A Two-Year-Old Boy, Beer, and the New Evangelization

Most people think watching paint dry is the gold standard of boredom. I think it's fascinating. The first few swipes of paint, fresh out of the can, shock me with their newness against the faded, familiar old color on the wall. And the smell of new paint thrills me. This weekend I was helping to paint sets for my high schoolers' musical production. As I painted, I had to keep reminding myself not to touch up a piece that had not dried yet; somehow, the obvious brush strokes and deceptive color inconsistencies magically disappear as the paint dries. A new coat of paint can look all wrong when it's wet, but give it a little time and air, and behold! The color really does match the swatch from the paint store, and the individual brush strokes melt into satisfying smoothness.

Because this is how my brain works, drying paint reminds me of pregnancy. When I am carrying a baby, I have to keep telling myself that the messiness of pregnancy and labor will result in a beautiful new person. In a little over nine months, I will have not only a sweet baby, but also once again A Body, rather than individual body parts that ache and expand and clot and go numb and vomit; the separate brush strokes will blend into a unified whole. When I became pregnant with my fifth baby, our oldest child had just turned seven. I was exhausted. I hunted sleep like a starving hyena scans a herd for pitiful, lame stragglers at the fringes. Usually not an enthusiastic fan of screen time for children, I grew to love the thirty-minute splendor of Blue's Clues and Veggie Tales. My pre-schoolers learned what a video marathon was. I learned how to protect the couch cushions from my drool.

One morning I popped in a show. Feeling sleep overpowering me, I lay down on my side and arranged the children atop me so I could be sure they didn't wander off. (They called this phenomenon the "Mommy Mountain.") In a little while, my barely conscious brain detected a void on Mommy Mountain. I opened one eye to confirm that Jack, then two years old, was no longer in the room. I propped myself up and asked four-year-old Ann for a favor:
"Ann, could you please go see where Jack is? You don't have bother him, you don't have to talk to him; just please find him and then run right back to me and tell me what he's doing."
In a few seconds Ann returned with this report:
"Jack is in your bedroom. He's drinking beer."
Did you know hippos can run up to 24 miles per hour? Giant pregnant women are nimble too. I dashed upstairs to find Jack lowering the beer bottle from his lips and wiping his mouth with his sleeve. My husband had opened a beer the night before and had left the bottle on his nightstand. I gathered up Jack and immediately wrote an email to my husband at work: "If you can remember how much beer you left in the bottle last night, I can calculate how drunk our son is right now." As it turns out, it had been mostly just foam remaining in the bottle, so social services was never notified. After all that excitement I began to prepare lunch, carrying Jack on my hip. I opened the fridge, and Jack peered in, announcing, "We need more beer." Not sure why I keep getting passed over for Mother of the Year.

Strangely, that Mommy Mountain episode came to mind as I was reading Pope Francis' recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). Pope Francis writes,
"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
It occurred to me that being open to a daily personal encounter with Jesus is a little like the procedure I used (albeit with questionable success) to keep my children close and safe during pregnancy. In order to stay connected with my children--my most precious gifts on earth--I had to be creative. In my somewhat debilitated state, I had to seek new ways to make sure I was attentive to them. I was weak and tired, I didn't trust my own power, so I connected myself, literally, to the bodies of my children. It wasn't a stellar example of mothering, but it was what I could manage. Our relationship with God is the most precious gift we all receive from our Creator. The Pope encourages us to seek new ways to pay attention to that relationship, especially when we feel weak and poor. We may not feel like stellar examples of faithfulness, but we can renew our attempts--even feeble ones--to touch Jesus.

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In his newest DVD set called Catholicism: The New Evangelization, Fr. Robert Barron emphasizes that the Catholic faith is “about an encounter so overwhelming that you want to tell the whole world. It is an encounter with Jesus Christ.” This is the new evangelization: intimate, personal encounters with Jesus that go viral. The more we pay attention to God, reaching out in daily prayer and service, the more we may begin to notice the constant presence of God. If we try this "unfailingly each day," as the Pope suggests, our mindfulness may become the norm. When Jack got up and left the Mommy Mountain, his absence alarmed me, shook me out of my torpor. How powerful it would be to grow so prayerful, so accustomed to the presence of God, that we become alarmed during the day when we realize we stopped touching God. As St. Augustine once remarked in a sermon, the desire to be with God is itself a prayer. Psalm 42 inspires me and reminds me to pray, to do my part for the new evangelization:

As the deer longs for streams of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.