Water. Cotton. Strawberries. Bananas. Milk. Wheat. Swiss chard. The author of the book on my nightstand.
Every moment after I wake, I enjoy another gift God has created. Before I have even pulled out of my driveway to take my son to school and head to work, the abundance of these gifts — in the sky, growing from the ground, walking alongside me, or something new made by human hands — is overwhelming.
And yet most mornings I don’t even notice.
Grass. The sun. The faint outline of the moon. Roses. Pine trees. Magnolias. Basil. Rosemary. Wild blackberries.
I am rushing to get out the door, thinking ahead to the to-do list I will never finish, trying to remember to apply sunscreen, pack lunch and acknowledge birthdays.
Wood. Birds. Deer. Butterflies. Gold. Silver. The dishwasher. The skilled workers building the houses down the street. My husband. My son.
In the Level II atrium, we talk about the history of the Kingdom of God as a continuum of gifts that culminates in the gift of Godself in Jesus. One lesson is devoted to these gifts, from those that are distant to those that are close at hand.
We begin with the heavens. We talk about the sun, the stars and the moon. We move to the mineral world, talking about gems, stones and metals. Then there is the sea, and the special plants and creatures we find there. And then plants: flowers, trees, grains, fruits, vegetables, and those used for clothing, flavoring food and medicine. We turn to animals that provide companionship, milk, food and work.
We linger in these categories. The children name their favorites. We talk about their great variety, their abundance. We talk about how people have brains and hands to change these gifts and create new things. And we return again and again to the question: How are these gifts to us?
And then we turn to the gift of one another, of people. We talk about those who we know and love. (The children are generous in their love of their parents, friends and teachers, but might note that their siblings are gifts “sometimes.”) The conversation turns to people we do not know but who are gifts – saints, authors, actors, inventors, chefs, athletes, leaders.
All of these gifts were not enough for God. God wanted to give humankind even more, and God gave Godself in Jesus. We talk about Jesus’ presence with us today, in the Eucharist, in the Bible, in baptism. The gift of Jesus is spreading and will continue to do so.
When we are done talking about the abundance of gifts, we use an 11-foot chart that describes the creation of gifts over time. We have samples and pictures of gifts, and then children place these samples along the chart.
We reach a blank page, the time we are living in now as we wait for Parousia, the final card on the chart. Parousia is the time when God will be all in all and there will be no more suffering.
While catechists sometimes ask questions that allow children to explore how to respond to these gifts, in this lesson we simply bask in the awe and joy of this great abundance God has given us.
You can do this at home, too. You can take a moment to notice the beauty and variety of gifts from God in the fleeting moments of our busy days. You can collect items from different categories to sort and pray over.
The very practice of noticing can nurture gratitude and a sense of responsibility among the children.
“God has given us so much,” a third-grader said Sunday. “How can we give back to God?”
“Belief and love,” replied another third-grader.