The Joy of New Branches

January 2023

by Allison Winter

Allison Winter is a journalist, catechist and mother. She has been on the board for the Center for Children and Theology since 2015 and is delighted to step into a new role this year as the communications director for CCTheo’s work on the Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. She lives in Washington, DC.

It was this time last year, on a dark, frigid, bleak winter night, when my son lit a candle, drew a flourishing vine, and sang to me of the fullness of the joy of the Lord.

At the time, we were in the middle of another COVID surge. My second grader’s public school classroom in Washington, DC, was back in distance learning. He had spent most of the day either hiding under the dining room table during his zoom lessons or spraying water on the frozen back patio to create a homemade ice rink. 

A friend had invited us to participate in a series of atrium sessions via Zoom, as part of a hybrid innovation for sacramental preparation. I did not expect much enthusiasm from my son, who was weary of distance learning from his school. But I brought a plant in from the kitchen and placed it next to the laptop. My son lit a candle, and the flicker of its small light transformed the dark room. We took a breath as the tension of the day lifted. 

We listened to the meditation on the Parable of the Vine: “Who are the branches? Do you think our branches can bear fruit? … What feeds and gives us life?”

My son listened attentively and filled his journal with a drawing of vines and branches. The rest of our day may have been icy, but here was a lush moment of peace. 

God’s desire for us is to live “life to the full” and to remain in Jesus, the True Vine, as a source of growth and life. For my family, on that dark night, the online meditation was a time of nourishment. It fed and gave us life. There in the middle of an ordinary room, next to a houseplant and a laptop, we saw a flicker of the Divine. We had a moment to remain in Christ. 

Parents and children long for these moments, when they can enjoy the light of Christ together. We at the Center for Children and Theology are excited to begin new work to share this light with more children and families who otherwise might not have an opportunity to participate in an atrium. We will accelerate this work with a $550,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., as part of a new Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. A group of creative catechists will work on music, books, resources and programs for faith formation– both online and in person. We hope to branch out to a wider circle of caregivers and congregations, to feed and give life in a weary world. 

At that winter Zoom meditation, we closed the session singing, “This is my commandment that you love one another, as I have loved you. … I have told you this so that my joy may be with you and your joy may be full.”

And there, on a wintery night, when my back garden had become a child’s ice rink and my once-full days had been reduced again to rectangles on a laptop, God’s joy was with me. Even on an icy day, we can grow new branches. 

And our joy can be full.

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