When I had tiny babies, I had to completely re-think my idea of spiritual practice. Before that, I was pretty sure that spiritual disciplines were things you did by yourself while staring at a Bible or up at the ceiling. But in the vortex of sleep deprivation that is early motherhood, that was no longer an option for me. I struggled with that for a while, but slowly, I began to find some new life-giving rhythms that allowed me to tune and re-tune my soul—inconsistently, but several times a day, like a warped guitar or an old car radio.
The funny thing is, I’m coming back to these practices in this season at training college. The chaos is real. Training college during a global pandemic is a whirlwind of the uncontrollable.
There’s the usual cadet stuff: sourcing nightshade pantyhose in bulk; writing approximately 3,000 reflection papers; losing track of which days we have chapel, classes, seminars and field ministry (online, mostly); going through more laundry bleach in a month than I have used in my entire 24-year laundry career.
Then there’s the COVID-19 factor. Isolating with the kids every six to eight weeks while a cold runs through the house; moving from online to in-class to online learning; calling relatives in other provinces every day while they recover from the dreaded virus; trying to nurture a love of reading in a very active Grade 1 boy who doesn’t currently have a social outlet; and angrily lashing out at that guilty feeling in the back of my brain when I let the TV babysit my kids so I can participate in a Zoom seminar.
In the midst of the ever-shifting and overwhelming, the rhythmic spiritual practices I developed over the course of three maternity leaves are the things I find myself leaning on most heavily. I don’t do them all in one day, or even one week, but over the course of weeks and months they add up to a life-giving rhythm.
Family Shabbat. Short, meditative journaling exercises. “The Next Right Thing” podcast with Emily P. Freeman. Slowly reading through one book of the Bible over the course of six months. Repeating well-known prayers and Psalms to myself as I get dressed or fold laundry. The Lectio 365 app. Taking 20 seconds to look out the window and breathe. Something I call “the blanket cape,” where I imagine myself wrapped in a blanket while I make my coffee in the morning and allow God to remind me what grace looks like today. Reading and rereading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Praying with friends and mentors on the phone. Having conversations with my kids about what God said to them this week. Dancing on my break. Baking and sharing the love. Singing hymns over my kids while I put them to bed.
That last one has been quite profound lately. The last few nights, the almost-two-year-old has started screaming as soon as I start getting him ready for bed. My nerves are frayed and I can’t handle it. The only weapon I have are songs and hymns that I can sing louder than he can scream.
So when he starts voicing his disapproval, I start singing over him in my best deep-chested gospel voice: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, IT IS WELL, it is WELL, with my soul!”
And let me tell you, when I get to that third verse, I pretty much become Mariah Carey in my excitement. “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul!”
It doesn’t always help him calm down. But it does loosen the anxious knot in my stomach and pull me back to earth when my eyes glaze over, my senses cloud and I can feel my head going under water.
And hey, I’ll be honest—the irony of loudly singing “WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER ATTENDETH MY WAY” is the kind of humour I need in that moment, too.
Cadet Natalie Williams is a member of the Messengers of Reconciliation Session at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg.
On Saturday, June 19, 2021, Jane myers said:
On Monday, June 14, 2021, Pat Oldford said:
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