In my last post I talked about the possibility that if reincarnation was a real thing then my previous lives most likely included several rounds of being a monk and/or a nun. Those past lives would explain my fascination with, inexplicable love for, and extreme weariness with Christianity; my intense longing for the contemplative life and for a spiritual tradition; my obsession with books and learning; my inner conflict with discipline; and my vehement chaffing at rules and orders of any kind.
I also struggle with a more modern conflict: that of being a mother. As a feminist, a mother, a spiritual and religious practitioner, and a white person of middle class standing in the 21st century, I feel a keen unease with my current status of Homemaker.
I’ve recently decided to step away from calling myself a stay-at-home-mom. It has connotations of being an upper middle class kept woman. The language heightens the isolation of stay-at-home-parents, and we are certainly isolated enough. Its passive language implies that we don’t do much, that perhaps we sit around, sequestered, eating bon bons. But homemaker, householder, implies to me craft, creation, effort, the holistic life of a Home.
As a householder I keep house; as a homemaker I make a home. I keep it tidy, clean and organized. I plan and cook three hot meals a day for at least four people. I make sure we are clothed in items that are clean and that fit reasonably well. I change diapers. I sort our things and make donations to organizations. I protect my home. I make it welcoming to those who would join us in good faith. I find ways to observe the seasons, the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and various other holidays in a way that we can all engage. I keep track of playdates and preschool plays and doctor’s appointments. I teach boundaries, numbers, and letters. I read to and tickle and kiss. I make a home.
These things are really unsexy. Most days they are terribly dull. Some days involve too much snot and too many tears. It’s not complicated, though it is complex. It’s not intellectually stimulating. I never need to dress up. It’s really pretty boring.. Though this doesn’t diminish the value of the work.
As a modern feminist, I sometimes wonder if this is the wisest use of my ‘best’ years. I’m over-educated for the job. I don’t get paid, and with my resumé I could make a nice yearly income elsewhere. Aren’t I holding up some mid-20th century patriarchal fantasy? I have many, many thoughts on these things, thoughts that tip into my radical political leanings, thoughts that aren’t quite appropriate for the blog post at hand.
What is important is that while my temperament isn’t ideal for this job and my many of my professional skills are languishing, I see this job as one of my most important – and that’s not just lip-service to ‘oh, aren’t you so noble for raising the next generation’ platitudes that often get thrown around when this topic is broached.
My job as a homemaker forces me to make my spirituality a priority. I don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time. I have to choose when and if I’ll sit in front of my altar. I have to practice in the midst of chaos. There is no quiet. I have to bring my gods with me into the kitchen, the grocery store, the bathroom, the car. There is no separation between holy space and family space. I have to explain to tiny people what it is I’m doing, and why. I have to apply my magical skills to my kids – for healing, for nightmares, for self-possession (four-year olds have none, just saying).
This job is harder than being a priest. I’m not saying that being a priest is easy! Being a quality anything takes effort and time and skill. But being a householder involves being a priest AND a homemaker. I have to be priest of this temple I create and keep AND I have to be in the world. I make all things sound in the midst of the noise of life. I hold space for the holy while my kids are having tantrums (or while I am throwing an internal tantrum, sadly all too common these days).
Most of the time I forget that I’m a priest. Most days I’m just cooking and cleaning and wiping noses and butts and I don’t think about holding space or blessing the meal or making anything holy. I forget. Many days I’m not much more self-possessed than my son. But sometimes I see the magic. The curl of the incense reminds me. I see my two-year old bowing in front of Ganesh. She takes deep breaths and smiles. Sometimes a meal is particularly joyful and nourishing and I feel the magic that is made at the table.
If as a monk or nun in past lives I’ve learned how to have one kind of community in my practice and worship, to take orders from an abbot, to have vows of silence, or to lead a flock, to be separated from the world in the seeking of the Holy, I am learning now about a different sort of community and isolation, to take orders from my Self, to take different sorts of vows, how to lead a different kind of flock, to be in the world and seek the Holy.
Sometimes I sit in my altar room after the kids are asleep and I make Formal Magic. These muscles don’t get flexed very often, and when they do they feel creaky, but enthusiastic. But mostly my home is my temple and my daily life my practice and sweat, blood and tears my offerings.