‘I have no idea what comes next,’ I say. ‘Samesies,’ Mary would’ve said


Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl, Crucifixion, 1485; Detroit Institute of Art

Right now, the youngest is napping. Alice lays on her belly under a still-leafless maple; Violet sits cross-legged beside her with a stuffed rabbit in her lap. They’re so far out from my spot on the front stoop that I can’t hear them: this moment is parenting’s high-water mark. An Eastern phoebe’s returned to nest under our deck; bugs fly by and I’ve forgotten their names. Daffodils are three inches above ground. The world goes on knowing what to do and when to do it, but I’m on the stoop, wondering.

I carry around all these possibilities in my imagination. I stack them up on the dresser top beside me while I fold clothes, or lay on the windowsill while I wash dishes. I toy with moving to a house we would own in the city; moving to a suburb for the schools. I stack up the open-enrollment deadline for schools of choice; I consider visiting buildings I’m not excited about. Kindergarten open house and my will-be second-grader’s Tums in her pocket. Writing this book about “radical faith” with someone who once lived in an intentional community, and wondering how no one’s picked up yet that my past is much more predictable. I read tough books and wash a dozen loads of towels, toddler leggings, sweatshirts, and pillow cases every week.

All these possibilities, I carry around.

Aren’t humans the worst? Aren’t we, to be thinking of this while the world sings the Doxology; while flowers come up and buds open?

I paused long enough a few minutes ago to throw away the naptime diaper to realize Louisa, my youngest, was singing it, too. As she pulled on her socks upside-down, she sang, “Plays God from who all blessings flow,” accidentally magnifying the human condition: “plays God.”

We carry around these possibilities, these conflicting story lines, and we say, “Geez, God. What a mess. How can anything ever change?” We thumb through thumbnail images on our phones of houses for sale; I pencil in kindergarten open house dates on a sticky note, not knowing which building or district will be ours. Our friends offer conflicting advice; we have conversations that mottle the skin on my neck into pinks and peaches, and Dave and I raise our voices on opposite sides of the kitchen island at home later, completely agreeing with each other on one thing: we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re pulling on socks upside-down, so to speak, and singing “plays God” without realizing it.

This is the part when reading three years’ worth of books on so-called ordinary-radical faith and theology melds into real life. I have no idea what’s next, except to say I feel like the Dutch ladies under the cross in the painting I saw at the Detroit Institute of Art last weekend. They’re not dressed as women in Jerusalem probably dressed in the year 30 or 33 AD or what-have-you; they, too, are poseurs of a sort. Devoted, emotional, but a bit misplaced. Don’t I know the feeling?

{{ The girls just brought a moth to me in a plastic bug box. It’s sleepy and covered in dirt. I feel some resemblance: imagine waking up to this invitation — sunshine, blue skies, birds singing — and finding oneself in a plastic box, three young girls breathing hard into the lidless container. “What’s it eat? What’s it going to do?” They poke it and ask it questions. That moth; that sleepy moth’s just trying to flap. Me too, I think. }}

Don’t I need a cup of tea with someone who’d say, “We’re all poseurs here. We’re all wandering around under this cross saying ‘I have no idea what comes next.'” Not even Jesus’ mom knew: the lady who carried God with her, in her body, had no idea what came next.

I think about that this week, Jesus’ mother.

Mary gets a low-key treatment in Protestantism. A result, I’m surmising, of Luther’s theses or something-or-other, we tread lightly around the Mary thing because we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do with the mother who bore the living God; we talk about her being there at Jesus’ crucifixion (in one gospel), but we’re not great at seeing these stories through a mom’s eyes. I’ve got a subscription to Christianity Today and a shelf full of the wrong kinds of books to fully embrace the Catholic’s narrative of Mary, but what we miss over here is an emphasis of mother. God is the Father — wise, loving, and all the good things — but Mary was a mother. Mary did the child-rearing, educating, washing-up thing.

But Mary wasn’t divine: there’s the “me neither” I need.

The bible says an angel showed up to tell her she was pregnant, but we don’t hear God gave her a lot of direction after that. She, then, might be the best person to tell me “Just keep doing the next right thing.” And, as she showed up to take crazy Jesus home later (Mark 3:31-35), she might be the best person to tell me, “Sometimes it looks kinda messy. It’ll work out all right in the end.”

Also, “when the wine runs low, I know a guy.” And “Kids, you know? Didn’t see that coming.”

I think she’d have a lot to say over tea; that’s all.

Right now, all these possibilities of mine (about schools and houses and my penciled-in school open-house dates) stack into a lopsided pyramid. They would: we’re humans. I’d do well to remember Mary probably saw it that way, too.

And I’m not even raising Jesus; just some girls in the Midwest. The stakes are quite a bit lower, thanks be to God.

{{ Alice and Violet are stuck in the cherry tree now: they can climb up, but not down. Louisa’s playing in the dirt. The dog pants beside me. All I have to do is wait today. And get the kids out of the tree before Dave comes home. The rest’ll stack up later, God willing. Oh, my word: Alice just jumped and got down. See, it all works out in the end. }}


(Meet my coauthor! She announces our book title and details here.)

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