About eight years ago, I began seeing a Franciscan monk for spiritual direction.
At the time I was stretched in every direction by the demands of ministry and family life and feeling increasingly spiritually beige. My former go-to tools for spiritual care, learned in the days when I was single and silence was as abundant as oxygen, now felt oppressive.
“I need to meet Jesus in my daily life,” I told my director. “I need to have my spiritual life grounded in the life I’m living – my work, my parenting, my marriage.” I was looking for a kind of spirituality that was at home with deafening noise and dirty dishware. And Brother David helped me find it.
If you resonate with my struggles (but do not have a Franciscan monk handy), do I have just the book for you:
The author, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, is professor of religion, psychology and culture at Vanderbilt University. She and her husband raised three boys, both while working full-time. This book is the product of Miller-McLemore’s own dissatisfaction with traditional modes of spirituality where retreat, leisurely times of prayer and a non-screaming environment were deemed key for drawing near to God.
Miller-McLemore argues that parents do not have to wait until their children are gone and the house is quiet to tend to their spiritual lives. She argues for parenting itself to be seen as spiritual practice. “What I am trying to describe, instead, is a wisdom that somehow emerges in the chaos itself, stops us dead in our tracks and heightens our awareness. I am talking about a way of life that embraces the whole of family living in all its beauty and misery rather than individual acts of devotion, as important as they are to sustaining the whole. In other words, I am not trying to recommend a better way to pray. I am suggesting that faith takes shape in the concrete activities of the day-to-day.” (20) She calls this approach the sanctifying of “ordinary family drudgery.” (24)
The rest of the book is spent working out the how of such a spirituality. Miller-McLemore talks about how parents’ faith is shaped and grown through the discipline of parenting. She talks about “ordinary awe” as a kind of attentiveness to one’s children, as a way of helping us recognize the holy in the mundane. In later chapters, she looks at what spiritual practices might be, in mothering and fathering: reading, playing, blessing, dealing with chores, and engaging with faith practices.
In addition to the insights, I appreciate the way Miller-McLemore writes with compassion for parents, a compassion that comes from “I’ve been there” experience. Nor is the writing dense or academic, which is a mercy for sleep-deprived parents.
Since reading this book, I have recommended it to two new parents – one a newly-minted father, and another a-soon-to-be mum. And I’m recommending it now to you, with confidence that you will find at least a handful of gems to enrich your spiritual life.
Reading this book has been, in so many ways, a re-affirmation of many of the conclusions I reached during my time under Father David’s spiritual care. I only wish I had discovered it sooner.