Rejecting For Creation

A scene in the TV series “The Last Kingdom” has stayed with me since I saw it.  The series follows King Alfred, a medieval king of Wessex and a devout Christian who sought to convert his subjects to Christianity.  He was forced into exile due to the advancement of the brutal pagan Danes.  He was protected by the warrior Uhtred.  King Alfred is standing alone in a flat featureless marsh where the protective Uhtred finds him and asks:

“Were you worried that I would lose my way?” asks the King. 

 Uhtred says, “One path looks like another.”

 Alfred asks, “What do you notice about this place?”

“It’s wet.” 

 Alfred says, “There are no horizons.  No sense of something beyond.  My priests have visited here once or twice to preach.  The people are oblivious to God.”  

I pondered that a bit – A simple yet profound exchange.  Why would a horizonless landscape produce such a faithless mentality in its people? 

An open and featureless plain does not give our eyes a place to rest; it provides no quest or  goal to yearn for. 

Featureless horizons do not direct our attention, or call us to a destination, or produce a beckoning.  Our soul looks for beauty; it longs for the hope found on a path leading towards a beautiful destination.  The more worthy the destination, the more joy we can hope for in its attainment. Boundless potential and subjectivism produce oblivion. If we are capable of anything and everything, and all roads are of equal worth, we are easily lost in the marshes of life. 

For all of human history a woman’s purpose has been tied up in her biological capacity to have children. Now, she has more choices – limitless potential paths. 

As King Alfred learned – with no sense of a horizon, it is easy to become lost – and not even know we are lost.  Today women are lost. Women are less happy than their grandmothers, despite our freedom and opportunity.*

So how do we  follow a path that leads towards something worthwhile when our culture is increasingly unwilling to point us towards such a purpose, and instead actively discourages us from looking to our female progenitors for guidance? Ironically it seems that our path is often found more easily in what we reject  than what we choose. 

“Creation means rejection…for a man cannot make statues without rejecting stone.” **

GK Chesterton

Creative Femininity

“For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being.”

C.S. Lewis

We all strive to create a beautiful life.  And yet, we must understand that in every creation, we are rejecting another potential creation.  I remember the difficulty of deciding whether I should attend a prestigious graduate program or work to help my husband finish his undergraduate degree.  When I made my decision, mostly out of financial necessity, I pictured my future potential-self, a graduate of Cambridge, blowing away in the wind, like a victim of Thanos.  

The act of creation through rejection is evident in many aspects of a woman’s life, and it is a painful process.  It is never easy to forgo a passion or to prioritize one thing over another. It is difficult to turn our backs on potential; we are often unsure if the path we have chosen will bear good fruit. 

The archetypal feminine is often depicted as Mother Nature. She has the power to destroy and create. The death of plants in Winter will eventually give rise to Spring.  Lighting strikes and burns down an old decaying forest – a new one grows in its place. There is suffering in those destructions, and hope. 

Women create –  often through mysterious and chaotic ways. We create new life; we renew humanity; we produce beauty in the world around us – this is a terrible and beautiful thing. 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Albert Einstein

What Is Beauty? 

“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”

Sir Roger Scruton
Rory McIlroy Bizarrely Pictured As Michelangelo's David On ...

We know beauty when we see it.  Encountering a sculpture such as Michalangelo’s David is a truly spiritual experience.  Beautiful art is truth revealed to an artist, and each artist produces unique work.  We don’t judge Monet for not painting like Van Gogh – both their works are masterpieces. 

As we look to our own horizon, we must decide what to discard to create our beautiful life. Some things that might be beautiful must be cut out to reveal what is more beautiful.  Smaller truths must be overcome by ultimate truth. Worthy desires must be forgone for greater purposes.  As the artist we are the ones with the chisel; we discard these lesser beauties to unveil our creation.

Some would say that art is simply in the eye of the beholder, there is no real beauty or true art. They say that any choice can lead to a beautiful life because all is subjective. These opinions come from those living in the featureless plains spoken of by King Alfred.  Those who subscribe to this view of life will find it hard to find a horizon to fix their gaze upon.  They will turn this way and that with the ever-changing winds of passion and emotion. 

