Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Mother

One of the things that Catholics ought to be aware of is that conversion is, in almost all cases, a process. Even when it looks like an instantaneous moment of illumination, there is generally a long series of events that, in retrospect, are obviously recognizable as the hand of God guiding the soul towards conversion. To take, for example, the case of St. Paul: there is a clear moment of conversion, when he falls down on the road to Damascus and has a stunning vision of the risen Lord, but there can be no doubt that the words and the prayers of the martyrs whom he had a hand in bringing to their martyrdom had been quietly falling on his soul, like a secret shower of rain, preparing him for this blinding moment of truth.
In the life of any given Catholic there will probably be relatively few instances where you are actually there for the moment of realization -- where you get to see the work of evangelization springing to new life. It is beautiful to see, but the reality is that we are usually working in the dark, serving our brothers and sisters through word and example without seeing the fruits of our labours.
Yesterday, I set up the conditions of my turning away from God. In the next couple of posts, I am going to try to do my best to repeat a fruitful exercise which I discovered in the writings of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus' Meditations begin with a reflection on those who have led him to his current state of life, concentrating not on the trials and troubles that he has suffered, but rather on the good that has come to him through his relationships. I will begin with my mother.
My mother always insisted that I was going to come back to Christ. She didn't do it in a wild fanatical way -- my mother is nothing if not a practical woman. I would start trying to pick a fight about the Christian world-view, and she, without giving any good arguments at all, would simply insist that I would eventually come back to the church.
At the same time, she observed one of the major tennets of her philosophy of motherhood: "There are two gifts that we must give our children, one is roots, the other is wings." Yes, my mother is a sentimentalist, but that has never prevented her from being a good and wise mother.
Throughout all of the years that I was an atheist and a lesbian, my mother's primary role in my life was to be there, absolutely dependable, offering unconditional love. We faught, of course, as teenagers and parents will fight, but I never had the slightest doubt that I could do anything and she would forgive and continue to love me. She generally didn't argue and try to persuade me of things, because that wasn't what she had to offer, and in any case, I was of that persistent adolescent delusion that I knew better than my elders who were, for the most part, backwards fuddy-duddies (at least in my modern, enlightened, progressive opinion...)
Often parents confronted with a wayward child will take the opposite approach. They will see the problem as something that needs to be dealt with, right now, before the child falls any further into sin and error. They try to micro-manage the conversion back to God that they hope will take place, to force it to happen before any great damage is done.
Unfortunately, this cannot work. The parent is like the prophet in his hometown; they are generally too close to their children to be able to engineer the changes that they would like to bring about. This is especially true during adolescence, when the child is first spreading her wings and trying to get out of the nest. If the parent lets go, sooner or later the child will get her bearings, realize that she doesn't know everything, and start, tentatively, to develop a new, adult respect for her forebears. Through this process, we go from having respect for our parents simply because they are our parents -- the natural respect of dependant children -- to having respect for our parents because we can see their wisdom.
The two preconditions for this are unconditional love: an enduring interest in the good of the child that is not broken or weakened during the difficult period of rebellion and letting go; and trust: the willingness to genuinely let the child make her own mistakes, always believing that sooner or later she will find her way onto the right path. Cheesy and sentimental as the embroidered plaque over my mother's door is, it's absolutely right: roots and wings. If the former is lacking, the child will slowly drift away into her life and will never develop an adult respect. If the latter is lacking, the period of adolescent-style tension will draw itself out indefinitely, until either the parent learns to let go, or the parent dies. The mother who is still telling her forty year old son how to live his life, because she "sees no evidence that he is capable of taking real responsibility for himself" is directly responsible for the fact that he evinces no such evidence. She has not given him permission to grow up.
I want to begin then, by giving thanks to my mother, for giving me the invaluable gift of providing me with a solid foundation to which I could return when I found that my philosophies were crumbling around me, and also for allowing me to go out into the world to seek my fortune.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I think we do not realize our own parents' contributions, until we become parents.


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