My Onion Heart


I often turn to the ArtWay website when I’m looking for something new, but this week, I found a poem there that made the familiar worth watching. ArtWay is a Dutch website that curates the intersection of art and faith and the poem is Luci Shaw’s poem “Peeling the Onion.” Take a look – it is well  worth reading.

It made me think about my own layering life. My mumsy mornings – wrapped in an old blue housecoat and easing my kids and myself into the day. The Spouse takes on the practical work of mornings for us. The table, the coffee, the lunches to be made.  I’m sleepier first thing – or more indulgent – so I provide the cuddles, the almost-listening ear ready to receive half-remembered dreams or all-too-vivid worries as a new day begins.

There are hours in the day for focus and some for distraction, too. Inside and outside hours. With Plum enrolled at the nursery, I have a wider slice of solitary time for myself each afternoon and I am already sensing that I’ll need to learn how best to be in those hours. So far, they are strange. Part of my mind – or maybe it is my heart – spends too much time listening for my smallest child to wake from a nap, and call out my name. One of my names.

There is more to me than mothering, of course, though the children are loud and even when they are out of the house, there are so many mothering demands on my time. Is time spent an adequate assessment of self? Even so, it is only one layer. I am also a wife and friend. A daughter. A sister. I’m not sure if these lists of nouns help or hinder an examined sense of self. Too soon they sound like a to-do list and that is tiring.

Later this week, I’m having a bit of a holiday. An old friend coming to visit. We first met as Leaders-In-Training at Gracefield Camp back when we were sixteen. (She’ll correct me here. She’ll tell you that she was sixteen, but I was fifteen and snuck into the program a month early, didn’t I? We’re friends like that.) Later, she told me that from the moment we met, she had more or less figured me out. As a teenager, I was both terribly insulted by her perception of my assumed simplicity – and deeply relieved. Here was someone who understood me. Since then, we’ve built up layers together. We lived together after university and after that, she was my maid of honour and then I was hers. There were babies and shared holidays, despite the distance. I think we can talk about anything. It’s going to be good to spend some time together.

Luci Shaw’s poem ends with these lines:

How do I interpret my own
layered membranes, like growth rings?
I try to peel away the layers of my
onion heart, never getting all the way in.

And that’s truth, isn’t it? We can’t quite get to the centre of things, no matter how much we talk, nor how silent we  might become. The centre is elusive. There remains something unknown or unuttered. Perhaps this is another way in which we know we are the image of God. At our innermost core, there is a mystery whose only name can be Love.


About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.