by Suzanne Schreiner & r & At Work In Life's Garden Eds. Sarah Conover and Tracy Springberry & r & When Sarah Conover was in graduate school, a visiting poet offered this timeless advice: "If you want to be a real writer, don't have children." Apparently, the same applies to spirituality. Deeply spiritual people, we are told, don't have children; Buddha didn't deal with diapers or the terrible twos. When it comes to the spiritual quest, children -- with their noise, mess, clutter and ceaseless demands -- are anathema to quiet contemplation and navel-gazing.

Or are they? At Work in Life's Garden: Writers on the Spiritual Adventure of Parenting chronicles the wonder, chaos and unconditional love parents discover, but also puts them in touch with their "most uncontrolled and regrettable impulses." Out of the crucible of parenting, says co-editor Tracy Springberry, come "critical spiritual skills: forgiveness, letting go, acceptance, and surrender to life as it is."

The collection includes pieces by the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, and Barry Lopez, but Conover and Springberry have drafted a wide array of local and regional writers, too, including Jess Walter and Jack Nisbet.

Barbara Kingsolver does a wise and hilarious turn in "Civil Disobedience at Breakfast," describing the test of wills between herself and her daughter, who, at age 2, turned to the "earnest pursuit of languor, and shot straight through the ranks to world-class dawdler." The creature who had once belonged so completely to her mother asserts her toddler will one day, coolly knocking over a glass of orange juice and sabotaging Mommy's crowded schedule.

Kingsolver charts this "process of sorting out self from other ... so gradual as to be invisible to a mother's naked soul. In our hearts, we can't expect one of our own limbs to stand up one day and announce its own agenda. It's too much like a Stephen King novel." In the end, she reconciles herself to her daughter's need for a slower pace, the kind of accommodation that every parent with an ounce of self-preservation has made.

Parents will recognize much in this group of essays, and they'll be comforted to know that amid the diapers and the tantrums -- in the fog of sleep deprivation and between the lessons in tying shoelaces -- is a spiritual transformation taking place on the sly.

Tracy Springberry, Gina Petrie, Sarah Conover and Jonathon Johnson read from At Work in Life's Garden on Tuesday, Nov. 8, from noon-1 pm at EWU's Monroe Hall, room 207, in Cheney. Call 359-2898.

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