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Honoring the Mystery

Posted by Theology of Home on
Honoring the Mystery

By Denise Trull

I have been recently taken with the intriguing concept of the desert fathers' admonition to remain a mystery to one another. It is a beautiful thing to think upon. If we are part of the body of Christ, the mysterious Christ who dwells within us, then we too are also a mystery--not to be wholly fathomed by any other creature. It is our dignity to be such, to not be transparent and easily understood. We each exist with hidden depths of joy and angst and great, surprising powers over evil that gloriously erupt at times and shake others awake with the beauty of it--this ‘us’ that perhaps neither we nor they ever suspected or knew.

The Desert Fathers continually tell us to protect that mystery in one another. Not to pry or to satisfy a vain curiosity about each other. Not to assume any motives, or judge too harshly, or give unasked for advice. Not to watch too carefully for secrets that we should not be privy to unless they are revealed in trust. We are admonished to stay within our own ‘hermitage' and not go gadding about looking for the sensational in someone else’s home. We are to protect one another’s autonomous beauty with humble discretion. We are to honor the mystery.

Each individual creation, our life, our particular reason for being on this earth is veiled in mystery. We cannot fully explain our being here to anyone, no matter how intimate we are with them. Our particular reason for being here belongs in the veiled wonder of God's Mind and Will alone, a Will that we only discover over time  through our lived and deeply pondered experience. All is planned and set out by Him that we, and no other, be created at this time, in this place living out our particular mystery which slowly comes into focus as we ponder it and begin to live it out. 

But doesn’t mystery deserve a silence and a pondering on our part? Long years of prayer and intimate trysts with the Lord who lives within us. Long, patient years of coming to understand why we are here and what we are to do. Silence, pondering, growing in wisdom. These demand a hidden life to produce fruit.

Even the greatest of saints went through a time remaining hidden to the world before they could share the wisdom of their life with others. Our Lady comes to mind as the greatest of these. She hardly says a word in the scriptures. She says “fiat” to the mystery. She ponders in silence for many long years all that happens to her. She ponders all these things in the context of her home--a home she shares with St. Joseph and Jesus...a home that fades into mystery after the shepherds and kings leave the cave one winter night.

We know nothing about her for a very long time until she speaks up at a wedding feast in Cana and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She can only speak these words because of the silent pondering that went on in the years before. We might say that she protected the mystery of her life with Jesus and Joseph in the hiddenness of home. They each came to know the unfolding of their purpose as the days passed in prayer, work, and living intimately with one another. They held each others’ secrets within their hearts until they were ready to be revealed in the fullness of time.

We need to take care of one another's mystery as they did. To protect it with our prudence, our charity, our respect so it may feel free to grow to fruition. To wait before it in silence until it is revealed and shines. I think this is what the poet Rainer Rilke meant when he said that love means respecting the solitude of the other. That there are places we should not tread uninvited. And that we ourselves must protect the mystery within us.

I was thinking all these thoughts when watching the young families at church recently. The mystery of motherhood, of fatherhood, of children--their conception, their nine months in the womb, their birth, and those first moments of ecstatic joy, terror, and overwhelming gratitude as they are placed in the shaking arms of their newly minted parents. The particular autonomy of each family as it blossoms into its own hidden mystery. Do we protect this mystery? From the inside and the outside? In this age of social media and instant information at a click, is this mystery being overrun with intrusions, even those that are well intentioned? Are young “Catholic influencers” causing more harm than good to the mother who lives at the heart of her family? Is the time of her hidden life and pondering being mercilessly truncated by too much encounter with ideas that cause doubt and disturbance in a heart that has not come into its own, experienced, and matured motherhood quite yet? A heart that seeks or is perhaps forced to blossom too soon by the lure of outside forces touted as experts and gurus?

I was recently approached by a young mom who had come away from a mom's group full of despondency and questioning. She felt guilty that she only had one child when they all had three or four. She felt shamed by the detailed, natural home birth stories, and felt guilt that she had had an epidural and delivered her baby in a hospital. She also was not able to breastfeed through no fault of her own, and burned with guilt that she would never be as close to her baby as the breastfeeders maintained they were. That her baby would not thrive as she should. This poor young woman was all distraught distraction.

I reassured her as best I could, for clearly she loved her sweet babe in an over-the-moon way. The damage was done, however. The seeds were sown. She had listened to the ‘experts’--those moms who spoke with such authority, but somehow were her own age. This seems strange to me and has only become more strange as I encounter it. Young moms with such adamant and imperious advice.

Young moms who really have no idea if these ‘rules’ they are laying down in black and white are actually going to bear fruit in the future, being as they have not lived them out yet. Should such young women be any kind of authority to one another? Historically, advice is given by seasoned mothers who are on the other side of things and can show results. Now, you can find a twenty-something mom on every YouTube channel or Instagram feed presenting in intimate detail how it should be done. They even have pictures, which are undoubtedly beautiful. I often wonder, though, how they have time to do this with all those toddlers running around. How distracted from the main thing they must be trying to turn their lives into a reality show that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. What has happened to the hidden beauty of family life? Why have we left our hermitages to gad about in those of others?  