As C.S. Lewis explains in The Abolition of Man, there is objective beauty and truth and we know it when we see it (assuming this perception has not been brainwashed out of us). No one standing before the sublimity of a waterfall can question its awe-inspiring beauty.*  No one walking under the dome of St. Peter’s can say it is equal to the local community center.   No one seeing a devoted mother hold her precious newborn baby can doubt the goodness in their embrace. So there must be some creations more worthy than others. 

A Rejection of Motherhood

Recently an actress was awarded a Golden Globe.  She was emotional as she spoke of her gratitude at being able to make the choices necessary to receive such an award.  She was referring to her choice to have an abortion. She felt having a child would have blocked her path to this “great” achievement. This is obviously a creative and talented woman.  However, she allowed her drive to create and her ambition and desire for recognition to limit her potential. In her desire to be the author of her life, she aimed too low – she settled for less.  She made many choices and those choices led to what seemed to her a necessity –  if she were to have the life she wanted. She chose to reject the creation of a life and instead to receive a lifeless golden substitute.  

The actress wanted to, “Recognize my handwriting all over my life…A life I have carved with my own hands.” She declared, “we should make the world look more like (women) who are…seeking their own self-interest.”

 She created and rejected what she desired so her life became what she wanted. This is the mantra of modern life, I want what I want in life, all else be damned. But is the art this produces beautiful? It seems unlikely when its creation is based on wandering desires and self-interest.  Beauty comes from truth and virtue – not desires. Many now regret the choices they once yearned to make. 

“The idea of beauty is the fundamental idea of everything. In the world we see only distortions of the fundamental idea, but art, by imagination, may lift itself to the height of this idea. Art is therefore akin to creation.”

Leo Tolstoy

A great artist attempts to create beauty that can lead to many and varied creations – but they will leave many lesser creations unmade. This actress left a greater beauty unborn. 

Every statue Michelangelo chiseled meant another statue was never born.  But what if instead of a beautiful statue, he could make a man?  What if he could build up a real David, capable of conquering armies and raising a nation? Would that not be more glorious than the man made-substitute we must now be content with?  But only Nitzevet, King David’s mother, had the power of bringing David into the world.  When comparing the beauty of a statue versus the beauty of a human being, do we want to live in a world that would choose the former?

So when we embark on this journey to create a masterpiece – the carving of our own beautiful life – we should not carve out a statute as imperfect as our own desires, as weak as our own failings, as ugly as our own selfishness.  Rather we should be true artists, seeking out beauty and truth to guide our sculpting. Otherwise, we produce narcissistic and disjointed art that is not a reflection of truth but an idol of self-worship.

“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”

C.S. Lewis

We are often told, as women, that we can have it all, and in the next moment we are shown we must choose between a child and success – and that the latter choice is the more worthy one. A beautiful life requires no victims to achieve, only the discarding of our own pride and weakness. 

I want to make this clear – Not every woman can, wants to, or will have children – and they are no less of a woman and no less capable of creation than a mother of seven. Mother Teresa, John of Arc, Julian of Norwich- these and millions more women never had children and created lives worthy of admiration. They gave up their own “self-interest” and progressed toward a greater hope – one we can all look to.  When I write of motherhood this is not limited to the act of raising biological children- all women become mothers-of-humanity as they create beauty in the world.

“It is an ancient view that truth, goodness, and beauty cannot, in the end, conflict.”

Sir Roger Scruton

True femininity is not limiting but expansive. Yes we must reject much, but we gain much. Women can’t do it all at the same time, we must put first things first, but life is long.  We don’t have to drop passions- we can integrate them into what is most important. What version should we accept – the one that tells us we must end a life to live the one we want?  Or the one that tells us that bringing life, bringing love, and sacrificing self for others supersedes any man-made glories? 

Beauty Personified

Michelangelo carved an even greater statue than his David.  This other masterpiece is his most acclaimed and admired.  This statue has drawn millions of pilgrims to stand before its awesome beauty.  It is not like the David; it is not of a man that defeated giants or conquered nations. It has a much more remarkable subject –  a mother and her child –  a humble and poor woman, deemed inconsequential by most in her time.  It is of a woman gloried not for her accomplishments but for her sacrifice –  for her rejections: the rejection of her reputation as she carried her child; the rejection of comfort as she journeyed to Bethlehem; the rejection of a safe and simple life as she accepted her role as the Mother of God; the rejection of good for better, of pride for humility, of wickedness for righteousness.  It represents the rejection of a “life of self-interest”, to make way for a creation that makes all rejections trivial – the Savior of Mankind. The beauty and majesty produced by these rejections is clear to any standing before this masterpiece – this horizon of stone. 

