This month at First Universalist our sermon series is about spiritual practices. We're focusing on spiritual practices and disciplines that can live at the center of our lives, helping us become more grounded people, aware of the gifts we've been blessed with, and the many ways we might bless the world. (Over at NotHellButHope you can Heidi Mastrud's great take on this.)
Every day, for the month of January, I intend to post about one of the practices or reflection questions that I'm currently exploring in my own life. (And in doing this, I understand myself to be continuing a practice that our Transcendentalist forebears engaged in, as they reflected on their lives through contemplation, meditation, journal writing, and conversation. You can read more about the practices of the Transcendentalists in this great article, "The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalists," by Rev. Barry Andrews.)
The spiritual question I want to kick things off with is this one:
"What is saving your life right now?"
This question comes from the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, who I've blogged about before. Early in her ministry, she was asked to come and guest preach in a pulpit not far from the one she served. She wondered if she would have anything to say to a congregation she didn't know and that didn't know her.
"What would be helpful for me to preach about?" she asked the minister of the church she was going to preach at.
"Tell us what is saving your life right now," the minister responded. "That's what we need to hear. Tell us what is saving your life right now."
This story strikes a deep cord in me. Indeed, what is it in my life, right now, that is "saving me?" Amidst the ups and downs, the blur of endless "to-do's," the piles of books to read, meetings to attend, what is grounding, centering, holding, and "saving my life right now?"
Here's one of the things that is "saving my life" right now:
Putting our son down for nap.
Crazy, right?! Maybe you're wondering: "How is this life saving, exactly?"
Here's the story: I've had some time off between Christmas and the New Year. This has meant that I've home during the day, and thus able to put our son down for his afternoon nap. (I rarely am home during the day, so it's something I have the chance to do.) Our son is not a big fan of the nap, but he absolutely needs it, or else he's a wreck by 6pm. And the best way for me to get him down is to hold and rock him, sitting on the edge of the bed or in a chair. He fights pretty hard for the first 10 minutes or so, kicking, crying, telling me he's hungry, or needs to get down to "go for a walk," or to go "get some exercise outside."
It's an intense experience, gently restraining him as he struggles, being clear that it is nap time, and that I love him (that's my mantra, "I love you, and, it's nap time.") After a little while, he settles down in my arms, still awake, but not struggling. His breathing deepens. He lets me rest my face in his hair. He smells like sweat, and shampoo, and something beautiful I can't even begin to describe, and the warmth and smell of his head touches something deep inside me.
As he relaxes in my arms, and moves toward sleep, I feel deeply grounded in the present moment, my arms gently holding my three year old son. From where my head rests, I can watch his eyes slowly close. After he falls asleep, I hold him a bit longer, then tuck him into bed.
So when I asked myself yesterday, "What is saving my life right now?" and scanned back through the past week, this is where I landed. I didn't know it in the moment; it's only looking back that I can say, "Yes, putting our son down for nap is saving my life right now."
It's saving my life because it's a reminder that things won't always be this way. Soon, I won't be able to hold and cradle him. Soon, he'll stop taking naps. Soon, he'll be at school most of the day. So be present, Justin, be present.
It's saving my life, because it brings my son and I together in a way that nothing else does. There's a deep intimacy, connection, and vulnerability that we share together in those nap time moment. There's a trust and a comfort that is beyond words. (If you've ever fallen asleep in the arms of someone else, you know what I mean.)
It's saving my life because these nap time moments puts me in place where I can imagine how my parents might have held me in such a way; it opens up the past in a different way for me, opening up a new sense of connection with my parents, imagining their arms wrapped around me.
It's saving my life because it's giving me new insight, meaning, and connection. It's saving my life because it helps me feel whole.
What is saving your life right now?