When some people go on maternity or paternity leave, they leave all thoughts of what they do in their professional lives behind. Not Laura Kelly Fanucci, research associate at the Collegeville Institute. In her work at the Collegeville Institute, Laura explores and develops a theology of vocation, broadly understood as humans’ response to God’s call on their whole lives.
Laura understands vocation as being broader than the work she gets paid for or does outside of the home. Parenting, like professional life, is a vocation. Since she became a mother, Laura has been reflecting on the vocation of parenthood on her blog, Mothering Spirit. She also writes about the topic in a variety of other media outlets, and her book, Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting, will be published by Liturgical Press later this year.
This summer, while Laura and her husband welcomed their third child into their family, Laura penned a series on her blog about spiritual practices with newborns. As she introduced the series, Laura wrote, “Lately, as I nurse and change diapers and rock and swaddle and soothe, I’ve been thinking about how these simple acts can be spiritual practices. How everyday care for babies teaches us about God and who God created us to be.”
Laura’s series on spiritual practices with newborns includes reflections about feeding, cleaning, comforting, beholding, and holding a baby. It also includes insights about accepting help from others and healing from physical or emotional wounds.
On the topic of feeding, Laura reflects on Jesus’ words to Peter in the Gospel of John:
Feed my lambs. The youngest. The neediest. The ones who cannot feed themselves.
To feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty are the first two Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic tradition. And we all know food and drink are the most basic of human needs. We cannot survive without them.
So feeding these smallest and weakest among us?
The teeth-gritting early weeks of learning to breastfeed? Or the tired task of warming up bottles for a screaming babe in the middle of the night? Searching for the right formula, cutting out dairy to fight fussiness, dealing with engorgement or mastitis or low milk supply?
These are spiritual practices, too.
Whether changing, rocking, feeding, or beholding a baby, every instance provides an opportunity to pray.
When waking up at night to feed or soothe a newborn, for example, a parent can pray the words of Psalm 119: 147-148.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
Alongside this passage, Laura offers ideas for prayer during late-night feedings:
Next time you are up with baby at 2:00 am (or 3:00 am, or 4:00 am – or all 3!), think of all those who are also awake at this late hour: employees working the third shift, tired parents tending to sick children, monks and nuns praying the hours.
Pray in solidarity with those who work while others sleep. Pray in thanksgiving to God who is always present, watchful and waiting.
We’re looking forward to Laura’s return from maternity leave in the fall. But we know that Laura hasn’t “left” meaningful work while she has been away. The tasks of parenting, like the tasks of all vocation, are spiritually significant. Even changing a diaper can be an act of prayer.