Contemplative Motherhood Podcast

Is Motherhood A Spiritual Practice: Part 1

July 25, 2021 Erin Thomas & Chelsea Whipple Season 1 Episode 10
Contemplative Motherhood Podcast
Is Motherhood A Spiritual Practice: Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

This episode is part 1 of a 2-part conversation that will be shared in the exploration of the topic “Is Motherhood a spiritual practice?”

Throughout season one, you have heard us unpack some of the basic tenants of spiritual practices in our own lives. These are not exhaustive and to be honest, they barely scratch the surface of the Contemplative Motherhood lifestyle. But for the following two episodes , we hope to weave together tokens from this season that will aid us all in putting together a tapestry of the picture of the Contemplative Motherhood life.

Contemplative Books that Erin and Chelsea have found helpful on their journey:

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema
Earth, Our Original Monestary by Christine Painter
Falling Upward  by Richard Rohr
Merton’s Palace of Nowhere by James Finley
Tales from the Land of the Sufis by Mojdeh Bayat and Mohammad Ali Jamnia
The Contemplative Heart by James Finley
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, translated by Marshall Davis
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicata Ward, SLG
The Way of Paradox by Meister Eckhart, translated by Cyprian Smith, OSB
The Way of the Heart by Henry Nouwen

*Note: This is not an exhaustive list and one that continuously is added to as our journey progresses...

Chelsea Whipple  0:03  

You are listening to the contemplative motherhood podcast. My name is Chelsea. I'm a teacher, practitioner, spiritual director and pilgrim.

Erin Thomas  0:11  

And I'm Erin, a creative homeschool educator, counselor and spiritual seeker. Listen in as we dive deeper into the contemplative lifestyle through hearing about each of our lives,

Chelsea Whipple  0:24  

you'll hear our triumphs, failures, practices and mistakes as we journey together. You might even hear a kid or two in the background.

Erin Thomas  0:32  

So grab some coffee, tea, curl up and take off your shoes. You are welcome here. And let's get started. 

Erin Thomas  0:42  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the contemplative motherhood Podcast. I am Erin Thomas, and I'm one of your hosts today. Please excuse my voice. This is not convenient, being a podcaster and having a challenging voice problem right now. But I am still super excited to be here with my friend and confidant Chelsea Whipple. Hi, friend. So excited to have you here with me again. 

Erin Thomas  1:11  

Hello, Erin. 

Erin Thomas  1:13  

So we are going to get into a pretty extensive subject matter as if that would be different than any other episode that we do. And I am want to start off with sort of an introductory question as we usually do, and flesh this out for you guys a little bit. I think that this is going to be one of two parts to contemplative motherhood, is it a spiritual practice? So just as a leadoff question, I want to share a little bit about how we came up with this subject matter. So is motherhood a spiritual practice, you've heard us unpack some of the basic tenets of spiritual practices in our own lives. You see those as subject titles for our prior episodes. These are clearly not exhaustive. There are a lot of practices, many of which we hope to talk about in the future. And we love to hear about what you're doing in your own life. But to be honest, we often feel we are sort of barely scratching the surface of this contemplative motherhood lifestyle. So for the following two episodes, we really hope to weave together tokens from this season that will aid us in putting together what we consider a tapestry of the picture of the contemplative motherhood life. So in the interest of starting off our conversation, let's start with touching the surface on how we define a spiritual practice. How do we define a spiritual practice? And how does it differ or relate to other terms that are commonly used in this sort of context? Whether it be spiritual disciplines, spiritual habits, or some other term? I'm interested, my friend, if there if you have thoughts about this, how, how do these terms differ? And how would you define a spiritual practice?

