One of our family traditions is to say grace before dinner. It's a simple thing. Early on we settled on a grace and even as our children have gotten older, it has not changed. It seems a little thing, to pause before we eat and thank God that there is food on the table. Yet, it is important to take the time to pause and know that what is normal and average is a great gift. Food, clothing, a snug place to live, people who love us and care for us, all these things are great gifts. Taking to time to say "Thank you" changes the way to live in the world. It can change to way we treat each other. So, if you don't have a table grace I offer you these, pick one, learn it and make it a practice to pause and say Thank you. -Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who causes the earth to produce food. Amen. -Bless this food, and those we hold dear, in Jesus' Name, Amen. -Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen -Blessed be God, who is our bread. May all the world be clothed and fed. Amen -For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen by Linnae Peterson
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Meditations on Family Spirituality
When my grandmother died, my mother commented to me that at every funeral in our family, either someone was pregnant or had just had a baby. It made me stop and think. Not only was that true but we often had young children present. As uncomfortable as we may be with death, it is a part of our world and a part of the world our children live in. When someone close to us dies, we feel the loss, and so do our children. Even if our children did not know the person who died they pick up on our emotions. For many of us our first inclination is to keep our children as far away from any experience of death as possible. We want to "protect" them from the pain that comes from loss and grief. No matter how hard we try, we cannot keep them from those emotions. Instead we need to give them the tools to grieve well. Grieving well is a challenge. We need to remember the person as they were, as a whole person, good and bad, lovable and difficult. The stories that come out at funerals often can help us remember the person. Funerals can also help us begin the process of saying goodbye and letting go of our hopes and dreams for that relationship. Our children too, need to have the opportunity to tell their stories and say goodbye. Take the time now to think through how you would help your children grieve. Would you have them attend the funeral? What if it is too far away? Is there some other way for your family to honor the person, to tell their stories and say goodbye?
My kids were famous for asking awful questions. "If God is everyone's Father, who is everyone's Mother?" being just one of a whole series of difficult ones that cropped up throughout their childhood. The questions ran the gamut, heaven and hell, creation and evolution, how (and why) to forgive those who hurt us, and on and on. None of them were easy, many of them challenge my husband and I to dig deeper into our faith, and to take another look at what we believe, how we live our lives, and, once again, to grab on to God. Parenting is never easy. It is however the challenge of that journey that forces us to take the next step in our faith, whether our children are infants or 20 something's embarking on their new lives. So here are a few travel tips for your journey. Don't be afraid of the questions, they are an invitation to have a conversation with your child that will give you a chance to know them better. "I don't know." Is a perfectly acceptable answer, especially if followed by, "Let's find out" or "Let's ask someone." No question is "off limits". Everything can and will be questioned. The question rarely tells you where your child will end up, it is just part of trying to figure out the world and were they fit in it. Most questions will be followed by "Why?" or "Why not?". Explaining why you think the way you do is often more important than the answer. If gives your child a chance to understand how to think through an issue. By the way my answer to my then four year olds question of "If God is everyone's Father, who is everyone's Mother?", God. It seemed to be enough at the time, I never got another question on God's parenthood.
I recently ran across this quote "I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don't want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift." Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life I dearly love the idea of God's belly laugh. It's easy to forget to live the life we have. We often find ourselves drowning in the demands and minutia of our lives. Our kids can find that too. My youngest is now in 7th grade and the demands are crazy. I've watched him getting up at 6am and working constantly until bedtime, no time for play, no time to wind down, barely time to eat or breath. Small wonder he has had a tough year. We all need space in our lives to sing out loud, to dawdle, to waste time, to paint your chair green, to love our gift of life. So my question to you is, how do you enjoy the gift of life you have been given? How do you give your children the time to enjoy it as well. Do something today that is not productive or useful. Do something for pure joy.
When I was growing up holidays centered around the family table. We met at my grandparents and the family would extend to grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and an assortment of people who were "family by choice" as well as those related by blood. It was a huge crowd. Often we would have 2 or sometimes 3 or 4 tables full of people. The babies were always seated at the main table. Along with the crystal and china and silver was a special place for the youngest members of the family. Did they dump the mashed potatoes on the table? Often. Did they understand that this was Christmas (or Easter, or Mother's day)? Not really, not then. They did know it was something special, extra special because we were all there and doing something different. Eucharist is like that. We are all together doing something special, and it's important that we include even the youngest members of the family. They are part of this too, this family meal, hosted by Christ. Do they understand? Only a little bit. (How much to any of us really grasp in this encounter with Christ in communion?) But we are all here together, in God's house, eating a meal together. We can work on table manner as they grow up. For now, Let the little children come, we can scoot over and make room for them around the altar table.
