Parenting and the Cornerstones
By: Caitlin Morneau
What is a recent experience that captures how I have lived out (and fallen short of) the Gospel cornerstones? In this moment, it feels difficult to call to mind any experience more profoundly than the pregnancy, labor, and birth of my second son.
Colby was born on January 26th in our hometown of Alexandria, VA. I desired for his arrival and my experience of it to be spirit-filled, justice-centered, and community-oriented and was intentional about choices to make it so. In hindsight, I realize how these goals and practices align with the cornerstones that I internalized while living and serving at Bethlehem Farm.
Community. During my third trimester, my best friend invited key women in my life to send “virtual blessing beads”- poems, prayers, quotes, messages, images, songs… of encouragement and hope. She compiled it into a video that I watched repeatedly in the final days leading up to delivery.
I remember a wise woman telling me that contractions are “pain with purpose”. Beyond the purpose of bringing life into the world, I wished for my embodied experience to have relational purpose too. So I invited loved ones to send me their prayer intentions, that I might lift them up with each contraction. This was a way to hold those closest to me throughout the experience.
Prayer. Throughout my life, music has helped me process, regulate, and channel emotional and physical challenges. So I created a playlist – over 10 hours of women singer-songwriters whose style reflected the atmosphere of calm and strength I desired. It included Catholic artists Danielle Rose and Audrey Assad, farm favorites The Wailin’ Jennys and Gillian Welch, along with a recent favorite group called… Rising Appalachia.
In college, I was introduced to Taize prayer by Julie Tracy, former caretaker, board member, and my campus minister. One meditation that resonated deeply with me (and was sung repeatedly during my first spring break week at Nazareth Farm) was, “Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive.” This is the mantra that my husband, Aaron, softly spoke into my ear with every contraction, for 18 hours, from the time we arrived at the hospital through my final birthing push.
Social Justice. Colby’s name was chosen for St. Maximilion Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who sacrificed his life in Auschwitz to spare that of a father. He is the patron saint of families, pro-life, prisoners and, further… lethal injection. I work for an organization that advocates to end the death penalty and advance healing approaches to harm and injustice. It is vocation realized. Colby’s name holds us responsible to the dignity of every life – especially the lives of those most marginalized, vulnerable, and oppressed.
It is difficult to encapsulate just how this pregnancy tethered the experience within my body to the realities of a suffering world, especially our home country. Fortunately, Valerie Kaur did it for me. This quote from her memoir “See no Stranger” accompanied my final weeks of pregnancy, and reverberates within me still:
“In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark, but my faith dares me to ask. What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country still waiting to be born?”
Simplicity. Oh, simplicity… how I have failed you. How I would love to say that my child only wears second-hand clothes, cloth diapers (we’re working on that one), and sustainably made toys. How I try not to think about the many many disposable items involved in postpartum recovery. How I desperately need to find ways to hold myself accountable to what is a want or convenience vs. a need before purchasing. Our family has such a long way to go on this front.
Though, I’ll say this, bearing life reconnects me with the centrality of human dignity in all of its resilience and fragility. Colby’s discovery of the world forces me to slow down, be present in the moment, and humbly regard him as more important than myself. My children remind me to simplify my racing thoughts, use of energy, and understanding of relationship.
This is a beauty of parenthood. Our children help to hold us accountable for the earth we pass on to them and so much more. Especially with a three year old who notices, hears, and questions everything… my actions, words, choices, and example model how I hope for them to walk in this world. How I pray for my boys to know and live the cornerstones. I know that I will likely learn more from them in this regard than I’ll ever be able to teach – I look forward to Bethlehem Farm continuing to aid all of us in the journey.
Caitlin Morneau was a Summer Servant in 2008 and 2010 and served on the board of directors from 2013-2019. Caitlin is Director of Restorative Justice at Catholic Mobilizing Network and lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, Aaron, sons Aiden and Colby, and black lab, Sydney.