Part of my work at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Lake Orion is working with our children, many from the Oxford school district in Michigan.
We have this beautiful little room in the back called the atrium, with soft lighting and comfy pillows, in which we introduce our ancient prayer of the mass, ponder the scriptures together and pray with the children.
At the end of each session in our atrium we gather on the floor around the prayer table and begin our closing ritual by lighting a candle and speaking together the words “Jesus is the light of the world. A light no darkness can overcome.”
Then we pray what we call our “intentions” or “petitions”; we close by speaking all the things we hope for and lifting up before God the people we love.
At this time each week, many children, especially our youngest 4 and 5 year olds, pray for their grandparents who are ill and/or in the hospital and there is always a long litany as each child prays for his or her pet(s). Some pets are sick and some aren’t. If the child doesn’t have a pet they will often pray for their friend’s or neighbor’s pet. Some of these named turtles, fish and dogs passed away years ago…no matter. They are remembered in our atrium.
But I remember one week this little girl, I think she was 5-years-old at the time, was stuck to me like glue the whole session, right next to me the whole night, and when we sat down for our closing prayer and intentions she was watching, and waiting. And when it came time to light the candle and offer our intentions, she scooted up real close to me, so our knees were touching, and said in a small voice. “My brother…he died in my momma’s belly last night.”
I knew then, she had been waiting the whole session to share this news during this sacred closing ritual around our prayer table.
Just like this moment, none of us knew what to say, so that little group of 4 and 5-year-olds just sat there and looked at that candle together. I was touched by how still all the little ones became when she shared her sadness and how we mourned together, were silent together. Little children mourning, thinking of their friend’s loss. It was a moment thick with God’s presence. It was a long silence…
The week before we had heard a presentation in which we very slowly roll out a 50-yard ribbon with the children – it stretches the length of our entire front lawn. At one end is a bright red tassle that represents the birth of the universe, the very first moment of the Kingdom of God, 14 billion years ago, and we talk about how God formed all the elements and minerals that would later make up the earth, all the plants and animals around us (all our pets), and eventually, right at the very end of the ribbon, there is this little sliver of ribbon that represents when we human beings were finally created, knit in our mother’s womb (if this represetative ribbon were to scale, it would be 15 football fields long with human beings being the very last blade of grass in the final end field).
We talk about Jesus growing like a seed in his mother’s womb, being born into our very own history – about how he lived, how he loved, how he taught, died and rose and what he dreamed our life together could look like. And then we talk about the golden, shiny tassel at the very end of the ribbon that represents the parousia, the time of fulfillment, when God will be all in all, and love will reign, and all our tears will be wiped away and all of creation will find joy in God’s presence.
So, one of the children, remembering this ribbon presentation from the week before, broke the silence around our prayer table by saying “your brother is in the parousia now.” (or something that sounded a little like the word “parousia”…we all knew from the hope in his voice what he meant).
And the little girl looked up and took this in.
And we ended with these little ones pondering the mystery of time and how her brother is just a few steps ahead of us – in the loving arms of the God who created us. How whether we live a few weeks in our momma’s belly, 16 years or 106 years, we are all here for such a short time, each and every one of us is but a few breathes away from God’s welcoming embrace.
God is as close to us as our very breath this night.
Jesus gently, tenderly is saying to us “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Scooch up to me, along side me, let your knee touch mine, speak to me of your woundedness, tie yourself to me and I will help you carry this burden, I will mourn with you, I will be with you in the darkness, I am with you when you wake each day and remember…
We mourn Tate, Hana, Madisyn and Justin in silence together this night and pray In the words of Psalm 33, “Let your unfailing love be with each of them and us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”
For more information on our atrium and the Montessori-based style of Faith Formation that we offer at our parish called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at www.cgsusa.org and or visit our website at www.ctredeemer.org.