-Ally

Resources:

Artwork: :

Thrive, Daniel Popper – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Reflection, Odillion Redon

The David, Michelangelo

The Pieta, Michelangelo

* https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/06/the-price-of-feminism-it-neglects-duty-and-commitment/

Full Quote:

**“Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else… Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses… Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel from the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

A great discussion on beauty between Sir Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson

On Fear

The Young Girl and Death, Marriane Stokes

As mothers, arriving with our first child, come new and troubling fears. With great love comes great fear. Fear that what we have been given, we may lose. Fear that who we love, may suffer. Fear that we are not worthy of this freely-given love. Yet, we must be aware of these new fears, and the dark roads they may take us – and the worthy roads they may keep us from traveling.

We need not be ashamed of our fear, much of it is beyond our control – but also not allow it to rule our better nature. We must recognize it for what it is, when it inevitably descends on us. Our natural maternal instincts drives us to protect and encourage our precious children. We should. Our feminine spiritual nature desires unity and comfort, building a home of love and sacrifice. A most worthy endeavor. Fear can keep us from reaching these feminine potentials. Rather than encouraging our children to face an often disappointing world, we may let our fear of suffering stifle us – making our children “safe” rather than capable. Fear can twist our desire for comfort into a controlling quest for perfection. Fear, unchecked, infects our beautiful nature and distorts it. The quotes below can help us look at our fear and help us refuse Fear as our Master.

“There is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away.”

George MacDonald, Lilith

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”

Rudyard Kipling

“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. No man knows whether death may not even turn out to be the greatest blessing for a human being; and yet people fear it as if they knew for certain that is is the greatest of evil.”

Socrates, Plato’s The Apology

“Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”

Aristotle

“Let fear once get possession of the soul, and it does not readily yield its place to another sentiment.”

Leo Tolstoy, Sebastopol Sketches

“Fear is Faithlessness.”

George MacDonald

“The unhappy person is never present to themselves because they always live in the past or the future.”

Soren Kierkegaard,  Either/Or

“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain.”

George MacDonald

“Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!”

Henry David Thoreau

“Face the demands of life voluntarily. Respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for catastrophe.”

Jordan Peterson

“I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Edith

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Hurin

Heroism: Five Minutes Longer

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Leonidas statue, Thermopylae, Greece

My dad would often quote Mark Twain to us kids when we complained about doing something out of our comfort zone – “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do”. As a kid we traveled a lot. As we traveled, I remember thinking that my parents must hate speaking to strangers – they always made me do it. “Go ask that guy the way to the metro” “Go buy tickets” “See how long the line is”. I see now they were teaching me to be comfortable speaking with people and handling new situations. Now, in adulthood, when others may find meeting new people and traveling in foreign countries intimidating, I enjoy it. I am certainly nothing but ordinary – but I was pushed into uncomfortable realms that have helped me in this area of life. Put me on a ski slope, and my cowardice will quickly present itself.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Will Durant summarizing Aristotle

When we teach our kids to read – we push them to a more difficult book than the one last week – they may whine that it is “too hard” – but we know that progress is made in the extra, not the ease. 

Teaching our children to be capable of “heroics” actually comes naturally to parents – we want our children to become strong adults. However, this can be stifled by an excessive desire to make life easy or “happy”.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear the whining. Sometimes we let our anxiety of the unknown, (perhaps because we have not pushed ourselves enough out of our own comfort-zones) keep us from encouraging our children into those “extra five minutes”. We take the safe and flat road, forgetting that strong legs and healthy lungs only develop on steep inclines. If parents are there for anything, it is to encourage our children to climb, and to climb with them.

It may be true that the brave man is simply ordinary, but has become capable in those extra minutes – he likely has been there before. If we want to raise heroes we must encourage our children to step into those “five minutes”, in as many arenas and as many times as we can, so when the time for heroics arrives – they know what to do.

“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.”

