May Day

This morning I had a thousand things I thought I would write about. But now I really want to snuggle up with a good book and go to sleep. But it’s May. May, the month of Mother’s Day. For Mother’s Day this year, I decided to give myself some time. I wanted to use that time to think about my own stuff, not kid stuff or house stuff or work stuff. 

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I was looking through some paintings the other day and I noticed that Mary Cassatt plays with merging the faces of parents and children in her portraits. I remember a long time ago I read some analysis on her portrait of Alexander and Robert Cassatt. The faces overlap and merge communicating the son’s desire to grow up, move into his father’s place, become his father and the father’s desire to impart his position, knowledge, and opinions (they’re both looking at a newspaper) to his son. But I didn’t realize how often Cassatt plays with these parent-child mergings until looking through a complete collection of her work here

And that’s why I decided to try to give myself some time. In my stage of life and in my circumstances, parenting feels like Cassatt’s 1880 pastel “Mother and Child”. Intimate, golden, beautiful, but so immediate it is difficult to find where I begin and end. My own self seems so invested, blurred and Merged with those around me that I appreciate taking a few moments to pull my head back and find my form. 

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Eli & Hannah, How Mormons Can Reverence Sacred Space and Divine Petition

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I am grateful to see a dialogue taking place among us, the people and especially the women of the LDS church, over our role within our community. Many friends that are balancing the pressures and responsibilities of work, family life, studies, new babies!, church callings and all the other general busy-ness have made the sacrifice to carve out the time and create a space to share their voice in this experience. It is exactly because I know I have come to a better understanding of my own thoughts as I have read and talked with many others, that I feel I want to share my own experience.

So in the dark hours while my husband and three young children are snuggled warmly in their beds, I am writing this. I hope to offer another voice in an effort to assist any attempt being made to understand the mindset of an active Latter Day Saint woman with a desire for an expanded role in the church/priesthood.

Now I imagine from what I have read in the comments across the blogosphere, the last statement would make many within my religious community think of me as being one of those volatile outliers. I am that woman. I am the woman that is “in bitterness of soul”  and above all disruptive.  I am Hannah.

If you remember the account in the 1 Samuel in the Old Testament, at a time that I imagine was similar to our gathering at general conference, many righteous Israelites gathered to celebrate and sacrifice at at the temple. At this time Hannah rose up and came before the temple gate. And “she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore…And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.”

Now I have great sympathy for both Hannah and Eli. I believe Eli probably sat at the gates of the temple for the very purpose of trying to ensure the sanctity and reverence for the temple at a very busy time. I doubt Eli had an easy task. I imagine there were large crowds of people, lots going on. And here before him was a woman that appeared so out of sorts, so troubled, that on first impression he thought she was drunk. To make matters worse, she was not moving on. Hannah seems to have lingered at the gate for so long, that in exasperation Eli exclaims “How long will thee be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.”

Eli clearly found Hannah to be a distraction and hindrance to his attempts to provide his people with an orderly worship experience. Because she was.  But I imagine Hannah and Eli coming face to face, and Hannah’s response after making it clear she is not drunk but praying and pouring out her soul to the Lord, is a plea, “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Balail.” Please recognize that I am “thine handmaid” a faithful servant in the church, and dedicated to the doctrine.

Eli initially mistook Hannah’s engagement for disengagement. He was put off by her struggle before God, thinking that her struggling in such a public place and way originated out of a lack of reverence for what they both held sacred. But Hannah publicly “petitioned” the Lord because she felt in her soul a destiny that she needed the divine power in her life to accomplish. She had a vision of a work to do.

But what was the value of Hannah’s wrestle before God taking place in such a public space?

Would it not have been more productive for Hannah to work out her sorrows that were after all between herself and her God in a quiet space, a private space like her own home?

Hannah came to the Temple, to the place she recognized as a source of divine power. She came to commune with God in an attempt to make a covenant and be blessed with enabling power needed to fulfill the role she sensed.

If Hannah felt drawn to the power of the priesthood and temple, why not find a quiet corner out of the way rather than the heavily trafficked front gate? or a less busy time?

