Recent days have been bumpy. Each day with its own series of ups and downs and back up again (mostly). Because the "new normal" doesn't arrange itself overnight. We create it one small course correction at a time, which bring us closer to stability, familiarity, and a sense of normal.
Things that are working in my house: making art, physical activity outdoors, planting seeds (literally) for a big new garden, revising the schedule of working-at-home and school-at-home, practicing patience and mercy (aka grace) with ourselves and each other. What's working in your home? What fails are you either learning from or just moving on from? It all counts.
"Pause. Breathe. Repeat." An entry about remembering to take my own advice. And some household tools for remembering your calm and focus in the midst of a very challenging transition.
My Christian faith started evolving 25 years ago, but the kernel or promise of change was embedded in my heart since childhood. The catalyst for my transformation was the fire of grief, which cracked me open and left me exposed. Community, in the form of women’s friendship and wisdom, tended me, planted me deeply in cool soil, and gave me room to grow.
My father died when I was 18. I was in college at an Evangelical Christian school. In the following year, I attempted suicide. My family of origin slid into a state of alienation from each other. I was angry and bereft, rude and out of control. I struggled against everything and everyone.
Something essential in me prevailed and was witnessed. Other women saw it. I received compassion and insight from female professors at the college. They brought me to church, a woman-lead Episcopalian congregation. They taught me about feminism, new-to-me theologies, women’s perspectives and experiences conveyed by women authors in narratives and poetry. I learned about the entanglement of Christian religion with colonialism. I reached out and met other female students wrestling with the same ideas and stretching into their own awakenings. I prayed and played with God alongside the guidance of an eclectic and faithful spiritual director.
Among the many books I read, were Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Those two books depict the life of Bertha, the first wife of Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. He locked Bertha away as a madwoman, but before she met him she was free, roaming a lush paradise, beholden to no man and no other way of being. Ultimately, Jane Eyre tells us, Bertha burns down the house that is her prison, and her life ends in the flames.
This character captured my imagination as an icon for the divine. She was a depiction of God before and after men’s language and power structures locked the divine into dogma and authority. I started to perceive and honor the divine as the “Madwoman in the Attic.” I composed a story about hearing Her in the house made by men and sneaking up to her door.
After college, I struggled in the ways that many recent graduates do. Adjusting to the independence and responsibilities of an adult is challenging. The community that I’d known was gone, each woman to her own place and work and relationships. The books remained but a group that lived in response to those words, perspectives, and visions did not exist. There was no “there” there. I yielded to daily life. I found connection and fun with new friends. I misplaced the vitality and piercing perception of my early twenties. I harbored the icon of the Madwoman in my heart and lodged myself on the threshold of her room.
A few weeks before my thirtieth birthday I moved across the country to Seattle for graduate school. It was my fresh start, far from my family, my personal history, the church I grew up in, the politics I did not subscribe to. The Madwoman resurfaced in my graduate studies and occupied a central role in my thinking and writing. As I drafted my thesis I heard Her call. She did not reveal Herself to me in the upper room of the house, which I had hoped and expected. Rather, She bid me retrace my steps and meet Her in each person I met as I traveled back down through the house.
I had received a call. I had conviction and vocation. There was vitality and vision, again!
Within a month of receiving approval of my thesis, I married. Within a year of marrying, I gave birth to a son. Not long after that, I recognized that the marriage was over, but it was years before we separated and the divorce was finalized. Those were lean years of providing the single source of income for our family. Those were committed years of tending my mental health with therapy and medication. Those were learning years of finding spiritual community in a group of pagan women. I considered it a tentative descent from the Madwoman’s attic.
I am 45 years old. I’ve returned home to Seattle from Evolving Faith ‘19 and the Madwoman’s call is renewed boldly within me. Perhaps she is more precise, now, or perhaps my ears have cleared to hear. She says, “Perceive me in everyone you meet. Everywhere. Do not be bound by walls or ways or words. Burn down the house.”
