Serenity of a Madonna

I’m sick. " ‘I cannot go to school today,’ said little Peggy Ann McKay. I have the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash and purple bumps."1 It comes to my mind. This silly poem I committed to memory ions ago for a high school english class. Not quite Shakespeare, but it works. Anyway, I’m sick. And it’s a no wonder. To kick off the new school year, everyone of my children have come down with terrible colds. Passing it from the eldest to the youngest. I thought I’d made it unscathed. But alas, the sore throat, fever and congestion settled in yesterday afternoon-ugh! While the cold virus is much to blame, I fear I am a guilty accomplice. Lately, I’ve been working too much. The start of a new school year brings extra work. New schedules, new books to order, new co-op, new book study…not to mention keeping up with house duties, family, and friends. I could see it coming. The sickness. I sensed within myself how things were becoming unbalanced. I was throwing everything into work, which meant neglecting other things. Oh, I still made time to bring dinner to a friend, check in on my parents and chat with a neighbor. But on the whole, I let all the ‘to-do’s’ rule the roost. And I’ve been left wanting, needing…the serenity of a Madonna?

"The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents."2

I don’t know about you, but I could use a dose of that. We, as mothers, as teachers, have to give ourselves the permission to do these things and choose to do these things. For if we do not our efforts in our work, and in our schooling will be left wanting. Everyone suffers. Beautiful schedules become check-lists, listening to narrations becomes daunting and going outside is put off for another day. The look of a Madonna? I’m pretty sure it’s more like a deer in headlights these days.

It’s funny how sickness makes you slow down, stop even. You have to take a day for yourself, but it would be much better to take it without the lozenges and mounds of kleenex. It would be better to include those days, those moments during our day to allow the look of the Madonna to penetrate us, calm us, influence our hearts. How so?

My walls are not adorned with Madonnas from the Masters, maybe they should be. I do however have the choice to make space to be in relationship with the one who is the source of that serenity. For me, the act of prayer and space for contemplation is one of the most vital practices that keeps me centered. Over the past several years I’ve been intrigued by the discipline of praying the hours much like the ancients. I’m not perfect at it, but I have found that when I put it into practice regularly, I gain perspective. It "pries me out of myself and stretches me beyond myself so that I can come someday, perhaps, to be my best self."3 It isn’t coincidental that when I fall out of the regular practice of prayer and meditation I am not at my best self. I begin a downward spiral that doesn’t leave room for poetry, art and lovely nature walks. "…without prayer, the energy for the rest of life runs down."4

Why is this so? The thing about prayer is that it "… is the filter through which we view our worlds. Prayer provokes us to see the life around us in fresh, new ways."5 It breathes new life that opens us up to receive the present beauty. It opens us up to see the hawk soar overhead, to hear the rustle of the aspen, to feel the breeze across our face, to smell the burning early autumn leaves. And then…then you feel it. The peace that comes from being fully present, fully human. The peaceful serenity of a Madonna.