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Family Blessings for Special Moments Great and Small
By Gale Pryor
Conari PressCopyright © 2003 Gale Pryor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI am a mother and this, for better or worse, guides all else. First comes motherhood, then comes the rest, when I can find the time.
Mothering is motion-a flung-to-pieces spinning sort of motion. While our children still live with us, we surrender to fragmentation, beginning every task only to see something else that needs to be done, only to be called away, eventually to forget what we intended to do in the first place. We are assigned to this place, to that job, to this need, surrounded by the half-done, the overlooked, and the intended.
In my worst mothering moments, a melodramatic vision crosses my mind: I am a chunk of flesh flung in a piranha pool. The first lucky piranha senses the splash and investigates. Mmmmm, fresh flesh! It snatches a chunk. The others come to see what the excitement is all about, and soon a poolful of hungry fish surround me, taking bits and pieces.
Feeding time at the piranha pool begins at 6 A.M. In the fading dark, I'm out of bed to slip on jeans, shoes, jacket, grab a leash and plastic bag for poop to take the puppy and the old dog for a walk before the puppy can't wait another minute and pees on the kitchen floor. Back to join my husband in breakfast-making, lunchbox-filling, waking three boys, finding underwear (only the Batman underwear will do), and socks ("Didn't I just buy a lot of new socks? Why don't any of them match?"), all the while berating myself for not taking the time to teach these boys to do these things for themselves. A quick shower for me, a load of dishes and another of laundry begun, that's all the cleaning I'll get done today.
Boys out the door, off to school, one after another, this one to high school, that one to middle school ("You're telling me now you need $8.00 cash and a signed permission slip for the field trip today?"), as the kindergartner waits for me to escort him. Husband waves quickly as he backs out of the driveway, somehow knotting his tie as he goes. At kindergarten, I'm reminded that they still need chaperones for the apple-picking trip. And is there any way I could help out with the fundraiser for the library?
At last, alone, I return to my house, my desk, my emails-each one of which concerns somebody else's emergency. Awfully sorry for the short notice, but is there any way I could get this done for them today? The bank calls, the car loan payment is late, but if I go down to the bank by noon and pay it, they won't charge a late fee. The neighbor calls-our puppy (who has learned to open the front door) has escaped and is romping in her backyard. Puppy fetched, back to my desk, a dozen emails opened and answered. Now, to write something, anything, before another chunk of flesh is bitten off.
A knock at the door, another neighbor. Can the puppy come and play with her dog for a while? Oh, yes, a little playtime and she'll stop attacking my ankles, sack out, and let me get some work done before it's time to pick up my kindergartner.
The dogs play, racing and bashing. They play tag and keep-the-stick-away. They roll tangled, mouths ajar, teeth bared as if to tear each other apart, but never biting, thoughtless in pure motion and joy. Like bodysurfers, or skiers, or babies, they exist in the moment, in the place, with no bits of self spread there or left behind or cast forward to do double duty. They're having such fun.
My neighbor and I let our small talk fall and watch them silently. We two women-both mothers, trying to hold one steady hand on the tillers of our families while bailing with the other-could never meditate on a stone. Our minds would use the quiet time to review the schedule, to write the grocery list, to consider the alternatives. Monks have it easy; who couldn't find peace in a temple on a mountaintop?
The tumbling dogs, though, draw us in. We watch and sometimes laugh. Their frenzy is hypnotic, lighthearted-and for the first time since I awoke in the dark, my mind begins to quiet its buzz.
The Little Things
Too soon, my neighbor must move on, and so must I. We call the dogs and return to our to-do lists. The unexpected, momentary peace we've found, however, sets me wondering. Is it possible that the frenzy of my life-my family, my work, and my community-could induce the same peace in me, if I simply considered it differently?
What would happen if I learned to enjoy the tumult for what it is? If I rode it the way a bodysurfer skims a wave? Can I find a way for the vitality of the many lives and activities I have found myself in the middle of, here in the middle of my life, to feed me, rather than feed off me?
