{Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

“If parents who are from the nobility want to offer to God in the monastery one of their children, who is too young to take personal responsibility, they should draw up a document like that described above and, as they make the offering, wrap the document with the child’s hand in the altar cloth…

Poor people may make the offering of a child in the same way. If they have no property at all, they simply write and offer the child with the document in the presence of witnesses.”

-The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 59

What does it mean to offer a child to the work of God?

When I first read this chapter two years ago, I was taken with the image of a child’s hand grasping the document written by his parents, promising him to the community, to the life of monasticism, and making a covenant he can’t possibly understand, his hand wrapped in the altar cloth.

Of course, the thought of what parents chose to do in the 6th century—offering a child’s life to a monastery, giving up rights to that child, both as a kind of tithe, but also as a way to feed less mouths and gain religious “approval” (from God? from the church?)—is disturbing. From our free-thinking, individualistic society, we can’t possibly grasp the culture of the Benedict’s time, what it meant to live in poverty. Or, what it meant to live under the authority of the church.

So I won’t really go there. When I read this passage, I just kept seeing my boys holding the life (the promises) my husband and I are writing for them, their boy hands wrapped in the altar cloth.

Both my boys are blankey types. They would prefer to have their blankets with them wherever they go. Although August is able to go to school and church without it, if there’s a new, scary event happening for him, you bet his “Bup” is in hand and it’s the only thing keeping him from an emotional breakdown. Brooksie has loved his blanket since he was five months old and every time he sees it, he throws his body into it, rubs his face in it.

You know I’m moved by images. Sometimes I stare past the moment I’m in with my kids and I see the eternal: Those two boys crawling and falling onto the couch cushions, laughing and rolling; the three of us on the rocking chair: August hugging my neck from behind while Brooksie sits in my lap and holds the book. What am I writing for them? What is the commitment I’m offering the Lord on their behalf?

Last Saturday night while Chris and I ate dinner at some supercool hipster French bistro (records playing through the speakers!), we talked about the boys, and I whispered across the table the secrets my heart prays for them, what I hadn’t mentioned to Chris till then. I’m convinced that we are always writing the document, this desperate offering to God on our children’s behalf.

The question I’m asking myself is what promises I’m making with the life I’m living in front of them. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people? Am I teaching them to live in fear of the approval of others?

This is picture I keep seeing: As their little tired bodies lie back against their sheets, as their eyes roll backward, their cheeks relax, as they sink into the secret place their minds go in the darkness, they hold in their hands the words I’ve written for them that day: the commitment I’m making on their behalf to the God I serve. And in their hands, the blankets they love, wrapped around their hands, like altar cloth.

See, on the altar is the sacrifice, the grace offered from a merciful God. Yes, each day I write for them a future: some of it sweet and good; some of it broken and failing. But covering their hands, covering my attempts at mothering, at committing those sweet lives, is the grace that covers my hands as well, my tired body pressed into my sheets at the end of the day, the future my parents wrote for me and the promises I’ve made and broken and continue to walk in. All of it grace; all of it wrapped around our hands.

All of it sealed on the altar where Jesus breaks and pours out again and again.


Filed under Motherhood

5 Responses to {Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

  1. I’m glad you’re teaching your kids to value both the deep things of God and the importance of eating at Super hip French bistro places. ;) But seriously, as we await the birth of our son, I’ve been humbled by the importance of praying for my child. It really strikes me that God takes these prayers and offerings very seriously and honors them.

  2. Thank you for this post. I a new-ish mom (with a 2yo and 6mo) and I sometimes struggle with how to pray for my boys. I know I can always pray “generic” things for them - that they’d grow to know God, reflect him well, love his presence, understand who they are in his sight, develop kindness and generosity, etc. All of these things are important, I know, even if they are “generic” in a sense. But where I struggle is this sort-of fear (concern?) that going beyond that I’ll be tempted to project my own desires and dreams on them, rather than release the dreams of God for them. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s ridiculous, but I just don’t want to be “that mom” that pressures and pushes and I think sometimes if I’m not careful I can let that concern give me permission to swing the opposite direction - into complacency. (Ugh. Which is worse??) Ultimately I know that praying for them well has to do with listening to Him as I pray. I need to do that more. Thank you for reminding me today that it’s important that I continue. God can hear past my prayers when they are accidentally ego-centric, right? He looks at the heart. Oh, grace.

  3. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people?

    the questions i ask myself regularly!
    this is beautiful.

  4. coffeemom

    MIcha, I tried to find your email but I couldn’t (which instantly classifies by net savvy, I know). So, I’m posting a comment:
    This post really resonated with me. I know those prayers and thoughts so well. My first two children were boys, close-ish in age like yours and reading your blog makes me think of those sweet special wild years. I’m so glad you can really step back and see their beauty and relish them. I didn’t as much as I should have, of course.
    But this post in particular, makes me think you might like to read something from a mom (me!) who’s been in the game a long time and who also has a fascination with the ordered life found in monks and religious; as well as one who yearns to pray better, amidst the daily chaos. This post is a sort of extension of yours, decades down the road, perhaps. If you don’t want to post this as an actual comment, then by all means consider it a second class email! But, fwiw, here it is. I did/have/do offer my child to the work of God and it has changed us all: http://anotherespressoplease.net/2012/02/02/presenting/

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