On reflection, I find Hannah’s public petition as a deliberate act of humility and a great sacrifice. Hannah was a woman described as “well provided for” and greatly loved. She was in a position where it would have been very possible to put away her sorrows and maintain every appearance of being complete and whole. Her husband Elkanah, having allotted an abundant portion to Hannah, sees his wife’s sadness and questions “why weepest thou? am I not better than ten sons?” Another person may have been satisfied. Because of her position of wealth and love, Hannah had no need to bear the reproach of her religious community. She could have continued as she was and lived a good life.

By stepping into the public eye in her state of grief, Hannah deliberately sacrificed her position. She took on the reproach she did not have to bear. She accepted the humiliation of her incompleteness and need. It seems she did this as a sincere offering to the Lord, in a step towards making and fulfilling a greater covenant.

It is a very different position to stand in public and with full knowledge, to preach to the people in prophetic wisdom. As harrowing as Jeremiah’s or Stephen’s or Abinadi’s position, all eventual martyrs, such prophets stood before all cloaked in the their conviction of the will of God. But Hannah came before everyone, the people, and the priests, and her God, bare in her need. She did not come to lecture or admonish but instead to witness, here am I, send me. That seems an incredible type of faith.

It is the faith of a leper who steps out into the light, before the crowds that will gape and gawk and likely geer, in order to come near enough to receive the blessing to be healed.

And Eli recognized her faith and blesses her petitioning of God, answering “Go in Peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. …So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.”

Now I do identify with Hannah. And I identify most with Hannah before she ever approaches the temple gate. I have been abundantly provided for from the goodness in the church. I have an incredibly kind, loving, and dutiful husband. I have rich relationships in my immediate family informed by my understanding of the plan of salvation. I have an extended family that prays and fasts and loves each other. I have covenants that anchor my life. I enjoy revelation and inspiration and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I have experienced miracles, received healing blessings given with the priesthood. I have great reverence for the power of the priesthood. I teach and serve in church. I am served and taught by both men and women in my church community. Consequently, it is well within my capacity to exist within the church without making my sorrows and desire for greater understanding public knowledge. When I sorrow, it has been privately and quietly when I commune with my God or very close friends.

So what is the problem? What more is needed? All the goodness of Hannah’s situation, did not change the understanding she had the potential to undertake a greater work if she fulfilled her covenant with God.

As for the goodness of our current situation, we are often more equal, more at home with equality, than we give ourselves credit for or admit to. It is among my active Mormon community that I have witnessed men that lead their fields in law and science and business, responsibly teach and entertain the rambunctious three year olds in nursery. It is among active Mormons that I have watched the authority of one young woman bring direction and organization to hundreds of male and female workers during a busy service project. Our relationships are bound up in care and respect. Men and women teach from the pulpit. Men and women administer the different organizations in our ward. We are familiar with the practices of shared work, shared insight, and male and female cooperation.

That said, I am not a man. I do not want to be a man. I do not want to go to Elder’s Quorum. I do not want to tuck away or assimilate the life experiences that I have that are deeply tied to my female existence. I am a woman that lost several pregnancies then had three babies in four years. A large portion of my recent experiences are physically unavailable to a man, and these experiences are spiritually significant. My husband’s active participation in these events, though he is immediate and sensitive and understanding, is not the same as my own. As much as we talk and understand each other, as much as he can tell the story of what happened and the impact on his own spirituality, we live different lives.

I am a woman. I am a woman that wants and needs the Relief Society and Young Women’s organizations to have the power and the autonomy to grant space for the development and confidence of female spiritual power. So women’s spiritual experiences will be cultivated, taught, and remembered. So that we, the faithful women of the church, may gain confidence in our abilities to bless and administer to others.

I feel a great hope and longing that the many different lives of the women of the church might also become more familiar in the public spaces of the church. I want to have female spiritual leaders with a variety of experiences that  teach and preach and enrich our understanding and decision making. When I use the word our, I mean our whole community male and female, young and old. Let us believe and recognized that women’s abilities and experiences are relevant and enriching to not only women, but everyone.

