February 06, 2015

The Joys and Disputable Amounts of Fun of Parenthood

Hyp-mo-tized by this passage in Heather King's Stripped, where King profiles a lady who is really into self-mortification.  It sort of suggests that "God loves suffering!" masochisitic meme that Catholics are accused of but there is the half-ring of truth in here:
She wore vaguely bohemian clothes: berets, embroidered peasant blouses, and her smile was so brilliant that I hardly noticed the one tooth missing in her left lower jaw, the line of brown that ran along the tops of the rest. ..I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Barbara also expressed less than unalloyed regard for modern medicine. "Every time you have a little pain, take an aspirin, they tell you! But you never grow that way, you never learn anything! That's why I don't trust doctors. Their only goal is to avoid pain! Their biggest fear is death!"
Barbara, it turned out, had a very highly-developed notion of suffering. She believed that the suffering of animals somehow relieved ours. She believed we could and should take the burden upon ourselves to suffer for others. "You know that passage in the Gospel where the woman who's been hemorrhaging for twelve years touches the hem of Christ's garment and is healed?" she asked [Luke 8:40-56].  "Have you ever noticed which story immediately follows? It's the story of the little girl who dies and is brought back to life by Christ. And how old is the child? Twelve! Do you see? It's almost as if the woman had been keeping the child alive with her suffering...
I re-read that gospel passage a few times and lo and behold that is a remarkable thing, the 12 years hemmoraging and 12 years old. Surely not coicindental.  As familiar as I think I am of the gospels, here's another reason to keep reading them.

St. Ambrose wrote with regard to this passage, seeing in it the old coveant and new:
Why is it that the twelve-year-old daughter of the ruler was dying and the woman with a flow of blood was afflicted for twelve years, except that it is understood that as long as the synagogue flourished, the church suffered? The  weakness of the one is the virtue of the other, because by their offense salvation has come to the Gentiles. The consummation of the one is the beginning of the other, the beginning not of nature but of salvation. Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 6.56–57.10
Another gospel, from last week, was about the Kingdom of God being a mustard seed and how it starts as the smallest but becomes the largest, where the birds of the air can make their nests in its shade.  I've always thought of this as meaning I need to be that mustard seed and I need to grow large in good works to provide shade as it were.  But it occurred to me that the mustard seed is Christ!  He is the one who came so small in the world, a tiny infant of a poor and obscure mother.  And He is the one who has grown to be the largest of trees.

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Also came across the New Jerusalem Bible editors, Henry Wansbrough's, new book "Introduction to the New Testament".  He's treads where some fear:
"Did God dictate the words? Is inspiration merely a negative protection from error? .... Cardinal Newman was worried by the fact that Nebuchadnezzar is described in Judith 1:1 as King of Assyria, when in fact he was King of Babylon."
Of course I hoped that this scruple of Newman's led him also to a too scrupulous view of chances of salvation for us non-saintly schlubs.

Wansbrough sees inspiration as an enhancement of the author's faculties, a prophet being "not so much one who foretells as one who sees as God sees."  He says inspiration is not confined to the final author of a text but is operative in the whole "process of formation and preservation of the text, observation, oral transmission (perhaps discussion), editing and final verbal expression."

He concisely describes the difficulty: "How is it possible to reconcile the inspiration of the authors with their human free will?" I like the way he put this:
"There is the curiously circular situation that the sacred writings provide the norm of the Church, but the Church decides which writings constitute the norm: the Church both forms and is formed by the Canon of Scripture. The Bible is the book of the Church: in reciprocal ways the Church interprets the Scriptures and is judged by the Scriptures." 
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Ok, it's admittedly disturbing that I do most of my reading about asceticism while drinking beer.

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Learned about “flow” in All Joy, No Fun, a book about child-rearing (a title applicable to our saint-making process, cross-carrying as well).   Flow is basically the idea that we are happiest when engaged in a single-minded non-passive activity we enjoy. Getting into "the zone" as it were, in an activity we can focus on and “lose ourselves” in. The book shows that parenting is the opposite of this because it's all start and stop, kids being constant distraction machines since they are wired, at that age, to be that way. Wired for discovery, for sweeping in stimuli:
    After finishing the book Flow, the reader comes away with the unmistakable impression that most adults find themselves in flow when they're alone. Csikszentmihalyi talks about fishing, cycling, and rock climbing: about solving equations, playing music, and writing poems. As a rule, the experiences he describes do not involve much social interaction, least of all with children.
It's another situation where our natural inclinations aren't always aligned with life-giving, i.e. another case of death-to-self being the secret to greater joy and life.

The book also touched on frustration:  "One study showed that 'the more willpower people expended, the more likely they became to yield to the next temptation.'"

And that temptation was usually to yell at their kids and then feel bad about it afterward.

Not a good message going into Lent!  But willpower can be strengthened, surely.  The study suggested self-control is not a bottomless resource, although of course it's not written from a spiritual perspective.

The book talked about the loss of sleep many parents experience:
“The population seems to divide in thirds when it comes to prolonged sleep loss: those who handle it fairly well, those who sort of fall apart, and those who respond catastrophically.”
It mentions studies that show parents are no happier, and often unhappier than non-parents, but it also says that the highs are higher and the lows lower with parents as opposed to married without children. It gives more meaning and reward to life.   Childcare is ranked even lower than housework on a ranked list of activities on the parental list!  A social scientist, says it's a "high-cost/high-reward activity."

The author makes the case that the parenthood today is very different from what it once was.  In some ways it's the same - such as sleep deprivation with an infant - but in other ways it differs:
1.  Choice.  Parents used to not really be able to control how large their families were or when kids arrived. "Nor did they regard their children with the same reverence modern parents do.  Rather, they had children because it was customary, or because it was economically necessary, or because it was a moral obligation to family and community (often for all three reasons). Today, however adults often view children as one of life's crowning achievements...Because so many of us now are avid volunteers for a project which we were all once dutiful conscripts, we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, regarding them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives." 
2. Work experience - two income families. With fathers much more active. "It's no accident that today's heirs to Erma Bombeck, the wicked satirist of domestic life who reigned in my mother's generation, are just as likely to be men as women. It was a man who wrote 'Go to F**k to Sleep'.  It was a male comic, Lousi C.K., who developed a grateful cult following of moms and dads." 
3. Childhood completely redefined. Children used to work and not be shielded from life's hardships.  Now they are protected. "Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses." 

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