A priest I know always cautions those near the baptismal font that they are in the "Baptismal Splash Zone". Everyone within that zone may get wet! In a way, we are all in the Baptismal Splash Zone, all of us may get wet. In fact we can only hope that is true, that not only will we be affected but all those around us. The effects of our baptism should send waves through our lives and the lives of all those around us. As we get ready for Easter, we can also bring out some things to help us remember our baptism and those of our family members. Here are a few tangible times to bring help you remember. -Baptismal gown- If you have one, put it somewhere it can be seen. Use it as a chance to tell your kids why baptism is important to you, and what it means to you. -Photos- Any photo's of baptisms in your family. Talk about who was there and what the day was like. -Godparents-Be sure your children know who their Godparents are and why they are important. Send a card to both your Godparents and your children's godparents. -Look at the Baptismal Covenant- With older children, discuss what those promises mean and look at ways to live them out during Eastertide (the 50 days after Easter, this year through Pentecost, May 19th).
There are some things that just drive me up the wall. It's a given. My kids know every way to push my buttons as well. I'm sure you have those buttons as well. Dirty dishes left on the table. Wet towels on the bathroom floor, waiting till the very last minute to tell you they need a ride to some activity or supplies for the Social Studies project. The same thing happens with those I work with, when all my plans get thrown up into the air and I'm up against a deadline. It's chaos. I don't do well with chaos. I like my orderly life. Yet my life, my life in faith, needs that chaos, it needs shaking up, it needs that challenge to see beyond what is going on here and now. I need to encounter the grace all around me. To see others with the eyes of Christ, to have patience with the grumpy clerk at the store, and my panicked child as they try to meet all the expectations that adult have of them, and my co-worker who just can't seem to figure out the steps for the next project and to have patience with myself. For me, much of patience means getting out or myself. I can be more patience, more loving when I am most aware of Christ's presence here, now within me. Being aware of God's love and compassion for me, is the best way I know to accept the chaos and brings to see others with the compassion and love that Christ has for them. Being intimately aware of Jesus love for you in the chaos, may you see others with God's love.
In a recent article in the Christian Century Magazine, the author asked a number of prominent authors and theologians to sum up Christianity in 7 words or less. Tackling this daunting task they came out with a number of interesting phrases, Martin E. Marty came up with "God, through Jesus Christ, welcomes you anyhow", and Beverly Roberts Gaventa with "In Christ, God's yes defeats our no", Walter Brueggemann's gospel is dense: "Israel's God's bodied love continues world-making.". Perhaps my favorite was one be Scott Cairns which echos Eastern Orthodox theology, "Christ's humanity occasions our divinity". As you can tell there are no hard and fast answers and each one reflects the experience of those writing them. So here is your challenge, in 15 words or less, tell me what you think Christianity is all about. I'll give you a hint, if you ask your kids they will help you figure out what is most important to you. Just to get your started here's mine, Jesus draws us into the Heart of God, to bring God's love to all. (with one to spare! But it took a number of tries.)
On January 1st we celebrate the beginning of a New Year. On the Church calendar it is the feast of the Holy Name, the day on which Jesus was presented in the Temple for circumcision and when he was named. Names are incredibly important. They give us a sense of our past (I was named for my grandfather, how about you?) or a sense of what is important to our parents (Hope, Grace) or a feeling for who they wish we can become (ever think of how your child's name will look on a business card?). Biblical names, especially names that change, often stand as markers for the spiritual journey of the nation of Israel or for the individual, Abram (father) becomes Abraham (the father of nations), Jacob (sneak) become Israel (struggled with God),and Sarai (princess) to Sarah (princess over many). We are aware of the importance of name as well, for good or ill. Our family nick name, Sweetie or Hug a Bug, Junior or Baby, all of them give a feeling of our relationship. Other names can hurt, the ones that are said in anger, and the ones that tell us we are less than we should be or can be. So be careful of names. Choose the ones that will bring joy and comfort, and don't ever call your wonderful child by their nick name in public once they reach Middle School! (SO embarrassing Mom!!)
I love Christmas story books. I've been known to buy 3 or 4 new ones every year. I find it fascinating how each book puts a new spin on the story. In fact the story of Jesus birth is only briefly touched upon in two of the Gospels, Matthew (1:18-2:12) and Luke (2:1-20). The Christmas story books expand on these short stories and give us a new perspective. I can still remember most of Who is coming to our House?, along with my husband's masterful voices that made each animal sound different. In a way that is the wonder of these storybooks, each one gives a new voice to the story of Jesus, each one opens a door through which we can see God among us in a new way. So here are a few to get you started. Also try out the Library for others and there are a number in the children's books by the back pew at St. Matthew's, feel free to borrow some to try out at home. Some Christmas stories to enjoy: 1. Who is Coming to Our House? Joseph Slate, Ashley Wolff Sandcastle Books 2. The Donkey's Christmas Story Nancy Tafuri Scholastic 3. The First Christmas Tomie dePaola - Putnam and Sons 4. Wombat Divine Mem Fox- Trumpet Books 5. The Gifts of Christmas Mark Bernthal- Lyrick Publishing 6. The Baker's Dozen Aaron Shepard - Atheneum 7. Marta and the Manger Straw Virginia Kroll- Zondervan 8. The Give-Away Ray Buckley- Abingdon Press (Native American Christmas) 9. The Christmas Ship Dean Morrissey- Harper Collins 10. The Night of Las Posadas Tomie dePaola- Penguin Putnam Press