Perhaps the monks do have something to teach me, even from their mountaintops. Even in their peace and solitude, they have considered life and seem to know something about it. Ajahn Viuradhammo, a Buddhist from the Bodhinyanarama monastery in New Zealand, writes, "Oh gratitude for the luxury of little things. In stopping, in listening, in being, we come to the luxury of little things and we feel the peace that is within and yet beyond all things.... The process of existence is just as important as any other goal we might have. The doing is important because the doing involves affection for all the little things."
Yes, the process of existence. That is what I seek to value. But the luxury of little things-affection for all the little things-could he mean the little things that drive me crazy? The little things that dice my brain to sawdust? The wandering puppy and the lost socks? The permission slips and rebate forms? The garden in desperate need of water and the teenager in desperate need of driving lessons? Too many bills and never quite enough money? Neglected work and impatient deadlines? The lonely elderly neighbor? The overworked husband?
Yes ... and no.
I don't believe I'll ever find peace and spiritual enlightenment while paying bills. Nor do I believe that inner harmony can be achieved only on a mountaintop. But, if the monks are right, what are the little things here, today, in the process of my existence, for which I can feel affection, the luxurious little things through which I may "feel the peace that is within, and yet beyond all things"? If I cannot escape the clutter, can I find sustenance in it? Can I find joy, glory, a holiness and peace of some sort amid the lunch boxes, action figures, dog hair, and dirty socks that scatter my days? Can I begin, despite my lack of orthodoxy, by praying for it?
Looking to traditional prayers for comfort and guidance takes me only so far. The glory of God and "Thou art all" meditations are too large for my brain, addled as it is by the minutiae of daily life. It is (and this would make perfect sense to my monk) the little prayers that I find most sustaining, the ones that focus me on the gifts that pepper my days. What I need are prayers drawn up from the little things more than prayers drawn down from the heavens.
We call these little prayers blessings.
An old gospel song tells us to, "Count your many blessings, name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God has done." And we do. We thank God for our health, the roof over our heads, the food on our dinner plates. Things could always be worse, we say. So don't complain, we mean. "Count your blessings" may be our most polite variant of "Shut up."
And yet, blessings are spoken in every city and village, from Ireland to Polynesia. Some are vast in their compass: "May the blessing of God Almighty be upon you." Some are precise: "May your donkey always be in foal." In every culture, every belief, blessing is like breathing, hardly noticed, ever-present, and life-sustaining. Blessing is a most human effort to pin down, like butterflies on a board, those fluttery moments that make day-to-day life sweeter, and even glorious.
And so, rather than telling myself to shut up and stop complaining, I hunt for traditional blessings from many cultures that would somehow aid my search for peace in the midst of chaos. I collect them, sort them like socks, share them with friends. The blessings that others have found sustaining (even in lives very different from my own) help me see them where I have not before. They are, in fact, right in front of me. And so, while I collect blessings, I also write them.
The Habit of Blessing
Sometimes even a sweet child may tear a few ants from limb to limb. Yet, if a child continues to crouch on the sidewalk observing ants following scent trails, excavating the lawn, and hoisting crumbs, the child will fall into fascination. He will attain the moment when life becomes more interesting than death. Eventually the child chooses to let the ant live so that he may see what it will do, rather than what he can do to it. This choice is a blessing.
watch an ant, and let it live.
This blessing is offered in hope that every child will, one day, make this small transforming decision. Every blessing is offered in hope, for to hope is to recognize something good and precious. If recognized, goodness will increase and endure. If hoped for, it may emerge in a once empty place. And every blessing is a promise that we will be thankful for it when it comes.
All the blessings collected in this little book have been swept up from daily life, my own and others. They are the rosary beads that remind me to pray, the stones on which I meditate. Like mantras, they still my mind. Like butterflies, they lighten my heart.
May they help you to open your eyes to the small graces in all our homes and families, the moment-by-moment blessings. We do not need to travel far or leave the mundane behind to find joy and peace. It is right here with us, and the habit of blessing can help us find it.
Excerpted from Family Blessings for Special Moments Great and Small by Gale Pryor Copyright © 2003 by Gale Pryor. Excerpted by permission.
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