At Christian Family Montessori School in Washington DC I’ve been helping to prepare an atrium for the coming year since 1982. How odd last year was – going into our school to find the environment reorganized by the class and atrium guides to accommodate the “bubbles” of students and staff for each age group, the necessary distance between the children, and the ongoing sanitizing of materials and hands to prevent transmission of Covid 19.
This year, the hard work of preparation is laced with the joyful knowledge that the children will return to school with greater access to their materials and to adults who are vaccinated. We eagerly look forward to the day when the children are vaccinated as well, and free exchanges between classmates and classes can resume. And we are also ready to continue prayer and work via Zoom and materials sent home should that be necessary once again.
God is with us. I have asked children so many times, “Where is God?” They do not point to “heaven.” They lay their hands over their hearts. As they get older they add, “at church…in the atrium…in all of creation…in each other…in the Bible…in the bread and wine…” There is no end or limit to the presence of God in our creation and in our lives. And now we can add, “On Zoom!”
A few years ago I was visiting a five-year-old in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant. How I wanted to bless her with the treasures of the atrium. But with little space and time and nearly constant procedures and medications it felt impossible. I noticed during that time that she found great comfort in her ipad, listening to music and watching her favorite movies. After six months in the hospital she passed away, her health too compromised to live with the heart she finally received. I’ve thought of her so many times in the last year, realizing recordings of presentations and music from the atrium might have brought her those blessings.
Our tentative adventures in the “Zoomium,” as I called our online atrium last year, are giving us the confidence and willingness to share slides of staged materials with words from the Bible printed next to them, recordings of presentations that can be replayed, interactive reflections, silence, or even the crazed synchronous singing of a group of 6-9-year-olds. All of these can be graced by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. As always, the mystery of God’s rich relationship with the child is in play in the spaces (however great) between the child and the material that embodies the Word of God or a sacramental sign.
Who are the children that will be served in the Zoomium? Children displaced by war, fire, earthquakes, or hurricanes. Children traveling with their families for sabbaticals, work, or study. Children quarantined for health reasons or living in hospitals. Children in parishes or schools without an atrium.
Years ago, in answer to the needs of thousands of children in Mexico, Sofia permitted the publication of workbooks for children and their guides. Would she not also permit the use of the internet to serve children when needed?
We return to our atria in the spirit of joy of Ps. 122: I rejoiced when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And we pray that our necessary adventures in the Zoomium may also bring joy to any children and guides who gather there.
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The prayer shawl the children finished knitting for that child’s family is finished and is still in the mass of materials I brought home August 2020, when the atrium space was temporarily reassigned. Many of the children who worked on it are still in the atrium. They have not seen the fruit of their work for a while. I just laid hands on it, and will bring it to the atrium or your house in next next few days, along with yarn for the next prayer shawl. How lovely it will be for the present group to pray over this shawl, perhaps in a prayer service, and to present it to the family at long last, having never ceased to love and pray for her and her family even after several years.
In the atrium this week, two 9-year-olds took part in a discussion of how we use our atrium journals. Somehow this led, of course, to other urgent questions __ where do people go after they die? Are they ghosts? Why do we still feel so close to our departed, to our homeland? We continued on Zoom and can do so with friends who have changed schools or moved, but it is balm to sit close enough to a child who can again whisper a question that has been burning in their heart.
Thanks for sharing this. I do believe the Holy Spirit will lead us if we keep our hearts open to the possibilities.
I was reluctant last year to do on line anything because our children were all going to school that way and parents were helping them and also doing their own work from home(we took a poll). I can see now how useful some reflections or videos could have been (although my level 2 was finally able to go back in person). Brandan Hollbrook, the catechist that I work a little with in Louisville, did have a series of presentations that were videoed and sent out to the students as they did not return to her atrium until this year and they were well received. It is true God meets us wherever we are.