Process and Parenting:
Beauty and Breathing
Bruce G. Epperly
My recent adventures in grandparenting have inspired me to reflect on the role of parents as agents of creative transformation and growth in the lives of our children. While there are many pathways to creative and healthy parenting, I believe that the process-relational vision of life can provide parents with both practices and insights. These insights provide a context for the array of good materials on parenting, spiritual development, relationships, and healthy diet penned by psychologists, pediatricians, theologians, and holistic nutritionists.
Alfred North Whitehead once asserted that the aim of the universe is to bring forth beauty. John’s gospel captures this same insight in terms of Jesus’ affirmation that the goal of his ministry was abundant life. God wants us to live beautiful and abundant lives. That’s good counsel for parents – bring beauty into the lives of your children – and claim beauty for yourselves!
Perhaps, no human act shares in God’s activity as much as parenting. Just as God seeks the greatest good in every moment of experience, working with the many factors of life, so we humans in our role as parents are challenged to work within the many events of life – DNA, environment, and gifts and talents – both ours and our child’s. The question for parents is: how do we nurture beauty and abundant life in our role as parents? This is as much about us as our children!
Over the next few weeks, I will be reflecting on parenting from a process perspective, focusing on abundance, beauty, creativity and innovation, relationship, and character and courage. Children born in the twenty-first century, like my own grandson, will face a world of unprecedented change; indeed, they will face changes in planetary climate, the distribution of power, communication and medicine, and economics. The quest for beauty and abundant life will involve, in such circumstances, agility of spirit, the ability to initiate novelty – to make innovations – in response to the constant novelty of 21st century life. This will be, as Whitehead suggests, not just a matter of living – of sustaining life – but living well and living better. Today’s children will need to balance the global and local as they discover that individual well-being must include the well-being of the whole planet and the communities of which they are a part.
Today, I just begin with a simple affirmation: As a parent, I seek to nurture beauty of experience for my child, myself and significant others, and for other children. Beauty has many definitions, but it involves a dynamic interplay of unity and diversity, contrast rather polarization, plurality rather than monotony. As a parent, I seek to create from which our ability to experience beauty emerges – and that is simply trust in the goodness of life. Process theology affirms that God is present in every encounter, seeking the highest good in every situation. As parents, we seek to embody the same values: providing enough vision, support, and safety for a child’s exploration. Just as God provides spiritual nurture and overall consistency to the universe, we parents seek to join order and novelty as the basis for beauty of experience.
Order involves providing a basic safety net, a sense of security that enables a child to feel comfortable with her or his explorations. With infants this means an immediacy of love, care, and nurture. It involves parents cultivating patience as well as endurance to respond to midnight feedings, tears and fears, and the constant need for attention, especially in the first months of life. In many ways, parents and caregivers need to be omnipresent at life’s beginnings, responding immediately to every need, and only later cultivating a creative distance which allows the infant to grow in her or his own patience and ability to wait for gratification and others’ responses. The quest for beauty and personal growth involves nurturing freedom and creativity in the context of safety and every expanding circles of order.
As parents, we are challenged to see the world with eyes of wonder – to have the beginner’s mind just as an infant does, seeing the world and our child as if for the first time. With infants, every moment is a “thin place” – a place of holiness – as they encounter the world and parents are invited to share in this moment by moment novelty. This isn’t an easy task, because we have already established our own ways of orienting the world. But, the coming of an infant calls us to spiritual growth in which we learn to live moment by moment - in this now, considering the lilies as well as our child’s next breath.
Parenting truly is a spiritual discipline – it involves vision, patience, and self-care. Self-care almost seems impossible to new parents; but parents who realize that “it takes a village” will call upon grandparents, close friends, and occasionally paid companions in the first weeks of a baby’s life just to get a moment of self-nurture, rest, and prayer. Parenting involves an expansion of care – of altruism – such that the well-being of my child is as important as my own. I suspect that this is both a matter of nature – of the deeply-rooted desire to preserve the species – as nurture – the cultivation of practices of love, patience, and wholeness. We can’t control a child’s crying initially, but – as Viktor Frankl suggests – we have freedom in our response.
A Spiritual Practice for Parenting: The easiest spiritual practice for mothers and fathers is simply breathing. We can breathe intentionally, opening to the calming resources of the universe. We can see our breath as a way of connecting with our highest wisdom and calm, our insights. Breath inspires and connects with greater wisdom and peace. Breath enables us to be more patient and awakens our own energy when we are fatigued. It centers us so that we can provide a healthy center for our child. So, begin the day with conscious breathing and take a deep holy breath whenever you become stressed or impatient with your child.
Beauty and breathing are today’s words for process parenting along with opening to the resources of your community for your self-care and the care of your child.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He may be reached for questions and engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org.