SOUNDING BOARD by Teresa Mee14/03/2015
Dressed and staying in bed on a Saturday morning to relieve the pressure on a sore throat and cold exacerbated by a late evening meal out, I’m finally opening up to ‘the Power of the Now’.
What is staying with me from yesterday’s enjoyable evening with Conor is what kept emerging at intervals throughout our conversation, the theme of marriage and the rearing of a family.
What made our conversation a growing, learning and enjoyable experience is that we were each interested in the experience, the life experience of the other, becoming a sounding board for the other, enabling each other go down into our own depth from which to draw water, a sharing of wells.
Background to the Conversation.
In order to savour the full riches of what came across, let me sit a while to contemplate the two life giving wells from which we were drawing. Conor, husband of Julie and father of two children, anxious to have more family time available, is in process of selling his share in the now thriving Computers Systems Firm he and two colleagues launched some years previously. He had come in to Dublin that morning from U.K. for a meeting with the Directors of a Firm who had invited him to buy the franchise on a British branch of their Firm they proposed to open up. The day for him had ended with the signing of the contract.
Conor’s Church of England wife Julie, equally qualified academically but with less opportunity for developing skills in the field, has worked with him on a part time basis over the years while giving maximum support to both husband and young family. They have everything in common though he has been largely engaged up to now in work demanding time away from home and family.
Now in active retirement, I look back on my own life as a Religious, member of the Society of the Holy Child, with a rich inter cultural life experience of living in community over the years in Ireland, England and subsequently Nigeria, USA and Brazil. My life’s mission, basically educational, was carried out over a period of sixteen years in the schools, followed by leadership training and administration, followed by a ten-year span of accompanying Basic Christian Communities in Brazil. I look back on a learning, enriching phase in my life, affording me also an on-going close up study of various forms of family life within living, supportive community.
Back to Last night’s table fellowship
Last night’s dinner out with Conor brought our two backgrounds and present life situation into sharp focus, engendering in both of us a deep sense of gratitude and of the power of the now, as we sat together by those two wells, drawing life-giving water for our mission in today’s world. I suppose what really kick started our communal reflection and brought us down into our depths was my sharing with Conor on my recent conversation with an elderly man in the early stages of dementia and now resident in a Nursing Home. That brief conversation proceeded somewhat as follows.
“How are you feeling now, James?”
“I’m not very well. Not well at all. I feel he has taken away my soul.”
“ Yes, and you are missing her presence with you now?”
“ I’m missing her all the time. But I know she’s still with me at this difficult phase in my life”.
Marriage and Family Vocation
On my suggesting to Conor that possibly a man is the more dependent partner in a marriage relationship, I was surprised at his immediately agreeing with the suggestion. What followed has thrown a strong light for me on the current Church Synod study on Marriage and Family.
Conor’s response went something like this. ‘You know, my own marriage and family experience would strongly support that view. Julie, on part time employment, is the stronger parent in the sense of always being there for the children, and the stronger marriage partner in always being there for me. She is good on the administrative side of my work and a strong presence in the home. In some ways she’s closer to the children than I am though I give them all the time available when I am at home. With Julie, I prioritise time with them for listening and discussing, enabling them develop their personal interests, views and opinions and we have chosen with them the schools most amenable to this. We are currently engaging with Sean who has done well in the 11+ secondary school entrance exam’, in choosing the school most suitable to his needs, taking into consideration not only the academic standard but also the whole social range of sport and a broad vision in terms of inter cultural relationships and openness to others people’s religions.
We then got on to the topic of religious education, an area of great disappointment to both parents and their two children. They don’t believe their children were born in sin. They do believe in Baptism as a powerful and effective symbol of response to God’s call to choose life rather than death, as Jesus did in the story of the temptations and subsequent Baptism in the River Jordan. For this reason they have engaged with their children in coming to a decision on the most appropriate stage in life for their Baptism, namely young adulthood. Needless to say, they are on a collision course with the local parish priest whom they see as trying to use the sacraments as weapons of control.
I was thinking afterwards of the Synod Lineamenta Questionnaire which has come across to many as blocking rational and faith reflection on family life and marriage. What a powerful tool for reflection and community response it would have provided had it been drawn up by parents actively trying to respond to their vocation through rough times and smooth.
In response to the Lineamenta question on how priests can support married life, my own answer would be, ‘by becoming accompanying sounding boards’, quite a challenge to people specialised not in listening but in preaching.
Corresponding Lineammenta Questions on Family within Society
1; 5-6; 8; 14-15; 17-18.
20-30; 32-36; 40; 43-46; 49-50