Aristotle

Light in Political Darkness

The US election is today. Many of us fear for the future of our nation. I find the news, with its dire predictions and “worst-case scenarios”, disquieting. America’s chaotic situation is beyond my control. My thoughts and actions ARE within my control.

“Misery is almost always the result of thinking.”

Joseph Joubert

As I look at my children, I want to be a strength to them. I hope to guide them through these storms as an example of fortitude. I want to be a light in darkness.

“Light unshared is darkness. To be light indeed, it must shine out. It is of the very essence of light, that it is for others.”

George MacDonald

I hope in the coming days, instead of ruminating on my own worries – I will share the light I do possess with those that may need it. We all have untapped strength. The political system may be failing – but we have a spouse we love, or children we cherish. Maybe our candidate loses, but we still have our faith in God. We can find confidence in our gratitude. We can use that as a point of strength to help others. The more we stop thinking of our own concerns, and focus on others – the brighter our light. We will be active in relieving suffering, rather than dwelling on our own. So this week, let’s distract ourselves with well-doing. As we sacrifice our own fear, we will bring peace and light to this chaotic world.

Girl with Candle, Godfried Schalcken

Go Ahead, Have Another Kid

Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy Birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister(or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings – my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.

Babies as a scourge.

As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers and she, and three of her siblings, vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed. However, I highly doubt we, or the environment, would be better off in their absence. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, more trips. Is that better? It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.

The other thing that struck me from this billboard, was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford wood floors for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. A new child is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging less children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialsims and exporting bad ideas…)

The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse and each additional child brings it one step closer to destruction. The “scarcity-doctrine” in popular culture has convinced many to either have no children or very few. China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? What stability? Won’t we just need more resources to fill our new lack, in a spiritually and emotionally disconnected planet?

“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”

G.K. Chesterton

In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children, nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.

Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?

“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”

Vietnamese Proverb

I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my Dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.

“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”

Jane Austen

Is the world collapsing?

We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have child. But according to Prince Harry, he, a happily-married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is, our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view – responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.

The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.

GK Chesterton

It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt with. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. But the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”

The reality of love.

In order to live in the truth, we cannot allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. If we exist in a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery. We need connection – the more we get, the better life becomes.

Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time, they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists. As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. They will not be a source of scarcity, but contributors to the abundance of this planet.

Our youngest.

So in answer to this ad, I say – Less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling, and see the Earth flourish as a result.

Ally

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Resources.

Lowest birth rate ever. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/u-s-birthrates-fall-to-record-low-11589947260

Benefits of Siblings. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.fatherly.com/health-science/siblings-how-having-a-brother-sister-changes-kids/amp/

China’s one-child policy. https://www.google.com/amp/s/api.nationalgeographic.com/distribution/public/amp/news/2015/10/151030-china-one-child-policy-mei-fong

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, “The most merciful thing a large family does for one of its infant members is to kill it”.

https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/chinas-one-child-policy-having-catastrophic-consequences-millions-pensioners

Prince Harry. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/07/30/uk/prince-harry-babies-scli-intl/index.html

More People, More Ideas, More Innovations, More Value Created. https://www.humanprogress.org/julian-simon-was-right-we-create-faster-than-we-consume/?utm_content=bufferfe8d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR3Z9Y8Oyvsj9PxTOgcWW4477o7vBcPFPvOxNyMml6E3N1R043qNOGgqIJw

Demographic Winter. https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/demographic-winter-here/

GK Chesterton, “In Defense of Baby Worship” https://www.chesterton.org/babies/

Come: An invitation to learn, to rest, to continue

A guest post from Brittany M. White


“How’d you sleep last night?” he asked.

The sun had not yet risen but the small lamp in the room revealed a slight curve of hope in the corner of his mouth.

“Okay,” I responded, swinging my feet to the side of the mattress. I knew the moment I stood I’d have to make the bed. It was my way of ‘burning the ships’ and going forward with the day. What I wanted to tell him was that I was tired and sad, maybe a little nervous by all that surrounded me in the year 2020. I resolved with, “I’m not sure what’s next.”

I placed the final two pillows, straightened the corners of the covers, and my husband walked back into the bedroom with two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Come,” he said softly and motioned to the chair beside him.

