Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Exhibitions and Expectations

I read "A Life in Full Bloom" - Porter magazine's feature on Georgia O'Keeffe - in the final days of pregnancy, feeling directionless and fraught with contradictions. I'd met new people the day before and been struck by how difficult I'd found it to introduce myself - even more so than usual. I felt so between worlds.

I read about Georgia O'Keeffe, who captured my attention in art class aged sixteen with her wild vibrancy, singular vision and unapologetic sense of self. I read about her express intention to "live a life different from the rest of you" - a seemingly overstated boast in the years she spent as an ordinary art teacher, but vindicated by the eventual trajectory of her experiences.

I read it, and felt encouraged, and vowed that - no matter how impractical or improbable - I would make it to the exhibition of her art at the Tate Modern before its finishing date at the end of October. I would not miss this rare opportunity. I would make a pilgrimage in celebration of someone else's authenticity and genius and, in doing so, keep something of my core self alive in all the transitions.

Now, on the other side, I can safely say this is not going to happen. Not because it's impractical or improbable for us at this stage - although it is. It's not going to happen because it's not a priority.

People say everything changes when you have a baby, but what I didn't appreciate and am only now coming to terms with is the fact that I changed. I have changed. Instantly, unexpectedly, overnight. The way my mind works, the things that come first, the ways I react to the world around me - even the way I dress and move in this poor battered body of mine. 

I still recognise my need to hold onto the person I was - that's why I write these things, come rain or shine, tears or elation. While I can. But it turns out I'm a mother now - whatever that ends up looking like and meaning for me. And that really is life-changing 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

On Care-taking

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So, I've had a baby. A handful of days ago.

Those sentences are gradually becoming less surreal. Birth is brutal and labour is kind to no-one. Or if it is, I wasn't the exception. Small babies really do just sleep and eat, cry and excrete - all the time, even the calm-natured ones. Everything changes. Nothing changes. All of that is by-the-by. The thing that has really thrown me about this new phase is that I don't know how to pray.

I'm realising that, for pretty much my entire life, so much of my spiritual nourishment has relied on having uninterrupted time to reflect.  Making a herbal tea, sitting down to the listen-talk-listen of out-loud prayer. Reading through bible passages, scrawling in notebooks, ruminating. Prayer functions on lots of levels, but primarily - for me - it's about relationship. It's the place where I get to know God and consequently understand myself more clearly. I've thrived on being able to rummage around in my interior at a leisurely pace, learning and rediscovering and being put right.

I don't know how to do that when my mind is too pre-occupied with someone else to listen to the God who whispers. I don't know how to pray when my thoughts continually wander back to the baby I've tentatively set down to sleep. When I'm listening closely to each squeal, just in case it's the one that signals discomfort or tells me the hiatus is up and it's feeding time again.

But I've realised that maybe this experience can be a different route to knowing something of God. The One described as Heavenly Father and more faithful than a nursing mother. The One whose ears are attentive to our cries and who says "before you call, I will answer".

I will find way to pray in this stage of my life. It's completely unsustainable for me not to. But in the meantime, I'm grateful that I'm still cared for by my Creator in a relationship that transcends words.
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