This is the work that I sense, the work to fill the places and spaces that are lying vacant. Grand halls built, but unfilled.

I believe the process has begun, the lower age for female missionaries, the doctrinally substantive addresses of female auxiliary leaders, the integration of the younger girls and young women with the relief society are all wonderful developments. But I feel the need for continued progress and revelation. As President Julie Beck, quoting President Kimball, explained in 2012 “There is a power in this organization [of Relief Society] that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God—nor will it until both the sisters and the priesthood catch the vision of Relief Society.” Notice the words “not yet been fully exercised” and “both the sisters and the priesthood catch the vision.” Now I know that the separation of sisters and priesthood in the wording may be discouraging to many of us but I find it important that she as the president of the relief society recognized a yet unfulfilled potential.

Now I wish I came before you as a wise prophetess, able to direct what should be done. But I am not a wise prophetess. I can’t direct what should be done. I believe the priesthood, the power of God, is not mine to direct. I believe God directs the church. There are many wise and faithful prophets and many faithful and insightful people that are and will continue to work with God and assist us to “catch the vision” of what is possible.

I have thought and prayed on these things. I believe by sacrificing the privacy of our sorrow and the satisfaction of our current state, we might gain greater understanding. I believe there is greater power available to us. I believe there are blessing God would grant us. I believe there is knowledge and greater understanding that could be revealed. I know there is healing we desire.  I believe there is revelation that would enable us to greater work.

So before dismissing the Mormon women that will be demonstrating this weekend as dissidents and apostate,  I ask that we consider the story of Eli & Hannah. I ask you to remember that I write this essay as Hannah stood, keenly aware of my sense of need and incompleteness. I ask that in the baring of my need, you “count not thine handmaiden as a servant of Balail” but as Eli did, consider if it is possible to offer a blessing to “Go in Peace, and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.”

 

Winter Spring

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On March 20th we all gathered to celebrate the spring equinox, all of us that is, but spring itself. So we are hanging out in winter-spring. There are some benefits. We have the park all to ourselves. We don’t have to worry about sharing the swings.

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I decided if spring won’t come to us, we’ll make our own. The kids and I started seeds so inside our house is looking pretty verdant. Almost every sunlit table area, counter top, and bookshelf has a seed tray. It’s a little out of control, but in a fun mad scientist kind of way.

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To counteract the bleak white grey weather, we’ve fabricated our own rainbows. Miriam has gone on a rainbow drawing spree. And the kids leapt at a chance to make their own color wheels. They did a pretty good job considering I started them out with just red, yellow, and blue.

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Stuck inside, Miriam and I sorted out the broken crayons and made rainbow blocks for Gideon. All the little crayon bits melt into one giant crayon but not one uses them to color. Instead Miriam loves to employ them as chairs for her little animals and Gideon carries them everywhere and stacks them into towers.

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We hung out with the master Gardeners at the Maryland extension vegetable gardening open house. Reuben rolled around on the floor and let everyone know he was dying of boredom, but Miriam and I had a nice visit with people who like to eat a lot of plants and store seeds and compost.

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And on yet another sleet filled day, we cut out all the colorful things we liked and collaged our notebooks.

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And as my life is often truly weird, I manageded to stumble onto some poison ivy vines and got a wicked reaction. I will not gore you with the seeping bleeding blisters, but I will show you my leper bandaged arm. I had to change it a lot because of the seepage. That’s what the weird spot is – seepage. It was a good reminder, that while I am eager for the growing season to begin, not every plant is my friend.

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Cat Exploded?

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A week ago I finally made it to the top of my local library’s hold list, qualifying for my turn to check out  Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Key Note Address Make Good Art in book form. February was feeling rough and I felt like I could use a little motivational pick me up, so I promptly headed over to the library to lay claim to my hold.

When I got the book home the following passage stuck out to me:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

I found myself thinking yes, I know relationships fail and injuries happen and the IRS can be on your back, but the cat exploding? Come on. Whose cat explodes? And then I remembered my cat.

