Posted September 2, 2003
Book: Seasons of a Family’s Life: Cultivating the Contemplative Spirit at Home
Author: Wendy M. Wright
Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint: pp. 189
Excerpt from Jacket:
How do we nurture the contemplative spirit amidst our busy family lives of daily demands and obligations?
In Seasons of a Family’ Life, Wendy M. Wright — parent, Church historian, and follower of the contemplative tradition offers a reflective, story-filled, and inspirational examination of the spiritual fabric of domestic life. This practical and insightful book explores family life as a context for nurturing contemplative practices in the home. Rooted in an appreciation of our deep and wise spiritual traditions that probe the sacred alongside everyday human experience, Seasons of a Family’s Life challenges us to wrestle with the great religious questions that shape our lives and offers parents a model for integrating family life and spiritual awareness.
Every chapter in Wendy M. Wright’s thoughtful book is a lesson in gaining an awareness of the joy in our experience as families and letting the sacred be more present in our frantically paced daily lives. Wright shows us how to pay attention to the silence that underlies our lives and encourages us to be sensitive to ordinary moments that connect us. She reveals a family life replete with sacred spaces, rituals that enrich our time together, shared family stories, and much more. Interwoven throughout the book is a wealth of inspiring, personal stories.
Excerpt from Book:
If I were asked to give a formal name to this contemplative living in family and to link it to the greater heritage of Christian prayer, I would first turn to the pages of the little Carmelite classic from lat seventeenth-century France titled: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Lawrence was a lay brother of the Paris Carmel. His work in the community varied over the years. Among the jobs he held were sandalmaker and cook. Despite his obscure origins and the even more obscure role he played in his monastic community and the religious affairs of his era, Brother Lawrence had a wide reputation and was consulted for his spiritual counsel by many. He promoted a simple path, which he termed "the practice of the presence of God" — a habitual attentiveness to God in the midst of daily activity.
Amidst the hustle and bustle, the burdens and delights, the wrenching sorrow and unspeakable joy, all of us, monastic and lay alike, can follow the simple practice of finding God in all things. The contexts differ and thus the dynamics and insights differ as well. But the loving attention, the refusal to engage wit life primarily as a problem to be solved, a cipher to be decoded, or a formula to be analyzed, the embrace of the facts of our existence as a question into which we live, a mystery we allow to enter and shape us — this we share. This is the contemplative life.
Two images, drawn from my own experience, suggest a contemplative claiming of our family lives. The initial image emerged during my first pregnancy. This was a luminous time for me, despite much fatigue and persistent sickness. I felt as if I were at the center of the universe, aligned with the most powerful generative forces of life itself (which of course I was). Fantasizing ahead to the unknown, I imaged an idyllic future with my child-to-be. In retrospect, this was rather like the idyllic image of contemplation, presented by the Trappist priest, of the young woman in a meadow, rapt in reverie. I saw myself as the mother of a cherubic, tow-headed toddler, sitting on a park bench in peace. Sunlight,. Joy. I, free to reflect, am collected within myself, settled in delicious stillness as the beauteous young life cavorts in a pristine grassy, flower-filled park.
Real motherhood soon taught me that it is never like that. One is never free as a mother of a toddler, or a grade school child or adolescent for that matter, to simply sit back and observe. A toddler’s outing to a park has to be negotiated around naps and meals. And one is always on one’s feet, trailing or restraining an unsteady walker, alert for dog droppings, for obstacles that may cause tripping, for enticing glittering objects that may end up in a child’s mouth. And one is burdened with extra jackets, diapers, snacks, drinks, a treasured toy that cannot be left at home — and always aware that fatigue, hunger, frustration, tears, or the need to use the restroom might strike at any minute.
Yet to see the world through the eyes of a child is to begin a lesson in wonder. To radically entrust your heart to another growing, changing human being is to risk living into the question. To know yourself as inextricably joined to another is to cross the threshold of the vast, inexpressible network of mystery that conjoins us all.
It is that mystery that brings me to my second image. In the fall of 1996, my husband and I sent our first child to college. It was an ordinary action, performed by hundreds of thousands of American parents each year. Yet for each parent-child configuration, the event is unique. Our daughter chose a Catholic university on the West Coast, halfway across the nation from our home. So the preparations and the dislocation were major. I went with her to see her settled in her dorm room, to hook up the computer, to help shop for what seemed like a thousand articles she needed to equip her to live independently from us. The university provided an excellent orientation program for new students and parents with just the right mixture of launching activities for students and letting-go pep talks for parents.
It was a good weekend but one in which I found myself struggling with the welter of paradoxical emotions that threaten to swamp anyone at a time of such profound transition. As the weekend progressed, a first-year ice breaker, a dance ---- these claimed her, as they should. Late afternoon of the weekend’s end, I took a solitary walk out to the campus edge. Her university is situated on a wide bluff that overlooks the central city in one direction and the ocean in the other. Dusk was gathering, and I found myself full-throated with an explosive mixture of pride, sorrow, joy, grief, anxiety, and relief. I watched for a long time as the sun grew crimson over the sea, then started back to the central campus. As I rounded a tree on a grassy knoll, I noted a statue I had neglected previously. At first glance, it seemed to be a statue of the Virgin Mary, which in fact it was — but the Virgin as i had never seen her before. Standing, her body thrust slightly forward, arms lifted high, she offered up to the expansive sky an infant child. The gesture was a once tender and anguished, charged with the inexpressible, protective love of motherhood that must relinquish to an unknown future that which is more precious to her than life itself. The statue was dedicated "to the mothers of the university’s students."
The statue was, for me, an image of family life — a variant of the contemplative life. Here was Mary, the classic Christian embodiment of contemplation, not before the conception at the moment of annunciation but after the gestation, birth, and nurture, offering all — her love, her life itself — back into the arms of the unknown. A radical entrusting to what is. Risking the mystery. Living into the question.
Table of Contents.
Spiritual formation in the family: living contemplatively
Staying awake after lunch: the arts of discernment
God-With-Us: the "family altar"
Big story, little story: The family narrative
"Mom, Stevie’s looking out of my car window!"
The scent of the Eucalyptus trees: a sacred sense of place
Genuflection, pilgrimage, routes, and the vacation: family ritual
Like a river: rhythms of continuity and change
Justice and mercy shall meet: the countercultural arts of family life
The beloved community: reconciliation
For everything its season: a mediation across time.