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October 15, 2010

The use and making of memories

"Kevin, no wrestling during Sunday school."
"Judah, we're not talking about that right now."
"Owen, not so loud."

Some of the 3 to 5-year olds, mostly those at the "girls table," remain seated, carefully coloring and gluing.  Kevin makes his hands into race cars, in an apparent neck and neck battle toward the finish line at the far edge of his table. He leans across, knocking crayons on the floor and planting his elbow in a pool of glue.

My blood pressure rises.

God laughs.

There was a time when I was just a little older than this crew, probing the limits of a Sunday school teacher's patience and grace. When was that? Like, yesterday?

Back then I could understand that church was important. That was clear. St. Boniface was set apart as something different from the rest of the world. It demanded a unique kind of respect. Like you had to be clean and don't wear a hat or chew gum. You can goof off with your friends in CCD, because that's for kids. Mass reserved a different kind of respect. Above all else, that means being there and being quiet.

I (wrongly) understood that you went to St. Boniface to do a good deed. Staying still and quiet for 60 minutes every Sunday morning; this is what the Lord asks of a boy. So I almost always went, sometimes with a battle, because Mass seemed s  o     l   o   n   g.

When your attention span is maxed out at 5 minutes, coping strategies ensue. You hunt the wood grain of the pews for animal shapes. You imagine the dark knots of wood on the ceiling as distant galaxies diverging from one another in some deep slice of the night sky. You analyze the patterns in the clothing of old ladies. Twelve rows of grey diamonds with eleven rows of blue in between. You try to identify the person who, at the appointed time, would be the first to extend you "a sign of peace." You avoid eye contact with the coughers and nose blowers.

Bathroom breaks are a sweet relief from stillness. You're entitled to one trip per week. Once per week a boy washes his hands with hot soapy water for the entire recommended duration. Play your cards right and you'll be back in time for communion.

These memories are the mother of patience toward Kevin and the boys in Sunday school. They're the medium of grace, created in the beginning, and passed down through generations. My memories of St. Boniface cause me to be more concerned with building relationships and helping them have fun gluing googly eyes onto shoddily cut out fish than with getting them to appreciate the depth of Luke chapter 5.

If God once used the church to teach me to wait and listen and notice the details in everyday minutia, then he can certainly reach these young ones through glitter and scissors and Silly (Veggie Tales) Songs With Larry.  I don't think they're missing anything until the day they have questions. In those days, we'll certainly seek to help them consider where they put their faith and their trust.

For now, we'll be here, every week, singing and wrestling. Not yet like Jacob did with God, but like Kevin trying to throw down with everyone near him. We'll gather together, learning how to pray, eating tootsie rolls from Charlie, and making nightmares for the cleaning committee. 

Allowing space for memories in the making...

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