We have been trying this new thing where we take Atticus into church with us. It’s been successful as far as church services with a two-year-old go. He is suddenly able to sit with us and play quietly for part of the time, and he likes the music. Plus, he gets to take communion and I am super into that.
But, you know, having him there means that we are distracted in the permanent way of parents, ears attuned to his noises. This is troublesome if you think, like I used to, that worship is more about stillness than about motion. This is a season of our lives that is about exploring the outside world rather than examining ourselves, and parenthood has been about motion almost from the very beginning. I had twinges in my belly at 16 weeks and the predictions that he was going to be an active boy came true. We rocked him to sleep (and became those people who rock themselves without knowing it). He preferred to run from his very first steps, which, of course, means that we are still running after him. He plows his grocery cart into the wall and smashes his trucks into one another. I stuff diapers and Mike makes dinner and we wipe Atticus’s nose. There is less stillness in our lives than there used to be.
One of the things that resonated with me from the very beginning of motherhood, before I could even feel those first kicks, was part of the preface of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
I am not totally present in church when I am there with Atticus, but I think the act of being there is enough for now. We are making space for our church community to be a priority; even if I don’t hear every word of the sermon, I am learning from the people around me how to make my very flesh a great poem. Yesterday I watched another parent make all those familiar movements – soothing and wiping and caressing. You could never mistake that for inattention.