Chelsea Whipple  3:25  

Yeah, Erin, thank you for pivoting to me on this great question to get us started. So I have to say, Erin is the word wizard here. And I tend to be the one who kind of breaks it down while I'm saying it. So hopefully, this this kind of can make a little bit of sense because I have a weird thing with words and how they're used. So we have used the term spiritual practice, you know, this is a spiritual practice. You know, connecting to nature, having moments of stillness, glimpses of solitude, that these are all ways to incorporate the contemplative lifestyle, and we kind of use that as a big word as well. And even that I can kind of trip up on and I know that's not really what we're talking about. But basically, for me, spiritual practice. I love the word practice. And maybe it's because I understand it to me the best, but it's really how do you define concepts and incorporate them into your life. So practice to me works because I grew up playing sports. And although I did not like practice at all, I always like playing the sport but not actually preparing for the sport. But now as I've gotten a lot older, practice makes sense to me and kind of that preparation stage. And so spiritual practice and I'm going to take an example Like stillness is a way for me to be conscious of stillness. So I see stillness as anchoring points in my day. And finding those points where I can just kind of be still at that point, and maybe use some breathing techniques to calm my mind a bit if things have been really hectic in that day, and I just need to take a moment for myself. And so if I use it as a spiritual practice, and I think of it as practices, preparing, then I'm conscious of what I'm doing. I am deliberately being still for a moment or two while I'm eating, while I'm just resting, anything that any time of that point in day that I need it. And at first, it seems a deliberate practice even weaving it in through the day intentionally. But that's because later on, it just becomes part of my day without thinking that my brain has stopped intentionally taking time. But I noticed when I do take time during it, if that makes sense. 

Chelsea Whipple  6:09  

So right, when I first started, yeah, so when I first started looking for stillness, it was as if I use my spiritual directors help and talked about eating points. So I would stop and eat, and notice my surroundings, being aware of what was happening, taking a moment to myself. And so every time I ate, that was just kind of a practice that I did. And then later on, it's just become something that's a part of me now that I do it without thinking that I'm aware of what's happening. And that I'm using eating as a stillness or as an anchoring point, but not so much deliberately. It's just an act that's happening within me. So that's why I like the word spiritual practice, it makes sense to me, I can incorporate it into my natural surroundings without skipping a beat. And other words that we don't often use, but they exist, if you read a lot about you know, mystics, or contemplative life or, or anything like that, that draws you closer within your surroundings, is spiritual disciplines. And that's a word that I don't particularly use, I maybe because discipline means something completely different to me than it might mean to someone else. 

Chelsea Whipple  7:27  

So my faith origin, for example, was very specific on praying certain prayers that need to be said at certain points, kneeling, standing, sitting, all those kind of things that were that were more disciplinary measures. And so when I was younger, you know, that's not something that I really want to incorporate into my life. And so the word disciplines and the word spiritual don't mesh well with me, they mean, kind of the same thing, but it's just not, it doesn't go deeper within me. 

Chelsea Whipple  8:05  

So it's one of those things where, you know, take a definition, and however it means best and whatever words means best to you, you know, use it. 

Chelsea Whipple  8:12  

So I like spiritual concepts. A little bit more, because I understand that more, right? Kind of appeals to my academic brain a little bit. So, um, before I completely get off Erin on this tangent, I always think about like, okay, so spiritual concepts, and spiritual practices, or spiritual disciplines, like how does this all go together? And so if I take the word contemplative, because, you know, that's one of our favorite words, right? 

Erin Thomas  8:43  


Chelsea Whipple  8:45  

And, yeah, use it in this way. So contemplative, is a practice and a concept to me. So defining contemplative, if I defined it, you know, one sentence definition, you know, just an awareness of surroundings and living out of a heart center that focus on the awareness of everyday life. So also as a concept, like contemplative, that can lead to a practice to make that concept part of your life. So if I think about wanting to express being a contemplative more and being aware of my surroundings, that would be my concept, or my discipline. And then a practice for me would be creating those moments of stillness, connecting it with nature. being intentional when I drink water, like all all of these different things that we can do to employ the act of being a contemplative. So that's kind of how I would define these huge concepts. And yeah, they work in my life. But in the end, yeah, but in the end, doesn't matter how we define or describe these words. You just whatever draws you deeper within, and where you notice those interior movements of your soul. I, you want to add to those definitions Erin?

Erin Thomas  10:12  

Yes, in fact, I was getting ready to interrupt you, I'm working on my compassionate listening. But, um, I love that. And here's why I love that. I love this because one of the things I think is most difficult about having a spiritual life per se, in any context in motherhood, outside of motherhood, as a parent, as an individual, we struggle often with taking a spiritual lifestyle, such as the contemplative lifestyle, and practically applying it to our lives. And so, from my perspective, and I'll share a bit about where my faith tradition, how we defined this and and why it's important, I think, we have to sort of one of the things about the contemplative lifestyles doing this sort of inner work, of seeing how our value system or our belief system, or whatever faith tradition we've been in, has used a specific word in a certain manner. And so that oftentimes can be very muddled for us when we speak about what a contemplative lifestyle is. 

