Prayer in the Atrium. Wow. That’s a big one. Everything we do in the Atrium is prayer.
But we start a little differently than most table blessings or when we sing the Doxology in church. In Atrium, we begin not with offering gratitude to God for our blessings or asking Him for help. We begin not by talking, but by listening.
When a child is polishing a leaf or working with the Good Shepherd work or setting the altar or simply sitting in silence, they are doing more than that. They are listening for God and what he is saying to that child about nature or the gestures of the mass or how loved and cared for they are by the Good Shepherd. The same for us catechists. There is a good reason the key text for Catechists is called “Listening to God with Children”.
Only after we have listened, can we respond. For the youngest children it is often a prayer of thanksgiving – singing, “The Lord is My Shepherd” or drawing a picture and saying “thank you for my mom and dad” or praying “thank you for the light” after re-receiving their own baptismal light during that work. Children do this individually during their own work and when we come together around the prayer table.
Older children also begin with listening – finger knitting, ordering books of the bible, using a finger labyrinth – but their response is often different. They begin to plan their own prayer table sessions with readings from the bible and songs. They write in their journals or speak aloud.
I had a beautiful experience of listening and response with one of the Level I children recently. Because we were going to visit Jonah that morning, our whole group talked about the special things a Priest does. We held up the wine and bread in offering saying the words “Through him and with him and in him. . .” In his office, Jonah showed the children some of the special gestures and words he uses at the altar to invite the Holy into these offerings, transforming them in a way that allows us to be one with God and each other in the sharing of these gifts. (We also got to see his cool closet full of chasubles!)
Awhile later I noticed a new prayer card – green, completely covered with pasted bits of white paper — had been placed on our prayer table. Rather than try to discern myself whether this prayer was for marshmallows or hope for upcoming snow, I walked over and said to the child, “Tell me about your prayer card.”
Now this particular young one wears his joy on the outside. Way out. He burst a big smile, his face went neon with light, his body literally started to tremble, and his toes began doing their happy dance. He was very pleased to be answering this question:
“Caro-wyn, those are the wafers. It says thank you God for the special bread. And there are lots and lots of them because there needs to be enough for everyone.”
I could have asked him to draw a picture of communion wafers when he came into the atrium. And he would have done it. But not with the same joy and excitement he did after listening to God about this and giving his own response.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia.
How do you listen for God?