The family’s call to change – and sway

By Laura Kelly Fanucci | OSV News

Watch what parents do when they pick up a baby. Whether a swaddled newborn, a smiling infant or a squirmy toddler, parents start to sway when they hold their child.

Swaying is our primal rhythm, the instinct to move in order to calm and comfort. Slow, steady rocking can soothe a baby, relax their body, soften their cries and even lull them to sleep.

Watch what happens when parents add another child to the family. You’ll see both parents swaying, sometimes bumping into each other. The metaphor is made plain before your eyes: Jostling up against each other is part of change.

A woman holds a child during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 23, 2020, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See stories marked LIFE- Jan. 23 and 24, 2020.

To sway is to move to meet the needs of others. Isn’t this the heart of family life?

But we don’t just sway with the wee ones. Teenagers and young adults ask us to move in different ways: to loosen our grip, to contract and then relax, much as we did to bring them into the world. Growing together requires that everyone in the family lean on each other as we lean into the arms of God, the back and forth of love’s rhythms.

Look around church the next time you are in Mass. See how people sway even when they stand alone? Scientists call this movement “postural sway” — part of the body’s unconscious efforts to stay balanced. These micro-movements that adjust our posture are rhythmic and regulating for our nervous systems. The simple motion reminds our bodies of the months we spent in our mother’s womb, gently jostled by her every movement.

Our first rhythms stay with us.

This year I got to visit my own mother on Mother’s Day. While my kids ran circles around us, she and I hugged and held each other. Then as if by instinct, we both started to sway. I thought of how she had once held me within her, how she must still long to hold me the way I long to hold my own growing children.

We learn this rhythm from God. The book of Deuteronomy reminds us how God has carried us throughout our entire lives like a loving parent: “… the Lord, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place” (Dt 1:31). Even when we struggle or turn away, God is always waiting to take us back and lift us up again.

A friend shared a poignant story after attending a funeral for a baby who had died shortly after birth. When she looked around the church during the funeral Mass, she saw so many adults swaying gently as they stood and prayed, as if rocking in solidarity with the grieving parents, working through their own waves of sorrow.

Swaying, like prayer, is one of our core movements, our way of being in the world.

A man holds a child as she holds onto a candle during the Good Friday Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum March 29, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Relationships call us to move and change at every age. We learn the flexibility and compromise required for marriage. We develop the adaptability called forth from growing children or aging parents. Whenever we find ourselves becoming stiff and rigid in our interactions with family, this may bring a nudge to pray for greater agility, to ask God for the wisdom to adapt to each other’s needs.

Summer is a time of transition for families, with weddings, graduations, reunions and the shift from one school year to the next. This is a season for swaying: a time to return to simpler rhythms of family life or to adjust our ways of being with each other.

Children will not always be small enough to pick up and sway, but the adults in their lives will always carry them as they grow. Whenever we pick each other up, physically or emotionally, we can pray for the strength to sway and change together.

How might God be calling you to sway in new ways, to soften your rhythms or change how you carry the ones you love?

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Laura Kelly Fanucci is an author, speaker, and founder of Mothering Spirit, an online gathering place on parenting and spirituality.

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Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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