Erin Thomas  11:26  

And so ultimately, when we're fleshing out these concepts, we're hoping to probe are hoping to provide you all with an opportunity to see that this is, ultimately, as you said, a concept like contemplative leads to a practice, I think, for me, and you shared a little bit about your faith tradition, my faith tradition was had a little bit less of a, I guess, liturgy approach, or I don't know exactly how you would say it. But there were not necessarily practices that we would do in a certain order or anything of that manner. I think I loved when I discovered these sorts of practices, because it helped me to understand how to apply my contemplative lifestyle in the everyday life. And that was ultimately what was the most difficult for me. So I was familiar with the term spiritual disciplines. 

Erin Thomas  12:33  

And Chelsea, you and I talked about this, in the sense that I have now shifted my mindset from understanding that a spiritual practice is evolving, and something that I am continually altering as seasons in my life change. motherhood being one of them. And practice being one of those things where I understand that this is, I'm not going to get to a certain destination, where there is a level of perfection in my spiritual life. And in addition to that, I recognize that yes, there is a discipline that goes along with that, in this sense, that is difficult sometimes for me to create margin in my day for my rituals and practices that I know, center me and allow me to be more present with the divine and with my children. 

Erin Thomas  13:34  

But you nailed it on the head. Ultimately, it is whatever draws you deeper into these interior movements or heightens your spiritual awareness, and increases your heart vision. And that is what we really desire more than anything. And so all of that is to kind of put this into context of understanding what contemplative motherhood lifestyle looks like. And if it's a spiritual practice, we're going to continue to flesh this out. 

Erin Thomas  14:14  

But as we continue our conversation, I think it's also important for those of you who are not familiar with other prior contemplatives, who have lived before us to have a bit of a historical context about where this type of method began. And the differences and modern day contemplative such as a mother who is also engaged in societal living, we've shared a lot about how our concept of what a contemplative is sort of a, an ancient practice that we don't necessarily believe applies today, right? So we sort of look at these as our desert fathers and mothers. who had oodles and oodles of time to dedicate to their spiritual practices and their spiritual direction. And now we're looking at how a modern day contemplative, and specifically a mother, within our daily activities, how are we different from these prior contemplatives that have gone before us? And what that means? So Chelsea, I'd love to hear your input about, you know, how we pictured I contemplative, and how that definition of what it looks like is shifting. So historically, what, what has been your experience? What has been your understair understanding of contemplative lifestyle?

Chelsea Whipple  15:59  

Well, I mean, like, if you think, okay, I say right now, everyone picture in their heads, what does a contemplative look like? Most of us probably aren't going to picture someone who's knee deep in diapers, who's packing lunches in the morning, balancing kids activities, sports, work, worship, etc. Like, that's just not what we're going to think. And maybe because we don't want we don't, I don't want to say don't want. But for me, that's not who I picture one. That's not who I've read about when I read about kind of the contemplatives or sometimes I like to use the word mystics, because that's how they were defined before. And maybe because I picture the person in complete silence, they're sitting down in this beautiful nature surrounded forests, you know, forests were no bugs are, their eyes are closed, their way aware of everything, and they're unaware of everything. They're not anxious about anything, and everything's perfectly calm. And maybe, because when I think about needing rest, that's kind of the person that I picture. And so um, but reading about the the mystics, and I've read other faith traditions, other other religions on the mystics, but I'm primarily going to focus just on the Christian background, because that's what I know the best. So like Erin mentioned, that desert mothers and fathers, and you can read stories of the great messages that they bring. But a lot of times they have spent their entire lives in a very harsh environment. So I was thinking, Abba Antony, in his life story, I mean, he pretty much left Egypt as a young kid, early 20s, they believe, because he heard the passage where Jesus told the rich young man pretty much to sell everything become perfect. And that really struck Abba Anthony. And it took him a couple years, but he made his way to a tomb. And he literally lived inside tombs for about 20 years. And so you hear these stories, and that's where your mind goes, that a contemplative is someone who is secluded, someone whose only work and worry is the spiritual life that they can focus and dedicate all their time to, to God. And the problem with that picture, it's a wonderful picture to have. But the problem with it is that that's not where we live. That's not, that's unachievable fantasies, dreams, whatever you want to call it. And so the struggle with is how do you find it in a way in your life that works for you, that you can still feel like you're striving for the divine in every part of your being, while also living your life, with your foot in the world, like it just seems like that's not the real world. This is the real world. So how do I correlate the two? How do I join those two? And that to me is part of that joining of not being separate self that the who we are is our complete self. But before I get into modern day, Erin, I'd like to kind of hear your thoughts on on what you feel when maybe contemplatives that have come before us. 