Battle Cat, my cat, has had his share of issues before, mostly problems with his less than friendly personality. He also has bouts of  unattractive and random baldness, anxiety licking, stinky-ness, obesity, and murderous tendencies toward any life form smaller or cuter than him (birds, small children, baby rabbits). He’s not the sweetest animal but he’s been my faithful late night companion and a great drawing model when no one else is willing.

Battle had thrown up before, but around the new year it became more frequent.  I didn’t pay too much attention because everyone else in the family had strep and then flu so I’d become numb to the high volume of vomiting going on at our house. Battle throwing up once a day helped him keep pace with everyone else in the family. It was like he was getting into the spirit of things and helping us all celebrate the Sick Season, the season that follows right after the equally demanding holiday season of Christmas and New Year.

Then it all got worse. By February, Battle started throwing up multiple times each day. I took him to the vet and we got some medicine and new food. But Battle kept throwing up. He lost weight. He became lethargic.

Then the cat exploded. It happened on a typically hectic school morning. I came down to the basement to try to dig out somebody’s crumpled school shirt from the mounds of laundry. I only got about half way down the stairs when the stench hit me. It was thick and animal and wrapped around a sour metal tang.

I continued down to the basement and came face to face with cat gore. Across the floor of four rooms, splashed along walls, over and under my work space, smeared over the coach and kid toys and clean and unclean laundry were the liquid remains of the cat. It was an inseparable mix of blood and mucus and pink bubbly phlegm and the sort of liquid brown goo freshly leaked through intestines.

My mind reeled. Who would do this? What person would be capable of such an act? Or what animals? Was there a monster in my basement? Was it still lurking? Was I in danger? My thoughts were interrupted my the piercing whine of a meow.

There at his usual spot astride his food bowl, the cat looked expectantly at me. It was feeding time. I looked again at the bloody muck pooling and puddling throughout the basement. The cat meowed again, a little more insistent. He sat up and stretched lazily and then scratched at his bowl in the way of a helpful reminder. I mechanically served up his breakfast, filled his water, and carefully backed away.

But there were places everyone needed to be. So I shut the door to the basement and took people to school. When I returned, instead of working on the painting I’d planned, I scrubbed cat gore off the walls and floors and furniture and toys. And I re-laundered mounds of clothing. And the cat companionably sat nearby and watched.

But the cat did not explode once. Battle exploded again, later that afternoon, leaving the same convulsing trail of spewed body liquids. I didn’t see it. I just came home to the repeat of gore. But this time the cat had rolled around it and so matted bits of feces and dark scabs clung to his fur. So the Sisyphean task of scrubbing and bleaching and laundering began again. But this time I had to drag the cat, yowling, into the bathtub to be scrubbed.

And it went on for days. I called the vet for another appointment, then I called back and canceled, then I called again and rescheduled but for a day later, then I canceled. At this point I was pretty sure the cat was dying. And I didn’t want him to die. I didn’t want to put him down. I wanted one more day together. It was selfish. It was illogical. But I loved my cat. And he seemed so content when he wasn’t exploding. And I thought it might be nicer for him if he died at home instead of dying in a state of freaked out stress at the vet’s office.

But the cat did not die. The stench was getting to me, and all the lost time for work, and my daughter’s favorite doll now bore brownish red puke stains across its once lovely white face, and my stack of composition sketches destroyed with who knows what sort of biological sludge.  I didn’t know what to do. Was it time to let go? Was I a murderer? Would I every have time in life to work at anything besides cleaning after the cat?

I told myself to set a deadline. After that date, no more. This was the end. If anything besides a meow came out of Battle, we were going to the vet THAT day. And then I cried and told Battle I had tried so hard and it couldn’t go on like this.

And then it all ended happily ever after, because that was it. Using his magic cat powers, Battle pulled some strings and cashed in one of his nine lives. (I’m guessing that was number 7) And nothing but meows have come out of him since.

Now I know we may be living in the calm of the eye of the storm and Battle could start it all up again any day, but until that happens I’m grateful we survived and get to spend a little more time together.

So we can make great art…or at least, more late night cat drawings.

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Baby It’s Cold Outside

Winter arrived. Monday evening we stopped on our walk home from the park to watch the sky shimmer and glow golden and fiery.

