Spiritual Readiness (Or, I’m BAAAACK)

(Chatter letter from the editor, February 2011)

Well hello there. This is Julie Rhodes. I’ve been on maternity leave for the past few months and am just now emerging from the fascinating underwater world of progesterone, where bright pink anemones of emotion and coral reefs of anxiety dance in the current. Actually, I haven’t really emerged. I think my “emotional anemones” metaphor makes that clear.

But it’s good to be back.

I want to give a “holla!” to Kristy Alpert, our fabulous interim editor extraordinaire who edited Chatter from the faraway city of Portland. She carried Chatter gently, lovingly, like it was a newborn, and laid it on my doorstep wrapped in cashmere with its 529 already funded. Thanks Kristy. Also thanks to Bill, Josh and Dennis who have kept the home fires burning ever brightly.

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I’ve been exploring a few interests while I’ve been away, in between all the nursing and fits of motherly fancy. One of them is singing, a passion of mine even before it was cool to say things were your passion (I think the vintage 1976 Midwestern word was “hobby.”). My voice teacher talks a lot about the “readiness of the voice,” and how a performer must snap to attention when the music starts — chest raised, larynx dropped, neck straight, tailbone tucked in, senses alert. It’s like the “first position” in dance, one of five foundational positions for the steps of classical ballet. It takes years to master the turnout for these positions, just as it takes years to hone the “readiness of the voice.” Before a note is sung or a step is danced, the performer must be coiled like a spring, packed with unreleased energy. In other words, you can’t just roll out of bed and sing Puccini. But I bet I could roll out of bed and eat a Panini. For me that’s just instinctual.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to start this month from a position of spiritual strength. I’d settle for physical strength, a.k.a. toned obliques, but feel led by the Spirit to have higher standards in the New Year.

I don’t know if you’ll be happy to know this or not, but a nursing mother has 5-8 times during the day when all she can do is sit and be still. Which means we lactaters keep the hours of priests and nuns who regularly stop whatever they’re doing, sit, pray, then maybe milk a cow. But I don’t usually spend my nursing sessions being spiritual, though that would be cheerfully Jesuit of me. I spend them reading novels or vapid tabloids, and with my delicious new Kindle in-hand, am hoping for subsequent pregnancies well into the year 2025.

As the months of newborndom wore on, I noticed my thoughts throughout the day turning repeatedly to plotlines of novels or the philosophies of writers I was reading. Or Kim Kardashian’s fierce fashion choices. Whatever. Say what you will; it was a rich intellectual diet. When all you do is change the Diaper Genie, you suddenly want to get really brainy about practically anything and begin asking questions like, “If that Diaper Genie falls over and dumps out, will the room still smell awful even if no one is here to smell it?” Things like that.

So I keep reading.

Then one day I was thinking about the “first position of spiritual readiness” and decided I should have my devotional in the mornings during my first nursing period instead of in the afternoons during the kids’ naptime like usual. This would be a sacrifice of optimal Kindle romance, as my 3-year-old is downstairs eating breakfast at that time. But God likes the people best who read his Holy Word in the mornings. I read that somewhere, maybe Ecclesiastes. I don’t know.

The first morning my plan worked OK. I managed to balance my eight-pound Bible on the edge of my Boppie (that’s a nursing pillow for you single Gen-Y-ers out there) and Madeline was game to share it. The next day my husband had forgotten to bring me my morning coffee so I decided God would prefer I waited until I was capable of reading comprehension. Day three I really didn’t feel like reading my Bible but I really DID feel like reading a little David Sedaris, and the thought made me so guilty I sat there in my glider and read neither, sipping my coffee and wondering if my toenails were presentable enough to wear espadrilles. This was late summer.

Then one night I got into bed and saw my Bible sitting on the bedside table. At that point I had come to grips with not being one of God’s Quiet Time Navy Seals. I wondered if he might squeeze me in between the Pope or anybody else who had already had a morning devotional but wanted to reconnect with him before bed. You know, kneeling in their thatched missionary huts. I opened it to Psalms where I read,

“For the Lord takes delight in his people;

he crowns the humble with salvation.

Let the saints rejoice in this honor

and sing for joy on their beds.” (Psalm 149:4-5)

On. Their. Beds. Let the saints sing for joy on their beds! Hey, that’s me. In bed! Not in my morning recliner at 5:30 a.m., concordance ready and waiting like a dutiful teaching assistant.

There’s a time and a place for serious biblical study, absolutely so. But for now, sing for joy! Even from bed! Even if it was the last thing on my mind until just now. God is delighting in me.

Who, me?

Yes, you!

If God feels half the way I do when I watch MY son in bed — Drew’s eyes darting beneath their lids, lashes jerking to and fro like fuzzy break-dancing caterpillars — then I rejoice indeed.

And joy IS the place of readiness for singing the song of grace. Joy IS the first position of the God dance. The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Thanks for having me back, everybody. You bring me joy, too!


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