Erin Thomas  20:02  

Yeah, I, wow, Chelsea, this is just so much material. And we could probably make this like a 10 part series. Yet, you know, what am I going to do at this point? One of the things that I think is important to say is that and I also to want to interject that this may be different for your faith tradition, I'm also speaking from a Christian faith tradition, because that has been my particular area of study and my experience, so your experience may be different. But a lot of us have sort of, in a sense, inherited certain texts and say, what we would consider sacred texts that have been sort of a template for how we understand contemplative lifestyle. And in a sense, this has given us a concept of what their inner spiritual life looks like. But you know, biographies and things of that nature are really what ultimately gave give us a contextual picture of what it looks like to be able to dedicate one set entire life to God in this manner. And I think so, one of the things that's been extremely important for me is to also understand that as a woman, as a female, yes, I'm going to go there, if that's cool with everyone here, um, in the sense that a female's role. The contemplative lifestyle has not always been something we have, we don't have a ton of access to what texts and sacred text or things of that nature that were contemplatives, who were mothers, and that really affects our viewpoint of how to implement this in our life. 

Erin Thomas  22:00  

And it also affects our viewpoint of how to apply this in our societal context. And ultimately, that can be extremely challenging. And that doesn't work in our favor, in a sense, right, it's not super helpful for us not to have a guidebook. So in a sense, we are doing a bit more digging, and a little more of a continual redefining of what this looks like. But within the historical context, there's so much value in seeing what particular practices they use, and how that could be helpful in our own practice of spiritual life and contemplative motherhood. So that, in essence, is why the history has been important for me is because these individuals have given us a an idea of what that life look like. Now, how we apply that, in our modern day culture, and in our societal context is just very, very different. Because to our modern day, mother and woman is different than and what is more written about than it was prior to, you know, I don't even know what century shelf, that's not my expertise, but there hasn't been, you know, like the sacred texts, or are older and so, but that doesn't lessen their value. And so I found so much value and digging into how rich and beautiful and reflective and intentional their lifestyle was, um, there is so much that we could talk about in this manner. So, you know, I want to continue on this conversation with another question for you too often, I want to hear your feedback about this. 

Erin Thomas  24:14  

We we have a lot of experience with a societal definition, or a contemplative definition. And so I want to throw this out to you because I think this is just really interesting. But in a sense, I'm just interested of how has the sacred text that you have studied, really been helpful to you? And why should this historical context even be important?

Chelsea Whipple  24:56  

So You really hit the nail on the head or whatever that say it is, I think that when, when you said that, what they discovered how they live their life, whatever is the example, for us, but how we apply it to our lives will be different. And that is so true because it reminded me of and I'm going to take St. Ignatius of Loyola as an example. I don't think I have no idea actually what was in his mind if he ever thought about women doing the spiritual exercises, but I do ponder that sometimes, when you talk, you know, when we kind of read about the discrepancies of men and women, back then, and that still exists today, although there were a lot more women mystics, then people understand there's some great women examples. 