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We woke the next morning to a thick blanket of snow clouds hanging over us. When tiny flakes started fluttering down we started suiting up. By the time all three kids were stuffed into snow suits, there was a solid foot of snow covering the town. Kids freshly dressed in snow clothes remind me of seals hauled out on the beach – grumpy and obesely immobile- the best thing to do is keep your distance so they don’t bite or charge you.

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We are lucky to live a short walk in the woods from a perfect sledding hill. Since the snow and cold weather hung around all week, we’ve had a chance to perfect traditional winter pursuits like sledding, snow angeling, tracking, and mitten losing.

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We even tried dog sledding with Manti, the giant poodle. They got going really fast, so fast I was expecting serious injury when they tried to stop. But that’s the beauty of snow, it’s fast but a nice soft place to crash.

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A Solstice Year

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I’ve been reading House of Rain: Tracking A Vanished Civilization Across The American Southwest by Craig Childs. It’s what it sounds like, a sort of travel journal blended with archeological research on the elusive Anasazi civilization. Elusive isn’t the right word. These are people that left roads, temples, full cities carved into the land in a very obvious way. I pulled up photos and North America has what looks like Castle ruins just as old as anyone else’s. What?? Why was I not taught about this in Elementary school?
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Beyond single site construction, this civilization may have even shaped the topography of their environment into a system of artificial mounds and natural landforms in a vast network of signal stations, allowing rapid communication over vast distances.

The more I read, the more incredulous I felt about their absence from North American curriculum. In all fairness, maybe I just missed them. I was raised in the Southeast. And I had heard of them, read about them in Jared Diamond’s Collapse, even kept a friend company in college as she attempted to catalog and shelf countless reconstructed vessels for her museum practices credit. But I’ve never had as full a picture. And asking a few friends, nobody seemed too familiar with what I was reading about.

In Child’s book, he gives the analogy of trying to catch sight of a person passing back and forth the crack of a mostly shut doorway as the vision we have of the Anasazi.  They occupied the land in a much different way than western cultures do. They appear to have been inclined to inhabiting sites for eras, leaving for a generation or two, with an expectation that the land and climate would inevitably change and they would return or more likely their grandchildren would return to reoccupy the site.

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While land sites shifted, their astronomical observations were keen and accurate.  They aligned their massive great houses and brick and mortar settlements to the moon, stars, and sun. Which brings me to solstice. In House of Rain Child visits Chimney Rock in Colorado, the site of a great house built more than a thousand years ago built, some believe, to be a lunar observatory as the brick and mortar construction has a site line that catches the moon rising in the center of two natural pillars on the winter solstice when the moon swings to its farthest point in its 18.6 year track. You can read details here.

With the Ancient Puebloans in mind, and winter solstice approaching, I reread some articles on other ancient sites like Newgrange, where massive construction was a marker for the light and the change of the year. In my own culture, the darkening always seemed incidental to the year change. It occurs and then a stutter step later, digital clocks and satellites alerting that another year has started. It’s so precise, we all stand together and count the exact seconds down. Then that new year is upon us in full force, and most of us seem to be suddenly jogging 5 miles in icy wind or carefully recording every dollar we spend.

I’ve found myself reveling in the idea of the year that doesn’t switch instantly, but is instead looked for as a birth is expected. It’s a beautiful idea to have the year begin in weakness, the days only briefly shining, the way a newborn baby only briefly rises to consciousness. In that spirit, if a year is born and grows in strength, maybe what we do in that year should also start out in a weak fumbling sort of way. Not in the instantaneous expectation of perfect change, but instead in an intention that grows and builds on itself.

10 months

Gideon is 10 months old. Yay for the baby.

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He has developed expert crawling skills. He loves trying to disembowl the kitchen cupboards and has a life goal to sneak into the bathroom and empty those drawers.

When not rearranging, he has taken an interest in drawing, probably because he sees everyone around him drawing. Most days he crawls around with a crayon in hand and pulls himself up to the chalkboard or paper roll to try to make his mark.

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While he still won’t eat bread, he does like to snack on chalk.

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