As I made my way to him, I felt the word resonate on every level of my being and I found myself staggering through the voices of those who came before me. In Dickens where the Ghost of Christmas Present bursts with, “Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).* Or when Odysseus seeks hospitality from strangers in the Odyssey, “Come, take some food and drink some wine, rest here the livelong day and then, tomorrow at daybreak, you must sail. But I will set you a course and chart each seamark, so neither on sea nor land will some new trap ensure you in trouble, make you suffer more (Homer, The Odyssey).** And Jesus to those weary saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).***

At least once in our lives those closest, our neighbors, and the strangest of strangers, will find themselves curious, tired, or in need. As a social media-driven society we are taught to connect and tag; to highlight possible solutions and disconnect from anything further than our custom feeds. But there is a practice, a unique patience, that used to be implemented in bearing the weight of a present situation or problem.

Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus’ Song, by Francesco Hayez, 1813–15

Xenia is the Greek term for generous courtesy and hospitality. We know its opposite very well as xenophobia, the fear of someone who is perceived to be foreign or strange. As we awake within our nations day to day, how many of us are receiving those with different thoughts and lifestyles in love?

C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life––the life God is sending one day by day.” (Yours, Jack)

What if, through what we consider interruptions and unpleasant, we focused on the possible friendship of those within our present, instead of the fear? What if our first words each morning, despite how we felt or what’s surrounding us, began with, “Come”?

– Brittany M. White

Eyes to See

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus

How much brighter today will be if rather than thinking of our lack we think of our abundance. How much more peaceful our relationships when we are grateful for the joy they bring, rather than their imperfections. It is not naivety or weak submission to take some time off from “striving for more”. There is always time for discontentment, but we rarely make space for fulfillment. Ingratitude numbs our senses – it prohibits us from seeing or hearing anything but the negative.

My family recently moved into an older home. While we remodel the downstairs, my husband and I and our five small children are all sleeping in two rooms upstairs – five beds on the floor, one bathroom, and a sink and microwave for a kitchen. Despite my attempts to make this into a fun adventure, a few days ago the stress of our remodel and the discomfort of a hot day in Texas, caught up with me. As I laid in my bed that evening and allowed my jaw to unclench, I looked back on the day. I saw that I had been completely blind to any goodness. I couldn’t see my beautiful children playing so well together, only the mess they made. I didn’t hear the birds chirping in our trees, only the annoying hum of our fans in our AC-less house. I didn’t remember the blessing of finding the home I had prayed for, with land for our children to play. I only saw patches of dead grass and weed overgrowth.

Unfortunately, we are hard-wired to notice the negative. We must use our free-will and seek the positive. It is all around us. Blessings are found even in the darkest day. 

“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”

Jeremiah 5:21
Head of a Veiled Woman, Anders Zorn

I was certainly a fool that day. I was blind to an entire day of happiness. I lost it and traded it for misery. For stressed-out mothers, it is easy to do. Often our families lose that day along with us. We must close our eyes of ingratitude and open our eyes of thankfulness. The more we open grateful eyes, the easier life becomes and the more joy we find in living.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tough Woman

Artwork: Emile Claus, The Haymakers

“The perfect woman, you see is a working-woman; not an idler; not a fine lady; but one who uses her hands and her head and her heart for the good of others.”

Thomas Hardy

I adore this painting. It tells the story of our female ancestors. This poor and slight woman is tough. She guards her children cautiously. She works hard all day with them near her side. This is the kind of woman that has held the world together for all of human history. Our female progenitors were anything but weak. They should be honored for their strength, not pitied or seen as a lesser version of our modern “empowered woman”. Millions of women, like the one depicted in this painting, toiled, and loved, and toiled more – so we, their children, can live and flourish. We owe it to them to continue the tradition of hard-working mothers.

-Ally

Mother as Saviors

We must never downgrade our role as a mother or our capacity as a woman to produce change in the world. The more pride we take in our mission, the more we reject the absurd notion that motherhood stifles our progress- the more we can let go of the judgement of the world and start shifting the culture. We must stop caring what other women or Instagram followers think of us, we must stop worrying how “impressive” we may come off to the world. The only opinions that matter come from those whose love is constant and unconditional – our family and our God.

You, the average mom, can do more to build a better future than any CEO, any politician, any Hollywood star – you hold the key to the soul of the world – children. Your love, work, and intentional parenting are raising the future.