Chelsea Whipple  25:59  

But let me go back to St. Ignatius, and the one thing that he found, he really desired to help anyone, and he had a great woman spiritual mentor. And again, I'm not I don't want to get too hung up on gender, because it, you know, it doesn't make a difference in this. But I wanted to point that out, because I think that's important, because it might have shown him how important his what he created the spiritual exercises in everyday life. And what he wanted people to understand and to know, is that God was in all things. And for all people, in the way he breaks down the spiritual exercises are extremely profound, because you slowly walk through a process of figuring out in realizing how much the divine which the divine loves you how much we can kind of get in our own way, which is very true. And even having sorrow for the world and just its complexities. And then coming to understand of how the divine reaches everyone, ourselves included, in the end goal is to kind of have the same vision of how the sacred looks at us and how we look at the sacred, and then starting to turn our eyes that we both the sacred and I are one. And we, our vision, is the same and starting to see the world how God sees the world. And I know I've thrown in Divine, sacred, and God, they all mean the same thing to me, but I like to use different words. 

Chelsea Whipple  27:52  

Anyways, and I, I'm going to be honest, Erin, I don't really remember your question. But it came to my mind when you asked it, too much of a tangent, but when you are talking, and then when you ask the question that just really reminded me of how do we apply this store our lives and what has the mystics and or the contemplative, what have they taught me. And it's really that their world was completely different, but God is the same. The our experience of the Divine is different within each of us. But at the same time, it's still the same as well, in terms of the accessibility, the reach, the desire, it all exists for us. And that's what I've learned the most from them. And so, Erin, I don't I don't want to ask a question that you don't want to answer. But, you know, looking at what we've talked about, and just broaching the subject, just a little bit, I know that we wanted to do this in a two part series. So we'll really cover this in our last one. Do you feel like you have a short answer, like how do we reconcile the different pictures of the contemplative life? And what makes contemplative motherhood different? And maybe you can just give us a preview?

Erin Thomas  29:21  

Yeah, I, you know, 

Chelsea Whipple  29:22  

or however you want to answer it. I'm not going to define it for you. 

Erin Thomas  29:25  

No, absolutely. I want to, I think it's good to tie up loose ends in the sense of, we've talked about a lot here, right. We've talked about the history of contemplative practices. We have talked about how culture has changed, contemplative practices, we have talked about even though all of those things are things that need to be put into context. Within that we are still connecting with this divine that was present at that time period. And so I think, and I want to just interject this really quick, that Chelsea and I are obviously not experts in contemplative motherhood lifestyle. But we do really want to provide you with resources if you're interested in reading more about the history and the context of how this began. And that ultimately helps us see what contemplative motherhood looks like for you. And so I think it's going to be really helpful and I hope that we can do this is provide a short blurb to for a lack of better words, at the, in our show notes today, any sort of introductory texts that we think may be helpful to begin with, if you're interested in exploring the history and the context of contemplative lifestyle. So tying up loose ends, I want we Chelsea and I want us to what's present a question for you. And within this time period, we want over the next week for you to take some time and silent reflection, meditation, whatever you feel comfortable doing, and think about this question and how this can and will apply in your life. So this is ultimately our lead off for our next episode and a bit of a teaser, with hopes that you will be excited about our next episode. But knowing the history of contemplative, practices, knowing history, how the culture has evolved with women and more active roles, sometimes outside of the home, often times outside of the home. How do we reconcile these different pictures of the contemplative life? And what makes contemplative motherhood different? So we invite you to take those sort of props as a teaser for unpacking that a bit more in our next episode, and we are super excited that you have been here with us today. Chelsea, you have any final thoughts or words for our audience today? 

Chelsea Whipple  32:43  

Yeah, the only thing I would say you know, when you're, you're kind of unpacking these concepts is, you know, starting to form your idea of contemplative motherhood, lifestyle, and how just being a mother and being intentional, how can that be a spiritual practice? So I want to thank everyone for sticking with us today and tune in next week as well to hear our I wouldn't say conclusion but our further discussion on contemplative motherhood and how or is a spiritual practice. So, we will talk with you soon.

Erin Thomas  33:28  

Thank you for joining us today on the contemplative motherhood podcast with us your host, Erin Thomas and Chelsea Whipple.

Chelsea Whipple  33:35  

To get regular updates on our podcast, hear new episode drops, interact with us about past and future episodes and find our show notes. Make sure to go to our website, www contemplative 

Erin Thomas  33:49  

As always, we appreciate your support of this podcast and then helping us share our journey with others. So if you enjoyed today's podcast, make sure to subscribe, rate and leave us a review. This helps us to cross paths with other pilgrim mamas across the board. So until next time,

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