Kathleen Hirsch | 2016 September
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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September 2016

The Gift of Vulnerability

Recently at a contemplative gathering, S. stood rocking her beautiful baby. When it was her turn to share what was on her heart, tears filled her eyes.

“I am trying to keep hold of where I end and my daughter begins,” she said. “Some days it is very hard to do.”

Her words pierced us as we remembered: there IS a grief to motherhood at times, the breaking open of selves and boundaries that goes with the territory of being female in ways that men, for better or worse, will never experience. Motherhood demands all of us at every turn, and it never stops doing so, even after we are no longer rocking our children to sleep or holding their hands at the corner waiting for the bus.

S. is not a novice by any stretch. She is the loving mother of several children. She is also one of the most intentional women I know, a role model of extraordinary courage and experience, having worked in African missions before returning to the States to raise a family and teach contemplative practices.

I, too, know from experience that to be the one with a baby on your hip in a roomful of women who have had the time to shower, select a matching blouse and scarf for the day, read the paper, and meditate is to feel like you’ve crossed into a twilight zone. “Will my life ever resemble theirs again? How many years will it take to be “normal?”

It wouldn’t have helped at that moment to tell her about the women I know in their 40s and 50s who grieve their decision to be childless. They traded the exhaustion of sleepless nights, and days defined by constant interruption, to offer the world their own significant forms of nurture – professional achievements, board memberships and honorifics.  But some of them still weep themselves to sleep knowing that they will never feel the physicality of maternal joy, the breathless can’t-wait-to-see-how-the-first-day-of-school (or college, or marriage, or the job) went.

The insight of value in this comparison is this: no matter how disciplined and faithful we are to a practice of mindfulness, and no matter how intentional we have been about our choices, life has a way of ripping up our scripts. Our identities can be tossed out the window every bit as vehemently by miracles – babies and recovery and good fortune — as by accident and loss.

A job ends unexpectedly and a friend is forced to ramp up retirement plans. Another’s sudden health issues demand a geographic change. A dear friend in her early fifties who house sits my pets every time I go away has been struck with ALS.

“Keep your lamps trimmed,” Jesus told his followers.

The concept of “spiritual fitness” and “being prepared” are excellent as far as they go. But we need to be honest – they are not enough. We can’t hold off the weather systems that effect our own.   When life breaks our neat boxes and categories and expectations, twenty minutes of silence each day won’t, alone, keep the inner flame alive.

No mother, alone for hours with her children day after day, with insufficient intellectual stimulation and only exhaustion at the end of it, can believe that this is God’s will for her. I don’t believe it either.

My friend was asking for help. She was asking the rest of us women in the room to remind her of all she is in addition to being a mother. She is asking us to do the sacred work of recognizing those dimensions of her being that aren’t in evidence when she is food shopping with a Snugli between her and the lettuce with teething rings hanging from her blouse.

It is easy to forget that people are often unable to speak of their suffering until it is in the rearview mirror. This is especially true when it arises from circumstances everyone else considers “normal.” So when we are asked for help, we must acknowledge it as a gift, and recognize it for what it is: not a sign of weakness but an act of courage and integrity.

I wish that I had offered these words of David Whyte’s to my friend the other day, but I offer them to you, because we all need help now and then. And we need to know that it’s okay to ask.

“It may be that the ability to know the necessity for help; to know how to look for that help and then most importantly, how to ask for it, is one of the primary transformative dynamics that allows us to emancipate ourselves into each new epoch of our lives…To ask for help and to ask for the right kind of help and to feel that it is no less than our due as a live human being; to feel, in effect, that we deserve it, may be the engine of transformation itself.”



An Adventure

On Thursday, I enjoyed a good hour of talk about the things that matter most to me….Silence, good work and what it looks like, and grounded relationship.

Janet Connor is a real “flow” presence — she opens up the channel of her radio program to keep important conversations going.

Thanks, Janet!


Prayer for Fall, 2016


I was asked to write a prayer to introduce an hour-long radio conversation on the subject of “Sabbath,” yesterday.  I reprint it here, in hopes that it offers a moment of mindfulness in your Friday.

The way I see it, we can use all the help we can get!

Spirit of goodness in all that is….

In this month of changes, in this magical time between summer to fall…

       Teach us daily that too much hurry annuls our sense of presence – to our own lives, to the hearts of others, and especially to the deep wisdom of the universe.

In a time of transitions, aging friendships and adjustments to gently loosening joints….

     Teach us daily to have the courage of Sabbath hearts, to know when to be silent, to listen to the music beneath the noise, to see through the masquerades we are too prone to joining.

In a time of confusion, conflict and worry…

     Teach us to remember that an attitude of receptivity is far more healing than one of reaction, that preserving our times of quiet reflection, the experience of beauty and the integrity of our hearts is the most important gift we can bring to our hurting world.

We know that there is a time for everything. Help us to not forget the beautiful truth of our personal seasons.

As we honor the Nativity of Mary, mother of God, our Sophia figure, and icon of healing wisdom, let us remember that the health of our bodies resides in our capacity for love, of our intellects in our steady calm and focus, and of our souls in our faithfulness to living a Sabbath life.




Making New Friends — A September Letter

Dear Friends,

As a Girl Scout many years ago, we sang a song many of you no doubt know:  “Make New Friends, but Keep the Old.”

A year ago, I reached out to a woman whose work I had long admired, the career coach and author, Gail McMeekin.  Her books, “The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women,” and “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women,” had both been real inspirations to me at various times in my life, and I have given them as gifts to others.

You know that there are hidden webs of belonging all around you when the following happens.

Gail, it turns out, had read my book, “A Sabbath Life: One Woman’s Search for Wholeness,” and had done the same thing with it that I’d done with hers — passed it along, shared it around.

In the course of things, I discovered that one of those friends to whom she’d passed it is Janet Connor, whose extraordinary book, “Writing Down the Soul” has had a place of honor on my bookshelf for years!

I felt that, in the middle of the road, so to speak, I’d discovered long-lost sisters.  A conversation was begun.

And it hasn’t ended.

Janet is a go-getter, who writes books faster than I can fold my laundry, and who keeps a dozen other projects in the air, including her own on-line radio program, “The Soul-Directed Life,” an interview show that has a theme a month and features thinkers and writers and ordinary folks who’ve walked a journey she feels it worth sharing with her audience.

Today at 2 p.m. I will patch into her show as the “guest speaker” of the week, on the theme of — you guessed it — Sabbath life.

I will attach the url here, should you be interested in joining.  (The program plays again in the coming days, on a schedule available on the site.)


I am grateful to Gail and to Janet for this chance to refocus my own scattered September energies on the theme that means most to me — contemplation in a world of action, mindfulness in the midst of our hectic days.

Peace to all of you,







The Great Continuum

This week I will make my way to college, my satchel a deadlift of course texts, to teach another year.

Four hundred miles away, my niece has just taken up residence in her freshman dorm at a large state university.  She and her parents have completed the ritual acts of transition: outfitting her new room (bean bag chairs, bright pink and yellow rugs, towels and throws, a fridg and the other usual appurtenances).   She is exuberant.  She loves her new friends and her pre-med classes.  No slouch, she is getting up at 6 each morning  to practice for varsity crew try-outs.

We are traveling in parallel, my niece and I.  I find myself looking at her as from the wrong end of a telescope, one in which she grows smaller and further away, and ask myself:  Was I ever as confident and idealistic, as full of risk-taking zeal, as she is?