Meaning and Joy

Thank you for your prayers and positive thoughts, your visits, food, emails and every other uplifting and helpful thing you do. As chemo weeks go, this one wasn’t so bad, and, to my delight, I rebounded quickly. Thank you for all you did to enable that. It not only helps me, but it helps my family as we function each day.

For a long time, and often even now, I just aim to get through the day. I don’t generally commit to anything in advance. For example, I’m never sure if I can do school pick-up on any particular day. I haven’t thought much about family rituals, and certainly not yearly ones. I didn’t have the confidence to plan for something that would occur year after year.

But last week, I started thinking about how to make events more meaningful and joyful. With Easter Sunday and its preceding Holy Week approaching, I spied an opportunity. Maybe we could make this week special somehow, maybe even starting with Palm Sunday.

The Jesuit church near us has a Palm Sunday Mass where liturgical dancers act out the Passion (the story that runs from the Last Supper through the crucifixion and burial of Jesus). I was encouraged to bring my children to this, in the more formal “upper” church, rather than attend the very family-friendly children’s Mass.

I wondered whether my kids were up for it, and whether I was up for shepherding them through it. For us, a regular Sunday Mass looks like this:

  • We arrive between 5 and 10 minutes late (on a good day)
  • My kids settle into the pew, sitting on the kneeler and facing the seat. There, they set up whatever activity they brought to occupy their time during Mass (anything from drawing to reading to Legos).
  • Partway through, they get restless so I ply them with snacks and a drink
  • If their behavior is good, they are allowed to get donuts afterwards

But, I was up for trying something new. I said I would bring my kids.

“Oh, make sure you arrive early to get parking and a seat. It gets crowded,” I was told.

“How early?”

“Thirty minutes should do it.”

THIRTY MINUTES? I thought. The overachiever in me added its two cents: If everyone else is arriving 30 minutes early, I’d better aim for 40 minutes early.

How would we get there 40 minutes early? And worse, how would I keep those kids engaged for 40 minutes before Mass even starts, and then through the entire, longer than normal, Palm Sunday Mass?

One step at a time.

I developed a strategy, buying treats they rarely see, like chocolate milk and candy. (Well, they get plenty of candy but not usually at church.) I talked with them about activities to bring and packed extra paper and pens and yarn. I brought water for myself.

Miraculously, we arrived 40 minutes early. We got good parking.

The kids picked up palms and then one of them immediately asked if I could make it into a sword for him.

“A sword?”

“Yeah, you know – with the handle and the bar across and the long part?”

He meant a cross, which, if held upside down by the shorter top part, apparently looks like a sword.

“Let’s wait on that.”

The church was already filling in the front but we found seats. The boys settled in as they usually do, opening their Legos and playing quietly together while I prayed.

Then I looked around. The kids near us had books with titles like, “The Saints” and “My Catholic Mass Coloring Book.” One child in the pew behind us leaned into our pew, ignoring his books and watching my boys play Legos.

I got close to my sons and whispered, “Share with him,” then held my breath. I’m never sure whether I will get resistance or compliance. Thankfully right now, I got only a bit of resistance before compliance. Good. I heard the parents say to their son, “Make sure you give that back to him before Mass starts.”

I was suddenly self-conscious about our secular toys and my plan.

I leaned over the boys and whispered, “Let’s put those away once Mass starts.”

Though they looked at me with big, shocked eyes, at least they didn’t say, “But you ALWAYS let us play Legos.” I remain grateful for the small things.

Mass started and we waved our palms over the procession. At first the kids got into the action, then their arms were tired. Whining and complaining totally drains me and it was too early in the Mass and too early in the day to start that. We were now squeezed into the center of the pew and I didn’t see an easy exit.

Then the liturgical dancers took over, and the boys and I were captivated as they acted out the Passion. One of my sons even sat on my lap to get a better view. The rest of the Mass had a rhythm that was different enough to hold their attention. A nice person behind us made a “sword” for my son out of the palms. I eventually allowed them to have the chocolate milk but held off on the candy.

And then, the Mass was over and we walked out of the church into a beautiful rainfall. As we drove away, they even talked animatedly about the service and absentmindely sang the songs from the Mass.

Eventually, they asked, “Donuts?”

“Sure,” I smiled. I guess that after-Mass donuts have become our family ritual. It happened without planning or realizing. And maybe it isn’t particularly meaningful, but it is filled with joy.

I wish you much joy and meaning this week, whether you are celebrating a holiday, birthdays, or any reason to either gather with those you care about and love. If you are spending time alone, I hope that feeds your soul as well.


6 thoughts on “Meaning and Joy

  1. I sometimes take my kids to the service I like to attend, which is pretty intimate and nothing like a traditional service. Even though they know they can go into the nursery, they prefer to stay with me. It’s like they can sense the holiness of it, even if they don’t understand it all. I always worry about them acting up and negatively affecting someone else’s experience so I bribe them with whatever I can. I’ve brought them coloring books before but honestly, candy works best! A couple of weeks ago, my daughter came with me and fell asleep on my lap. The pastor was speaking about the plight of migrants trying to make it through the desert (a big issue here in Tucson) and as she was talking about the bodies of children that are frequently found, everyone’s eyes went to my daughter sleeping peacefully in my arms. Her presence there could not have been a more powerful symbol of what’s at stake when a family risks everything to find a better life. It was pretty amazing.

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