Since I was a child, autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I remember being a very young girl and going outside on a windy day with my little red corduroy zip-up jacket and a navy scarf tied under my chin. I would sit on the swing and watch the beautiful colored leaves go by and wonder how far they would travel.
Those experiences always quieted me because I knew I was in the presence of something bigger than myself. I was blessed because my parents gave me the language of faith. Though I probably could not have articulated it very well at the age of 5, I knew it was God that I was experiencing. In every autumn since, I have experienced that same “holy longing” and encounter with God.
When I think of this experience, it reminds me of a book that I was asked to read in graduate school entitled “Dibs in Search of Self” by Virginia Mae Axline. It was the story of a clinical psychologist who was asked to work with the 5-year-old son of two scientists who were atheists. The child had many behavioral issues (not speaking, outbursts, lack of social skills) that caused the parents to think he had cognitive, mental and emotional delays.
As he became healthier through play therapy, the author wrote that he would look out a window from his room and discuss the “the bigness.” He also proclaimed that phrase when he went into a church the first time. This intuitive little boy, who ended up having an IQ of 168, felt the presence of God, though he did not have the language to express it. It is truly incredible when you think about it.
Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, in the book, “Practicing the Presence of God,” writes: “The holiest, most common, most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God that is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and talking lovingly with him at all times, at every moment without rule or system….” (p.87)
In my many years of catechetical/formational ministry in our church, I have come to realize the importance of helping children and youth to identify and acknowledge the “divine company” moments in their lives. Yet, I realize how crucial that role is for us as parents, grandparents and other significant people in our children’s lives. Before our children encounter formal catechesis or formation, we can set the stage by joyfully and simply stating our encounters with God as children. It is an opportunity for fun and faith sharing that can open the door to so much more.
Building a relationship with God begins there. Learning to listen to and converse with God (prayer) is a natural response “to taking delight in” those holy moments. It is an important investment we can make in our children’s faith life but we have to own it ourselves first. We have to be a good steward of our time in prayer if we want that for our children.
Last month, Pope Francis was here for the World Meeting of Families. This month he has called a Synod on the Family in Rome to address important issues. Likewise, we are in the midst of Phase I of Bishop David Ricken’s “Teach My People to Pray: Households of Faith and Love.” We have the opportunity to reflect more intentionally on how you and I can help share our faith with those closest to us.
I think the challenge for you and me is to truly be attentive to those moments in joyful times as well as challenging times. Perhaps we might make brief notes when the God of all surprises enters our lives and also be aware of our responses. By being a good steward, we can become the first evangelizer and witness to those God has placed in our care.
Last year, I had the privilege of spending a day with my 1 ½-year-old grandson, Crue. We were out in the front yard playing with a ball and all of a sudden there was a breeze. He stood up, shut his eyes and for 20 seconds he stood there with the biggest grin. When he opened his eyes, he just giggled and then started to play with the ball again. In that moment, my “God encounter” and my grin and giggle were as joyful as his. Now that is something for his faith memory book.
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.