The Joyous Power of Touch

“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”  

C.S. Lewis

Affection is defined as a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.  A home filled with affection is akin to heaven on earth.  It is a home where you greet your children with a welcoming hug, a home where you wink and smile at your seven-year-old at the dinner table, where you massage your teenage son’s feet after a long practice.  Children feel safe here, they know they are loved, they feel it.  Physical affection is particularly powerful.  When our feelings of love are expressed physically, it unites the spiritual and physical world with a loving touch.

The Potency of Touch

“To touch is to give life.”

Michelangelo
Creation, Michelangelo

We are all seeking happiness, especially the kind that can hold steady in turbulent times. But the nature of life is turbulent and our moods and circumstances make lasting happiness seem like an illusion. However, the longer I am a wife and mother, the more I realize that if there is something to help us cross the rivers of turmoil – it is the loving touch of someone we trust. When our world falls apart, we need to be grounded – pulled back with physical and concrete love – with an affectionate embrace. We have all seen the movies showing a neurotic and over-emotional person being slapped, bringing them back into reality – this I do not recommend, but a loving embrace can accomplish the same feat. Sometimes when pain is stuck in the body, we need to use the body to release it. The physical reality of love can plant our feet on the bridge Overcoming.

Last summer my husband traveled a lot. I had no break from the noise and chaos of a house full of little children and I usually ended the days with my nerves frayed. One night, after putting them all down and relaxing on the sofa, I heard my 8 year-old girl get out of bed and ask for water. She didn’t realize that my “noise-bucket” had been overflowing for hours and I quite angrily told her to get back in bed. Almost immediately, I felt guilty. I knew I had to apologize. But I was so worn out from noise and the hard day that I really didn’t know how I would approach it without allowing my stress to betray itself again. As I walked into her room, I did not say anything, I just went into her bed and laid beside her and held her. It is incredible how those five minutes of affection renewed my spirit. I thought I was doing it for my daughter but instead I felt my own stress melt away. As I left I said, I love you; she said, Mom I love you too.

I can’t tell you how many times in motherhood I have come into a potentially hostile situation with my children with no idea how to properly resolve it. Perhaps we want to do what’s right but our emotions are getting in our way, or the proper course of action is not clear, or we just don’t have the mental energy to figure it out. When this is the case, I usually opt to arm myself with affection. If I put my arm around my son – our previous animosity will melt away. If I rub my husband’s neck as he drives, it helps him release his work-day stress. We should never use touch to manipulate – but it can help us fill in the gaps of our weakness. It is the mortar that holds the family together. Without physical affection the home becomes sterile and unforgiving.

The Decline of Physical Touch

Unfortunately our world is increasingly becoming just that, sterile and unforgiving.  With human interactions at an all time low, is it any wonder we find ourselves less compassionate of others?  Touching another person makes them real, they are no longer an image on a computer screen or a voice on the other side of the phone but a living soul, deserving of empathy.

I worry that even when this pandemic passes, we may retain the norm of “social distance”.  I hope this is not the case.  Physical affection between friends, and even strangers, can tie communities together and prevent strife and misunderstandings. Children, especially, need to be free to express themselves physically and receive affection from friends and teachers. 

My children go to wonderful schools and I am grateful for their loving teachers. However, I am increasingly concerned about the “institutional” nature of schools. My daughter was reprimanded in kindergarten for hugging her friend at recess. In many schools teachers are not allowed to touch the students. It is easy to see why such restrictions may be put into place – schools are attempting to reduce their own liability. But there is no doubt that these “institutions” are destined to be cold and unloving places. Combine this with the worry brought on by the COVID epidemic, sending our kids to school may soon feel like admitting them into a sanitized hospital. We mothers need to make adjustments. If we choose to send our children into schools, the increasingly sterile environment must be counteracted by increased affection at home.

Mother and Child, Mary Cassatt

The Science of Touch

When a mother is affectionate with her child she is building her child’s social networks, improving their ability to fight infections, and building a bond that will last a lifetime.  Premature babies that are touched thrive, while babies who aren’t are much more likely to die.  Studies done on Romanian orphanages show the power of human touch in brain and social development.  Alternatively, children who are raised without affection are much more likely to be violent and have mental health issues.  

