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2005-09-03 4:57 PM
the birth of reverendmother, part II
That week of meetings was a whole-family effort. R was amazing: hunching over bathroom sinks to run hot water over bottles of breastmilk in order to thaw them while I met with various and sundry groups; pacing at the back of the presbytery meeting with C on his shoulder; cramming into a tiny women’s room to help me clean up C’s poop explosion that happened during our marathon house-hunting trip.
For her part, C was helpful enough to sleep from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. the night before we left, and from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. our entire time in Suburb. She also limited her inconsolable meltdowns and poop explosions to one apiece, and timed them somewhat sensitively. She put up with being shuttled from place to place, and wore her “Perky Little Presbyterian” onesie with dignity and aplomb.
Beyond these details, I remember just a few things about the different meetings and gatherings that weekend.
I don’t remember much about the clearance interview, except being questioned about self-care, and how I was planning to keep this from being a 100-hour-a-week job. I thought seriously about bringing in R and C as a visual aid.
“100 hours a week?!? Perhaps you haven’t met the little blond bombshell, the Enforcer of Quitting Time. And her sidekick R, himself a preacher’s kid, who’s warming up to teach her a sad little dirge called ‘Mommy’s Going to a Meeting’ if my night commitments become too frequent.”
As for the big event, the Tuesday presbytery meeting, it was the first time I’d been at pulpit since giving birth. I’d made a few informal remarks to the congregation on Sunday, but this was quite different—more formal, more nerve-wracking anyway. The examination for ordination in my presbytery includes one softball question, given in advance—I was to speak for five minutes about a psalm that was meaningful to me. Then, the floor opens for questions.
R, C and my APNC entourage sat way at the back of the meeting, but I had a front-row seat as a young woman got savaged over her written statement of faith and the essential tenets of the Reformed tradition. She didn’t handle it well. As she stammered out response after response, my heart sank. One particularly ill-considered answer actually drew an audible gasp in the room. I looked over at a woman across the table and said the G-rated equivalent of “Holy Shit.” She smiled sympathetically. There was a palpable crankiness in the room (which seems to be the default mood for this presbytery, although I didn’t know it at the time).
And I was next.
Am I ready for this? Have I regained enough of my mojo to endure a public grilling?
It was too late even to ask the question.
When my turn came, I spoke about Psalm 139—a cliché, perhaps, but I have been addressed by that psalm more than any other. I think I did a little perfunctory exegesis of the text; I tried to head off any questions about the “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” by inserting some “sovereignty of God” language (wait, did that sovereignty stuff come out breezy? or did it sound forced, like name-dropping?); then I made a self-deprecating remark about how my inner Baptist was demanding that I do a little testifyin’, and I shared what the psalm really meant to me.
It was personal. I talked about the fact that “the inescapable God” in psalm 139 can be a source of comfort and assurance, but also deep irritation when we’re trying to run: “Oh geez, you’re here too?!? Leave me alone already!” I talked about a time of spiritual darkness (wait, stop! nobody admits to spiritual darkness in these things; are you crazy?). During that time I had a dream in which was sitting on a front porch, cross-legged, while a woman behind me braided my hair into long, straight rows. And a voice said, “I have knit you together in your mother’s womb.” I awoke, and knew deep down that the dawn was beginning to break after this long dark night of the soul.
Truth be told, the fatigue probably granted me the freedom to say things that a rested, rational mind would have censored. And all was well. I received no follow-up questions.
I read this recently:
Fatigue is a gift to our fallen human nature, without which we might have the stamina for endless mutual harassment and mischief. Fatigue sets a limit on obsessions, grudges, vain posturing and zealous schemes to reform the world. Fatigue produces grouchiness but also releases empathy, patience and compassion. The fatigue of a mother is so profound that it goes down to the bottom of the deepest well in the garden where the world began. Every mother’s body keeps in perpetuity a record of that fatigue, and in this sorority of fatigue all mothers—potentially all women—are united. (Carol Zaleski, “Fatigue Factor,” from the Christian Century September 6, 2005)
What do I remember most of all? A murky pseudo-prayer that drooped around me all weekend, a nagging thought that would have disturbed me had I not been too tired to obsess over it. It went something like this:
“God, you and I know full well that I am not in my right mind at the moment. I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m lactating. I’m chubby and overwhelmed—overwhelmed with happiness to be sure, but also with the enormity of all these changes. And my dad just died. I can’t assess this whole situation critically. Is this the right place? The right call? The right environment for our family? I lack the tools even to answer those questions right now—if I ever really had them to be begin with. So, it’s up to you. I’m in your hands. If this is a grievous mistake, you’d better send a neon sign because I’m not tracking in subtlety right now. It’s gotta be a burning bush; the still small voice is going to mumble right past me.”
By God’s grace, we all got through that week; by God’s grace, we are here now, and Here Now is where and when we are supposed to be.
I’m not so tired anymore, although I carry a “record of that fatigue.” I am rested and settled. And I can hear again the still small voice, whispering Yes.
Yes, my child, my little reverend and mother, yes.
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