I don’t believe that God is crazy. Nor do I believe that God is locked in conventional theology, dominant culture, or approved religious practices. Burning down the house does not threaten God, just like composing other narratives or engaging new-to-me theologies or participating in previously unfamiliar communities doesn’t threaten God. Burning down the house might set me free to meet God, newly; to honor God, newly; to meet and honor you.
There’s still no “there” there, for me. I don’t have a local community that I can simply join for resonance and support, teaching and service. I miss that. I understand, now, the best parts of a house of worship. Even so, I proceed. I am making it up as I go, one step at a time, down from Her attic and into the company of Her people, who are everywhere.
Here is Little N with Slim and Brother Justin enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning.
It was such a leisurely Sunday morning that I got to sleep in until 8-ish. We stayed at J's Saturday night after a 4-hour playdate with G and her family. Pizza and a movie later and Little N was sound asleep. Only to rise early, with the cats, and then J, while I slept on. happy sigh.
Happy too, to note that N's behavior toward me improved a little after a call with his dad. N heard that he was going a little too far in his treatment of me and some of his classmates. He is still impatient and quick to anger, but he's eased up on his verbal abuse of me.
So we enjoyed a playdate with G's two boys. We enjoyed hanging out for the evening at J's. Little N put down the iPad and enjoyed imaginary games in J's house, which he wishes was ours. He enjoyed pizza, a raucous movie, sleeping in a big bed by himself, with maybe a cat or two. And I enjoyed my son.
It's a beginning. It's a sign, I hope, that we're in a change. I anticipate bumps. I'm seeking additional support in the form of a counselor for N. And I'm holding onto my hope of N learning how to manage big emotions, like anger, like reactions to change and loss. Holding onto my hope of knowing my son throughout this transition and continuing our relationship, on good terms, on the other side of this.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
The landlord raised my rent this summer and I needed help financially. So L moved back in with me and Little N. He's paying me rent to share a room with his son. It's an unconventional arrangement, though I hear it's not as uncommon as one might expect, and it's given my bank account a little breathing room. Much appreciated!
The new living arrangement also initiated some rearranging of the physical space. I've moved into the smaller bedroom and turned it into a bright cozy nest. My little sanctuary of self-care.
I've been away from this space for well over a year. It's been a full and challenging time. So much learning.
Learning the people of a new job. Learning to establish and hold healthy boundaries. Learning a new, much heavier, body. To love it. To take good care of it. To patiently change it into a more physically fit and cherished vessel. Learning to co-parent with L. To tend Little N with him, my most precious person with the person I least want to share my life with. And there's more that won't fit into one tidy post.
Old memories are rising - both painful recollections and wise encouragements from my past. The memories point to how I got here. Intimating the sources of deeply held beliefs. Recalling me to nurturing habits I once held sacred and practiced regularly. If I resume those old good habits they could carry me into and beyond this new phase of learning.
Back in November, I posted that Samhain to Imbolc would be a season of sitting still with the life that I live. Oh, but I am a wriggly little worm. Much of this dark season has been resisting the life that I live. So mundane. So uninspired. I've been looking ahead to a season of action on resolutions.
I came across the above image in my Facebook feed and it did inspire me a little. I'm thinking a lot about my health. About managing my weight, getting a grip on how I feel before reaching for food, about how I want to feel, and about the things that I enjoy, that feel meaningful, and that make me feel connected. This colorful image opens my lens on health to include all of those aspects and their interconnections. Plus, I read a quote (also in my FB feed) that basically said we overeat not because food gives us pleasure, but because it doesn't give us enough pleasure. I hunger, really, for pleasure, happiness, good relationships, a sense of the presence of the Divine, meaningful work. In the absence of these things I reach for a chai tea latte and a cheese danish and head back to my job.
This season of action prompts a long list of To Dos in order to reach for the full health that I want and need. Eating healthfully. Moving my body in a way that's enjoyable and repeatable. Playing with my son after work each night and reading to him before bed. Checking in with friends for Mama-dates and ritual. All things that I am capable of and have done before.
And - this season of action calls for discrete inactivity. Sitting. With my journal. With my life. Recalling and recounting my blessings. Perceiving the fissures in the mundane where the special and inspiring whisper through.