The Way of Perfection via Postpartum Motherhood

Nov 5, 2019 | Blog, Essays

While pregnant, I started a book by Saint Theresa of Avila on contemplative prayer called The Way of Perfection.  It was a book I’d bought years ago but hadn’t finished because I’ve had oatmeal-brain for the better part of a decade.  It is a little known fact that it is difficult to read and understand books by contemplatives when one has oatmeal-brain.  A fact I often ignored when buying the books only to be reminded of it when trying to read the books.

However, I was determined to get through it this time.  I made a pact with myself at the beginning of the year to not buy anymore books until I’d read all the books I already owned that made up my towering “to read” pile.  Books that I’d bought but that, for various reasons, I hadn’t gotten around to reading. Usually the “various reasons” were that I’d gotten distracted when hearing about another book which I then purchased and put at the head of the line.

Working my way through the pile was surprisingly fruitful.  I remembered why I purchased the books in the first place.

Nevertheless, the Theresa of Avila book was more difficult for me.  It was addressed to the nuns in her order and was about how to pray and especially, how to rise to the level of contemplative prayer.

I had trouble connecting with it because my life seemed entirely the opposite of the life of a cloistered Carmelite nun.  My life is loud and filled with little people and worldly distraction and I have to be very intentional to carve out time for prayer.  The time I do manage to carve out is anything but optimal, at least by Carmelite nun standards. I generally have to pray on the run. Morning prayers during breakfast.  Praying the rosary while working on a project. The Divine Mercy Chaplet while making snack. Evening prayers during bath time. There is rarely silence and it’s very difficult to focus or concentrate.

Then I had my newest baby and it all fell into place.

For a good while after having a baby, I have to spend a lot of time sitting and nursing.  More precisely, sitting, nursing and staring at the new baby. And it was while I was sitting, nursing and staring at my new baby, that I realized I was contemplating.  

I was contemplating her perfection.  How I love every bit of her. Her tiny little fingers, her sweet sleeping face, every hair of her head, even every little skin cell. 

I was contemplating whether it is possible that God looks at me in the same way?  Delighting in my very existence? Loving all of me right down to my atoms?

I was contemplating my gratitude.  God made this tiny person for me and my husband.  He could have sent this soul, so precious to Him, to anyone in the world but He, instead, entrusted her with us.  Given an eternity, I still wouldn’t have been able to thank Him enough for His generosity in making me a little human, but that didn’t stop me from trying.  I thanked Him over and over again.

Now I’m contemplating my responsibility.  God, I say in my head (so my older kids don’t think I’m crazy), why did you entrust this new, innocent soul with me?  Spiritually, I can barely keep my own head above water. How am I going to make sure I keep her on the path to holiness?  How do I make sure she lives as You meant her to live when I’m still trying to figure it out for myself?

And through this contemplation, I realized that this sweet little baby is a life preserver thrown by God to help keep me afloat.  She’s there to keep me on the path to holiness and to help me figure out how God wants me to live. She’s already begun her work by making my soul grow in love and gratitude.

Now I’m contemplating the Blessed Mother looking down at the little baby laying in her lap.  The God of the universe… laying in her lap.  

Now I’m contemplating the Incarnation.  When God took the form of a tiny baby in order to keep all of mankind afloat, to keep all of mankind on the path to holiness to help each member of mankind live they way they were meant to live.  

Which led me to contemplate how babies have a way of getting the job done incognito.  They have a way of growing the love in our souls, growing the gratitude in our souls and growing the want to be better, to be how we were made to be.  Perfected and able to stand before God to say thank you in person.

It turns out I was reading The Way of Perfection at the perfect time, as I sat on my couch contemplating, with a new baby in my lap, cloistered from the world in my little, postpartum, spiritual convent.

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