the body, how to spend one's money. Has anyone ever outlined so clearly and carefully an alternative to this traditional view that has comparable weight, integrity, and cohesiveness?

A huge gulf lies between this pattern and daily life for most of us — marriage, children, and passionate attachment to specific people; immersion in bodily, sexual activity; commitment to one location; ownership and care of material possessions; and the daily grind of making a living and maintaining a home. Ambivalence about the family as a place of faith goes as far back as Christian scripture itself. In all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus himself disclaims his own biological family and proclaims a new family of believers, not related by birth but by commitment to doing God's will Matthew ; Mark —35; Luke —21; all scriptural citations are NRSV unless otherwise specified.

Certainly these passages are meant to challenge the extended family clan and the authority it wielded rather than dismiss marriage and procreation themselves. Other passages, such as Elizabeth and Mary greeting motherhood with joy, or Jesus blessing wedding wine, forbidding divorce, and welcoming children, indicate high regard for the bonds of marriage and the love of children.

Nonetheless, Jesus' own model of discipleship and that of his first followers planted seeds of unrest. He was, after all, single and without children, and he asked those who followed him to leave their family. The Apostle Paul never married or had children and thought the imminence of God's kingdom advised accepting whatever situation one found oneself in. Even Paul's identification of the early Christian community as the new "household of God" subtly shifted the locus of faith from the hearth and family as the center of religious practice to new extrafamilial relationships within the church.

In many cases, the early church did precisely what Jesus predicted: set brother against brother, father against child, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law Matthew , 35—36; Luke — These characteristics, mixed with the otherworldly leanings of Greek philosophy, made development of a Christian theology of family faith difficult, right up to our time. Christian perception of faith as something that happens outside ordinary time and within formal religious institutions, or within the private confines of one's individual soul, still pervades Western society.

This is true despite recent popular movements and publications affirming everyday spirituality, and despite long-standing movements within Christian history that have encouraged integration of faith into daily life. Some of these movements are receiving renewed attention today, as growing interest in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality demonstrates. Ignatius of Loyola was the sixteenth-century founder of the Jesuits, a religious society that combines contemplation with action designed to change the world, and Benedict of Nyssa was a fifth-century monastic who created an order that balanced prayer and daily work.

Today thousands still belong to these religious orders and many more benefit from retreats, books, and other instruction in these distinctive spiritual paths. Efforts to disseminate these traditions more widely are an important corrective to the understanding of faith that continues to shape many church members, texts on spirituality, and my colleague who thought having kids disrupted her faith. By and large, however, twentieth-century theologians continue to look past the sheer messiness of daily family life.

Similarly, disregard for the material basis of life continues to frustrate contemporary believers' efforts to embrace their faith daily. Bias against "outward" forms of spirituality, as enacted by the body in the midst of family and community, marginalizes many Christians. Limiting spirituality to the "inner" life and restricting theology to the life of the mind ends up excluding a huge portion of life from both faith and theology.

I now recognize a moment of awakening, when I began to have serious doubts about this way of understanding the life of faith. In a quintessential act of multitasking over a decade ago, I sat in the bathroom, watching two of my young sons in the tub and reading The Way of the Heart, Catholic priest Henri Nouwen's book about spirituality.

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I was reading his meditation on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers because I'd assigned it in a ministry class and wanted to enliven my own practice of faith. Drawing on one of the Desert Fathers, Abba Arsenius, Nouwen a twentieth-century priest and spiritual leader names solitude, silence, and prayer as the three means to love of God. Flee, be silent, and pray. Silence reorients the heart. Silence and solitude are paths to God.

Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice

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No doubt there were many times when I wanted to flee motherhood, or at least some of its daily duties, over the months and years. But I couldn't — at least not to the extent Nouwen implied. There were also times when I yearned for silence, most often when I had other work to do, or as the day waned, infants turned inconsolable, and I tired.

When silence came, I appreciated it but was far too spent to use it to fulfill what felt like more obligations of pious devotion. With three children under six and a full-time teaching job, silence and solitude were rare. But without solitude or silence, could I ever experience God?

My youngest son's babbling drew me from my reading to babble back, and another thought crystallized. Why were silence and solitude so absolutely crucial to spiritual growth?

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In this section I set out to shed light on these questions, thus demonstrating how the ordinary can be sanctified. Washington, DC: Magination. It is as good and true as it is beautiful. Langberg, Diane. Risking Connection in Faith Communities: a training curriculum for faith leaders supporting trauma.

Although helpful and important, were they sufficient unto themselves? I looked up from Nouwen's lines about the danger of wordiness to witness one of my sons, not much over a year old, playing with words. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books.

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Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview How the daily practices of life with children can shape our faith In the Midst of Chaos explores parenting as spiritual practice, building on Bonnie J.

About the Author Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore is E. Rhodes and Leona B. A Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology and an author and editor of over sixteen books, she is widely recognized for her work on families, women, and children and her national and international leadership in pastoral and practical theologies.

Spirituality on the Inside The Western world has a long history of saying no.

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Spirituality on the Outside I now recognize a moment of awakening, when I began to have serious doubts about this way of understanding the life of faith. Continues… Excerpted from "In the Midst of Chaos" by.

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August 27, 2017

Table of Contents Editor's Foreword Preface 1. Contemplating in Chaos 2. Sanctifying the Ordinary 3. Pondering All These Things 4. Taking Kids Seriously 5. Giving unto Others But What About Myself?