Saturday, 31 May 2008

Unless

My father came to stay with us for three weeks, following the birth of my daughter. He was a great help as I recovered from my c-section and bonded with the new baby. He did some housework and kept me company after my husband returned to work. But most of all he helped with the care of my two-year old, Isabella. He slept in the guest bed in her room and got up with her in the mornings so that I could catch a little more sleep. He fed her breakfast-- and sometimes lunch as well-- got her dressed, changed her diaper, took her on walks, read her stories, put her down from her nap, and did much of the lifting that I could not do.

Recently he sent me this meditation about his experiences with her, written to share with others in his spiritual direction class. I'll reprint it here:

I begin to wake to the gentle whimper. She is awake and I am sure her diaper is very wet. I hope that she will go back to sleep. As she sees me get out of bed she begins to talk in happy tones and I begin to tell her it is night and she needs to go back to sleep after she has her diaper changed. She lies down quietly and I go back to bed. But not for long as she hears her Daddy getting ready for work. "Daddy go work. Daddy go work." So it is time to get up. I fix her some breakfast and she sits at her little table. She looks up at me and says, “full of grace”. I think for a second and realize that she wants to pray, to bless the food. So we make the sign of the cross and bless the food.

While she is eating I get my Liturgy of the Hours, sit on the couch, and begin to pray Morning Prayer. Very shortly here she comes into the room and I think that is the end of Morning Prayer. She walks up to where I am sitting and stares at me. I begin to read the psalms aloud and she climbs up beside me and sits motionless while I read the prayers.

We are going for a walk and she runs to the door, whining with anxiety, wanting her coat and the stroller. I dress her warmly and place her in the stroller. We start down the busy street with many cars passing. We hear a siren that is getting louder. She turns in the stroller and says, “full of grace”. We stop and say a prayer for the person in distress. We are going to the large Catholic cemetery about 10 blocks away. When we reach the cemetery I take her from the stroller so she can “run, run”. After about 30 minutes of walking in the cemetery, I hear a car approaching and yell to her that a car is approaching. She quickly moves from the street to the grass and patiently waits for the car to pass. Then I tell her the car is gone and we proceed on our walk. The car stops a short distance in front of us and a woman gets out and walks to a grave covered with a large mound of flowers. She is almost prostrate on the grave, obviously full of grief. As we approach close to that grave the little girl turns to me and says, “full of grace”. We stop and pray with the lady full of grief.

When we return to the house, I take her into her room to change her diaper. She looks at the crucifix on the wall and says, "Jesus." We go into the living room and she opens the drawer on the coffee table and takes out a number of prayer cards, and names each of them: John Paul, Mary, Jesus.

On Sunday we go to mass. On entering the church she puts her tiny hand into the holy water and with assistance makes the sign of the cross. At the elevation of the body of Christ she points and says, "Jesus Christ." As we leave the church, she points the statue and says, "Mary," after kneeling in front of the tabernacle. After we return home, I am sitting on the couch and she comes and stands in front of me. I reach down to pick her up and as I do I look into her face and see that she is full of grace, a little baptized child without sin. She is full of the Holy Spirit which she has repeatedly shown throughout each day.

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”


I was surprised at how closely his experience mirrored my own. I've observed that once I have taught Isabella a particular prayer practice-- blessing herself with holy water, praying a Hail Mary when we hear a siren, kissing the crucifix that hangs over her bed-- she almost immediately begins to be the leader while I am the (all-too-often reluctant) follower. She reminds me to pray, and pushes even when I don't find it terribly convenient and even when I'm not feeling very prayerful.

I've just begun reading Sofia Cavaletti's The Religious Potential of the Child and find that Cavaletti's approach in developing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd also mirrors my own experience. The belief underlying the method is that the child has his own relationship with God and that our function is to proclaim the Word and then listen with him to the unfolding of that Word. Cavaletti chooses what parables and images to present to the child on the basis of what the child himself has shown to be attractive, what fills his own inner need.

Although The Religious Potential of the Child does not take into consideration the child under three, I feel that the methodology of exploration with the child, allowing the child to lead us even as we proclaim the Word to the child, exactly matches my own methodology with Isabella.

4 comments:

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Melanie, this is a beautiful post. What a great grandpa! What a great little girl! (Of course the word "great" doesn't begin to do justice to the mystical realities at work here... :)

Meredith said...

What a beautiful meditation and reflection from your father. He is certainly full of grace as well and what a blessing he is for you and your sweet children. Thank you for sharing it here with us Melanie!

Anonymous said...

I am always captivated by stories like these. Not because of your daughter's faith, for that does not surprise me at all. What always surprises and delights me is when I read about men like your father. I grew up with a distant father, who believed that everything to do with children was to be reserved for the mother. My mom was expected to have us "bathed, fed, and ready for bed" when my father returned from work, so he could give quick kisses and then have us rushed off to bed. My father would never come help after the birth of one of my children -- in fact, he complains if my mom comes for more than a few days to help, complaining that he's lonely, yet he won't come with her. He's always put my mother in a position to choose between him and the children; what an awful position for her. My father didn't have a faith life (he attends church now, though he's still very Catholic light), and I didn't know any other men of faith growing up. So when I read about fathers like this I just marvel at the gift you had/have! While I love my father for who he is, and pray for him, I will always wonder how different our family would be if he had been like you dad. Thankfully, by the grace of God, my husband is a man of faith who is involved in his children's lives and shares his faith with them on a daily basis. While I didn't have the blessing of a faithful gentlemanly father, at least my children will. Thanks be to God!

Marcia said...

your fathers words brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.
Sofia Cavaletti is researching and studying the child's relationship with God in the 18months to 3years time period right now! You can look for her work results soon. Some of her prelimiary results are available to members of www.cgsusa.org. You might find it interesting to note that the Missionaries of Charity in NYC are using CGS with their children they minister to. Blessings!