A sonnet, not a cage

For several weeks now I've been working on a project for an upcoming show at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery.  Well, two projects, actually, but today I want to talk specifically about one of them.

As I've mentioned here before, we adopted a gosling when we were living on Shaw Island, named him Kiwi, and raised him to adulthood.  It was a seminal experience for all of us, and I've thought for years of turning the story into a book.

I'm still thinking about that, but in the meantime I'm turning it into an art project, creating and painting a wooden goose and creating wings which tell the story.  (Yes, it's complicated, but I promise I'll post a picture here when it's done).

So the story is very much on my mind -- which gave a little extra impact to the piece I read this morning in Alan Jones' book, Soul Making:

"Konrad Lorenz pointed out that if you walk in front of a little chick at a certain time in the chick's life, it will follow you.  There is a particular time when it gets "set."  Psychoanalysts claim that we too get "set" at a certain time in our lives...roughly three and a half to six years...and it is the most formative, significant, molding experience of human life, and is the source of all subsequent adult behaviors."

That "set" phenomenon is called imprinting, and I know firsthand the power of it because Kiwi imprinted on me: he had a special cry just for me, and if I was out of sight and he happened to be hungry or just lonely, he would cry that special cry until I came and picked him up.  He followed me everywhere, went with us on walks with our dog to the beach, and rides in boats and in cars (what a mess THAT made!) and when we left him with friends and went on vacation he greeted me upon my return with a peck on the lips and a snuggle (by then he was quite full grown; I can still remember the feel of warm goose in my arms).

But then Jones goes on to say, "the consensus is that at some point the pattern of our behavior is set.  Is there any good news in this?  Believers bet their lives that there is.  It means that we are not in control.  We are not master in our own house... I have no real freedom.  I cannot change my fate... But suffice it to say here that while we may well be "fixed" into certain patterns, within those patterns there is an almost infinite variety of possibility.  The structure of a sonnet is fixed.  Its form is inflexible, but within its tight boundaries unimaginable variety is possible."  And this, he describes, is the miracle of grace.

Having wrestled yesterday with my apparently fixed/predetermined tendency to perfectionism, and knowing I can trace the power behind that desperate need to please back to specific incidents in that exact period of my childhood, I find it reassuring to think of that patterning as a sonnet, a musical structure within which I have unimaginable freedom, rather than as the cage I was seeing yesterday.  And as I look at this sweet photo of my husband tenderly cradling Kiwi in his arms, I can think of those boundaries against which I struggle as loving arms rather than a cage; as a way God cares for us, keeping us (to paraphrase the compassionate words from yesterday's post) "safe from inner and outer dangers, well in body and mind, at ease and happy."

Meditating on this this morning, my mind kept straying to the ways my own children were imprinted during that time period, some really heinous experiences at a school they were attending at the time which I (struggling with my own authority issues) felt powerless -- or was too terrified -- to address.  But I have to trust that there is grace in that as well; that for them, as for me, these experiences can provide a structure within which infinite possibilities for learning and grace may be found.

Which gives me hope.

PS: Just received a blog post from my vicar, who is spending his summer on the road.  He addresses the same issue from another wonderful perspective; you can find his thoughts here.


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