A Look Back at a Year in the Atrium

May 2016

by Catherine Maresca

Our after school atrium program closes today, and I’ve spent the week thinking about the past year with twenty 6-12-year-old children and a co-catechist, Victoria. My thoughts turn first to what could have been better. The first thing that comes to mind, is not a child or a material in the environment, but myself. Was I more impatient than I like? Should I have given fewer lessons, or more? Did I do too much “managing” or not enough? Sometimes peace settled on the room of children grasped by their work, and at other times every voice was a little too loud in an effort to be heard. What can we do at the start of next year to support joy in this time set aside to be with Jesus? Can I myself model such joy?

Thankfully, I have a year of notes and weekly emails to parents to remind me of growing independence and concentration, insightful reflections, and beautiful prayer. God works well despite our imperfections. Here are some treasures from my notes:

Our prayer service included the prophecy that announces, “…a star shall come forth out of Jacob.” As we considered what a star could tell us about Jesus, the Messiah, one of the children said that if Jesus is a star, and we are all made of stardust, then Jesus is in all of us. Thus integrating modern science and our ancient faith. What a blessing!

Ella and Hannah prepared our prayer service. We began by lighting the first candle of the Advent wreath. They chose the Annunciation for the reading, and I asked the children to listen for best news in the reading. Hands were up before Ella sat down. 
“Nothing is impossible to God.”
Elizabeth is having a baby too.
Mary is having a baby.
“Rejoice…the Lord is with you.”
We had a little discussion of the first offering. The newly reasoning minds enjoyed thinking about whether or not “nothing is impossible to God.” One thought was, “Well God could be mean but He won’t.”  A more somber thought was, “God can’t overcome evil.” But the reassuring response came from another child, “That’s what the Plan of God is about, it’s a process.” A gift of hope for all of us.

As the weather permitted and the days lengthened and lightened we opened the courtyard outside the atrium for prayerful walking. With the help of a parent volunteer the older children could step outside and walk quietly on their own for 10 minutes or so. This was a lovely and calming practice.

During our study of Abraham and Sarah, Kyle asked, “Why doesn’t God come to us like that? Why doesn’t God stop evil? Look at Hiroshima, Syria?” His heart was in his voice, and his peers hopeful offerings did not satisfy him. The next week I asked Kyle to search the book of Psalms for the same kind of question. A short time later he brought me Psalm 10. It begins, “Why, Lord, do you stand at a distance and pay no heed to these troubled times?” We read on as the Psalmist moved through his feelings of discouragement and abandonment to say, “But you do see; you do observe this misery and sorrow, you take the matter in hand…You listen, Lord, to the needs of the poor. You encourage them and heed their prayers.” Here Kyle found some comfort, standing with the long line of those seeking the hand of God in times of trouble.

Last month, two of the boys asked me, “When will this be over?” Much to their amusement I answered, “With the Parousia!” The answer they were looking for was 5:30, but we were reminded of the joyful communion of the fullness of the Kindom of God, tasted in our atrium throughout the year.

And from a parent: H____ told me last night (as I was putting her to bed) that she is sad atrium has to end for the summer.  She said she wished it could continue all year round, and that it is like nothing else she has ever done.  She has said this consistently in her three years in the program…

Before you close the book on this year in the atrium, take a few minutes to treasure the joy, the faith, the work and the gifts of the children that were in your care. And than make a few notes about how to continue in September.

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