Some scientific findings on the power of touch:

-Researchers have found that children touched more frequently by their mothers developed more neuronal networks in their “social brain” – resulting in more empathy.  Children touched less are more likely to be aggressive and antisocial.

-Preterm newborns who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5-10 days gained 47 percent more weight than premature infants who’d received standard medical treatment. 

-You have likely noticed the constant rear slapping and high-fiving between teammates in NBA and NFL games. Turns out they have good reason for this. Studies reveal that NBA basketball teams whose players touch each other more win more games.

Research found that students who were gently touched on the back by a teacher in a friendly incidental way were twice as likely to volunteer and participate in a class discussion.

– (And highly relevant now) -“In one set of studies, touch was shown to boost the immune systems of people who had been exposed to the common cold. For two weeks, researchers monitored a little more than four hundred adults, asking them, not just about their social interactions, but about how many hugs they’d gotten over the course of each day. Then the subjects were quarantined in rooms on an isolated hotel floor, where the researchers proceeded to expose them to a cold virus. The virus was quite effective: seventy-eight percent of subjects were infected, and just over thirty-one percent showed signs of illness. But not everyone was equally susceptible. The people who had experienced more supportive social interactions, battled infection more effectively and exhibited fewer signs of illness—and, when you tease apart the effects of social support and hugging, touch, in itself, accounted for thirty-two percent of the reduction effect.” (The Power of Touch, New Yorker)

“The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral—from womb into old age. It’s no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful, ways.”

Maria Konnikova (The Power of Touch, New Yorker)

Courageous touch

The truth is that often it takes courage to touch. For example, imagine after an argument with your husband it feels like a gulf has opened up between you. Days pass and the chasm grows bigger. You believe that the simple act of reaching over and grabbing your husband’s hand can bridge that chasm – the tension can melt and you will be free to resolve your issue. But that initial touch takes courage, you are reaching into the dark hoping he will take your hand- it will take the full use of your free-will to overcome your pride and fear. But the outcome can be healing and unity.

Touch as a symptom of the relationship

We cannot easily pretend with touch.  A good indicator of the strength of  relationships is how comfortable we feel with affection.  If touch is awkward and uncomfortable then the relationship needs work.  

“One mother, after hearing a discussion about how mother’s should supply love to their children, determined that before her fourteen year old son went to school in the morning, she would give him a hug. She wanted to prove to him and to herself that she was a good mother. That next morning, as she tried to hug him, he rejected her. But she was determined to give him a hug, and she chased him around the kitchen table and even out the back door. He ran away from her- down the driveway, down the long sidewalk, and around the corner beyond her sight. She stood abandoned in the driveway, crying. She was so frustrated that she went into the house and called the school counselor and told him the whole story, how her son was mean to her and rejected her when she had tried to love him.

The concerned counselor called the boy privately out of class and tried to talk to him. He asked the boy why he had acted that way towards his mother. The boy looked at him quizzically, then he said, “Mr. Jones, do you know the difference between a hug that gives and a hug that takes?” The counselor, who was not a very sensitive person himself, replied, “No” And the boy said quickly, “That is what I thought.”

This is a perfect example of doing things for the wrong reasons. The counselor did not call the boy in to find out how the boy felt, but rather to scold him for not making his mother feel better. And the mother had not wanted to hug the boy because her heart was filled with love for him, but rather to prove to herself that she was doing her job as a mother according to specifications.”

Excerpt: Sterling Ellsworth, Getting to Know the Real You

We cannot fake physical affection. We have to build a relationship worthy of its display. We have all had the experience of receiving a hug from someone that is cold and distant – done out of obligation. The soul is betrayed in our physical interactions. We must not misuse touch or it can become a dark thing. Men and women who were sexually or physically abused often have difficulty giving and receiving physical affection for this very reason – honest and loving affection was replaced with something ugly and false. We must always strive to ensure our touch is unselfish and done with an attempt to build stronger relationships. When touch does not come naturally; it may be a symptom of an underlying issue within ourselves or the relationship itself. We must attempt to repair the fracture quickly and then we can honestly display affection for one another.