It struck me that these homelike things should be kept a mystery between a husband and wife--and their children. These decisions. These first decisions. The struggle and mystery of each particular labor should not be the bantered subject of women at a tea. Talk about recipes. Talk about decorating. Even talk about slings if you must, and only if you are asked. I myself used to have great hopes when going to these groups as a young mom for support and encouragement--that we would talk about something other than motherhood so that we could return home knowing that there were other things that could feed it and bring it support--I even pulled out my book of poetry once and weakly chimed in to an intense discussion on breast milk and ovulation, "how about that Keats?" Meaning perhaps that we must leave the mystery alone unless asked one-on-one. It is an act of charity to respect mothers and their decisions--even if they be very different than our own.

But by all means let us feed the mystery. Feed it with spiritual things. Pray the rosary with each other. Bring poetry and literature. Talk about a sunrise that caught your eye. A painting. Bring embroidery. Talk about funny things that happened that week. Laughter is the best support.

Should we ever be adamant about any one thing? Bottle fed babies are quite cuddled and loved and cherished. Formula is not poison. I fed my babies formula because I was not able to breastfeed and they were all affectionate, healthy and hardy! Slings are great, but life goes on quite wonderfully without them, too. Birth stories vary wildly--they should never be set before a first time mother facing one. Ovulation is wildly different in each woman. Home birth might be best for you, but birth can be beautiful and wondrous in a birthing room at a hospital if that is what consoles and comforts the parents. Doctors are not Satan. Even C-Sections can be joyful, exuberant things if you had the OB I had! Five of them. And all exciting. Birth is a mystery no matter how it happens.

The family bed is not the hard-and-fast rule for everyone. And you should not feel tortured unto despair that your child has missed out completely on that window of bonding time because he or she sleeps in a crib. Bonding happens everywhere and at any time. Over cereal. Over spilled milk. Over a book. In the intimate love that is an apology. In a hug of encouragement and a long rocking chair ride holding a baby close by an open window.

God sends babies--their number and frequency--in his good and blessed time. It doesn't mean one mother is better and more worthy because she has many children and another mother does not. Scripture is rife with this truth. Maybe the mother with many children is in great need of acquiring patience and children will bring it to her. Maybe the mother with one child should not feel as though she has failed--even though she has been so open to life like you. God has his plans for her. Babies are not a competition. Big families are not the cherished and ultimate goal-- like the one with the most babies in the least amount of years WINS. Doing God's will is the goal. If we are open and loving and filled with desire for life that is what He asks. The rest is mystery. Let us be silent before it in ourselves and in others. Do not offer advice unless asked one-on-one and in private by a new or expectant mom. 

Turn off the YouTube and the Instagram. Bask in the sudden silence. Close your door for a while and spend time carefully watching your children--not someone else’s--at play, while they eat, when they pray. Love your home with all its eccentricities, comfy chairs, dripping faucets, and mounds of laundry waiting near the washer. Do not pine for another mom’s house you saw on YouTube, for such things are, as they say, too good to be true.

Call you mom or a cherished aunt or older friend who overflows with well-earned and good advice when you have a question. Stay away from the camera unless it is to take funny, sweet pictures which will keep as a memory, make a friend laugh, a far off grandmother warm with joy, or perhaps capture something beautiful for someone who needs so much to see it right then. Do not be tempted to record your life for others to see because you are so unsure of yourself that you need the opinions and likes of others to give you affirmation. This is a natural longing, but it will not be satisfied by other humans' opinions and you will miss all the magic happening right before your very eyes as you fuss about trying to record it. Find your affirmation in prayer, in pondering, in reading good spiritual books. Stay home more. Stay hidden in the heart of it. Then you will begin to ponder the mystery and grow in understanding of what it is that you are called to be and do for Christ when He asks it of you. And then you will be ready as Mary was ready when Cana called her.

And yes, find other moms in real time once in a while. Get together and laugh at the foibles you each have. Better yet, bring the poetry book, the embroidery, the recipes, the knitting, a story you have written to read aloud. Talk literature, philosophy, saints. Walk together in a park. Don’t complain about your husbands, but find good things to say about them. This is the power of women's groups. This is what they should be for. Moms can always look up things like ovulation, breast feeding and the like and make up their own, adult, grace-filled, married minds. But they will not be able to look up the kindness you can show by talking about beauty and making them laugh and perhaps alleviate fears by doing so. These things feed and keep the mystery strong as we return home refreshed.

Let us be truly respectful of the hidden, unspeakable mystery in every single mother on earth. Let us honor her decisions. Let us support her with our prayers. Let us be content with our own hermitage and dwell there in peace, not being tempted by another. Let us protect the mystery that is each of us and one another.

Denise Trull is the editor in chief of Sostenuto, an online journal for writers and thinkers of every kind to share their work with each other. Her own writing is also featured regularly at Theology of Home, and has appeared in Dappled Things. She also can be found at her Substack, The Inscapist. Denise is the mother of seven grown, adventurous children and has acquired the illustrious title of grandmother. She lives with her husband Tony in St. Louis, Missouri. 

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