The Sacrament of Motherhood

The Sacrament of Motherhood

This reflection on motherhood, quoted on the Wittingshire blogwas so beautiful I just had to copy it out and share it:

To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity throughout the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and our noses wiped. She is geography incarnate.

….The mother is the geographical center of her family, the body out of whom their diversity springs, the neighborhood in which that diversity begins ever so awkwardly to dance its way back to the true Body which is the Mother of us all. Her role then is precisely to be there for them. Not necessarily over there, but therethereness itself, if you will; not necessarily in her place but place itself to them; not necessarily at home but home itself.

Robert Farrar Capon—Episcopal priest and father of six—from Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage

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  • Katherine,

    I’d definitely agree that we’re more wary; but this is a constant debate Dom and I have: are things really more dangerous today than they were or are we merely more aware of the potential dangers because we are a much more media-saturated culture?

    Maybe the increase in p0rnography and the increased sexualization of our culture have created more potential predators.
    But I also know how the media can distort reality and warp our perceptions of the way the world really is. For example, more children are abused by public school teachers than by Catholic priests; but the public perception is of a pedophile priest problem, not a pedophile teacher problem.

    We certainly can’t imagine letting our children wander all day through the neighborhood, checking in only for snacks and mealtimes as we and our siblings and friends used to do not all that long ago. But I would like to be able to do so. I don’t want to be as distrustful as I am.

  • Melanie,

    Just a thought: I don’t know if it would be a cause or a result of her observations of community, but the idea of our neighbor is much more frightening today than it used to be. In the 50s it didn’t occur to anyone they would be living next to an Ozzy Osmond they did not want influencing their family. Then of course you hear the stories of murder-suicides and now we can look up where the sex offenders are living near us. 50 years ago, most people would not hesitate to stop to help a stranded motorist. Nowadays it can mean taking your life in your hands. I’m certainly not saying every neighbor is a murder or drug dealer or sexual predator. But I think living in the world today, people in general have become much more weary of their neighbors. We live in an apartment and one of my neighbors has tried to take advantage of our generosity even going so far as to use our phone number to open her own bank account and has told me one of her kids was in therapy for bringing a weapon to school (the father is in prison). She hopes my daughter remembers her. I hope she doesn’t.

  • Nor do I, Melanie, but caution is needed. Perhaps we do report things like child predators more readily, but the sexualization of our culture and the decline of morality are indisputable. These things are dangerous for our precious daughters.
    I try to reach out to my neighbors, and some have responded, but I am still wary of the influences felt by young children. For example, my 14 year old babysits at a neighbor’s home where the children sass their mother and do nothing to help around the house. A homeschooler, Gabbi is horrified by this, and grateful to me that our home is different. However, if my 10 year old girl were over there often, I shudder to think that she would try out some of their tactics out on me!
    We can and must be salt and light without sacrificing our children’s well being, as they are our first responsibility.  My blog is one way I try to influence the culture, from a safe distance.

  • Well . . . I think I was thinking more of visibility as a family, rather than of making children vulnerable on a whole new front! I mean, if I’m going to let them roam free in the neighborhood without my oversight, then I might as well send them to school, right? One of the many beauties of homeschooling is that you do know where your kids are and whom they’re talking to, and you can make far more informed decisions about whose house they will visit—or babysit in (I have a teenager, too, and I know exactly where Leticia is coming from). I know that I’m far more careful now about these kinds of things than I was when my kids went to school.

    Loving your neighbor really doesn’t have to mean letting in people you don’t want in your house, or turning your kids loose on the street because you don’t want to seem distrustful. We’re friendly with the unemployed guy next door, but it doesn’t follow that we have to invite him for dinner every night, or ever. We don’t have to let him work on our cars, even though he repeatedly offers. In other words, there are limits. If he or his family had an emergency, we would help them. If they needed food or clothing or blankets or any kind of material comfort, we would not hesitate to offer it. Christian charity compels us to do that. But we don’t have to let this person infiltrate our lives, if we don’t feel comfortable doing that. And we certainly don’t have to allow our children unsupervised access to him, either. My 5-year-old loves to talk to this guy, but he doesn’t do it without my watching him. He doesn’t go into his house, or even into his yard. What I hope he’s learning is that one can be friendly and careful at the same time, which seems a better alternative than to cloister oneself in the house, because outside the walls lies danger.

    Like Katherine, we used to live in an apartment complex, which I’m really not sure exactly counts as a “neighborhood,” being far too transient and anonymous for the kinds of dynamics we experience in our neighborhood now. The fact that we were home, however, did mean that all the kids around us were in and out of our front door all afternoon after school let out, and that I was the one available to bandage skinned knees and give out drinks of water (I quickly learned not to let my kids go out with popsicles, because within five minutes fifteen kids would be standing at my kitchen door wanting popsicles, too, and I wasn’t quite prepared to be the Good Humor Lady to all and sundry. One does have to say no sometimes). Kids often appeared at our door to see whether it was true what they had heard, that we didn’t have a television—we were famous weirdos on that front, and some kids couldn’t get enough of that, for some reason. One kid asked us whether it was because of our “religious background” that we didn’t have a tv (once he seemed to have accepted that we really weren’t kidding, we really didn’t have one . . . ). I don’t know if that was being salt and light, or just an oddity, like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not . . .

    Anyway, being home and having something of an open-door policy is kind of a neighborhood ministry for us. It doesn’t hurt our kids—after all, we’re right there with them 98% of the time, and the other 2%, we know where they are and whom they’re with. I hope that they’re learning something about hospitality, and also (I pray) about how to be hospitable without being stupid or putting yourself in danger.

    Well, I realize that this is an old conversation and everyone else may have long moved on, but I just stumbled across the link on another blog and wanted to respond. I had no idea that people would think I was preaching that we should protect our children from school, only to cast them onto the tender mercies of the neighbors! I just meant that as a FAMILY we can be salt and light where God has put us, and that being salt and light as a FAMILY is far better for children than expecting them to know how to do it on their own, in our absence.

    Thanks, Melanie, for linking to the article. I’m always pleasantly surprised that anyone pays attention to anything I say.

    Pax Christi,

    Sally Thomas

  • I DO have friends who homeschool AND let their children freely associate with neighbors. It’s a mixed bag, as you might expect. On the good side, this friend has just brought her neighbor back to the sacraments after 20 years. On the bad side, her 12 year old daughter refers to “doing IT” as her friends do, though her mother hasn’t explained what “IT”is. This makes me uneasy, as she is bound to be getting more of an explanation from the neighbor than she lets on. How will this information coimpare with the ‘talk’ her mother is delaying?
    I apologize,i f I sound judgemental, it’s just my personal experience talking. As soon as my mother told me, in 4th grade, a beautiful,  holy way about baby making, I ran into school and compared notes with kids whose parents may not have done as stellar a job.
    While we have to mix with the world eventually, I for one, would rather my girls do it later rather than sooner, when they are mature enough to choose God’s ways over the world’s. They may still choose poorly, but I will have done everything possible to prevent that.
    THEN they can be salt and light to the world. When that is, I’m still trying to determine, but I think it’s somewhere around college(a good Catholic college).

  • Hi Sally,

    Thanks so much for commenting. I don’t think anyone reading your essay thought you were suggesting sending your kids out unsupervised. I think rather that your aside on the state of the American neighborhood, which I highlighted, led to further speculation on that topic, and lamentation about how things aren’t what they used to be in the good old days.