Some of us are not naturally “touchy” people. Our childhood home may have shunned affection. Some cultures are less physical than others. However, we need to ensure there is a place for touch in our homes. When words aren’t enough, or our pain is too complex to communicate, or when a child feels alone or discouraged – they need to know they can feel safe in our arms.

Some children need more touch than others. If touch is your child’s “love language”, they may not know you truly love them unless you show them physical affection. Ever since I was a small child, I have craved physical touch. My mom said I would give her about 100 hugs a day. Even today, I feel love most not from kind words or gifts – but when someone touches me on the shoulder, or pats me on the back. If I lived in a home that lacked physical affection, I would feel unloved and unsafe.

Touch can, unfortunately, be used as a tool of manipulation. Since we all crave touch, this need can be used against us. My toddler even knows this. A few weeks after taking away all her pacifiers, she was sitting on the couch next to me and I said, “Juliet, come cuddle.” She looked at me sternly and said, “No! Not until you let me have my paci again!”

But withholding affection in an attempt to control others will sour our relationship and hurt our own chance for happiness.

Healing Affection

Forsaken, Norman Rockwell

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” 

Leo F. Buscaglia

When I hugged my daughter in bed that night, she forgot about my harshness and instead saw me as a loving mother. Physical touch can help repair damage caused by our imperfections by showing the genuineness of our love. This love can be shown not just for our families and friends but is the natural outgrowth of the empathy we feel for others. There are millions of lonely and confined people in this world that crave physical contact. Just as babies fail to flourish without touch, the elderly in nursing homes, the homeless, and disabled and mentally ill, need touch to thrive.

A few years ago my sister was visiting my brother’s family in New Delhi, India. While there they went on a humanitarian tour of a nearby train station where there was a large population of street boys. I had attempted to take the same tour a few years before. I was pregnant at the time and despite having relatively mild morning sickness – simply standing near the train tracks and seeing the rats, filth, and experiencing the smells caused me to lose my lunch and nearly faint. Thousands of young boys and some girls in India live in these conditions, attempting to survive off food thrown from passing trains or begging from travelers. They usually have no mother to comfort them, no father to encourage them. Rather they are raised expecting the abuse of strangers, arrest by police, and the scorn of passers-by. The only potential for a kind word comes from the rare soft-hearted stranger, or humanitarians who sometimes bring food. But loving touch – that is something these children do not experience from adults.

Street boy, India

While my sister was on the tour she saw a group of boys berating a small boy, no more than five.  They were mercilessly teasing and hitting him and he was weeping bitterly. The other boys left him in this state of distress. My sister simply could not bear it, she walked over to the small boy and knelt down to sweetly speak to him.  He kept weeping and barely acknowledged her presence.  She kept trying to comfort him but he would not be calmed.  She felt the call of a nurturing mother – to take this poor child into her arms – but also the ambivalence of touching an unknown dirty child.  Yet she gently put her arm around his shoulders.  He instantly stopped crying and looked into her eyes, astonished.  A powerful moment occurred between them.  She suddenly knew that this was the first kind embrace this boy could remember.  She was astonished by the instant effect her touch had on the boy, it seemed as if God’s love was being poured out to him through her hands. Her touch was speaking to him and hearing him – when words were useless.  With anguish she had to leave that beautiful boy there, now calm, in that filthy train station.  That experience has had a profound impact on her. 

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

William Shakespeare

Touch is powerful. It can be the mortar to our relationships. It can bring healing when words are useless. It can develop empathy and bring joy and meaning into our lives. We must bravely use the power of touch often and wisely in our homes and in an increasingly affection-less world.

-Ally

*If you would like to help a very good cause – feeding desperate migrants in India stranded because of COVID, please consider donating. This effort is run by a trusted family friend in India. 100% of donations go to help the poor. Regular updates/photos are shown in the GoFund Me page. The more they raise the more they will feed. Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/share-your-dinner-with-the-hungry-in-india

-Ally

Resources:

Holding children immediately after a traumatic event can quickly lower their stress levels and help prevent long-term psychological damage.

Premature Babies and Touch: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2124885-premature-babies-brains-respond-differently-to-gentle-touching/#ixzz6MF3SFi10

The Remarkable Power of Touch: https://www.heysigmund.com/the-remarkable-power-of-touch/

The Power of Touch: https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/power-touch

Compassion and Touch: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research

NBA https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21038960