St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio; 2009; $11.95.
“When women choose to marry and have children, they start on a daring venture. It takes courage to commit mind, body and heart to another person and to found a family in which the labors, joys, risks and struggles remain unknown,” begins “Creating New Life, Nurturing Families.”
Soon it will be 42 years since my own daring venture began. Did I predict on my wedding day that four decades hence my husband and I would spend Holy Week with a 6-year-old granddaughter? Hardly. Having Maggie with us as I review Sidney Callahan’s book is serendipitous, for my granddaughter is stirring memories of life with my own children and occasioning experiences that coincide with Callahan’s words.
Wives and mothers imitate Christ by laying down our lives for husbands and children. We are constantly vigilant to their needs. This week I am reminded that children need healthy meals and snacks at regular intervals, require early bedtimes and sometimes rise before our eyes are open. They want to “help” with household tasks and crave (grand)parental participation in imaginative play. And so mothers give unstintingly of time and energy, the stuff of their lives.
Nurturing love, essential for the survival of infants and children and for the shaping of children, is basic to a mother’s spirituality. Once I heard it said that children help their parents grow. Callahan says that loving and caring for children can enlarge the heart. The main point of the spiritual life is to live so that one’s heart grows big enough to spend eternity with a boundlessly loving God, so mothering is clearly a spiritual pursuit.
Although mothers never completely give up concern and altruism, hands-on care lessens as children grow and leave home. When my children reached their teens, I found more time for religious practices. I came to enjoy staying late in church after Holy Thursday’s evening Mass to “watch and pray.”
This Holy Thursday Maggie would accompany us to Mass, which would end well past her bedtime. This year, as when my children were small, I was to go home after Mass, read to Maggie and tuck her into bed instead of praying late. Again this year God is calling me to love by being with a young child. I believe, and Callahan seems to agree, that I will still be with God.
“Creating New Life, Nurturing Families” is theological: It looks at historical Christian viewpoints on sexuality, critiquing negative attitudes, affirming Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and linking the fruits of the Spirit with marital passion.
The book provides a Christian perspective on coping with maternal dangers such as depression, striving for “success” and aiming for perfection. It addresses the meanings of work and moral dilemmas of combining family and work. Finally, it talks about how joy and suffering can transform a woman’s life.
The book is also attentive to practical aspects of those topics and offers “Food for Thought” questions to help the reader examine her own experiences. Each chapter ends with a prayer format that can be used alone or with a group.
Author Sidney Callahan’s credentials as a scholar are evident in her text, yet her style is accessible to the average reader. Callahan’s credits also include being a wife for 50 years, motherhood to six children, grandmothering, and licensure as a psychologist.
This book is part of the “Called to Holiness: Spirituality for Catholic Women” series. The collection is designed for women of all backgrounds, begins with the premise that spirituality is an everyday lived experience and aims to connect women with the riches of Christian tradition.