by Catherine Maresca
In addition to my usual course, atrium, and administrative work for CCTheo, I have had opportunities to share and consider some of the Center’s unique work in recent weeks.
In Atlanta at Rooted in Jesus, a conference of several Episcopalian organizations including FORMA (religious formation), I offered two workshops on the Nonviolent Method and Content of Parables, drawn from my book Violence and Nonviolence in Scripture, Helping Children Understand Challenging Stories. There I heard a stirring keynote by the Rev. William Barber. This leader of the Poor People’s Campaign preached on worship without conscience. Comparing Caesar and empire to our own leaders and nation, he noted the injustices visited upon immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, poor children, LGBTQ+ people and under- and unemployed workers, all victims of systems of injustice that separate us from one another, push wealth to the wealthy, and the poor out of their homes into hunger, jails, and crushing debt. Amidst this injustice, “Jesus (and we) are anointed and called to service outside the temple, consecrated for God’s purposes in the world, offering not Biblical commentary but transformation for the Kindom of God,” Barber preached in Atlanta.
Closer to home, I shared our Interfaith work with a colleague from the Interfaith Conference (where our offices are located) to begin to develop “Parenting for Pluralism,” for parents of faith committed to raising their children without ignorance or prejudice in an interfaith world. I also recently had an interview with a PhD Candidate writing her dissertation on Interfaith Work and Peace. Her questions helped me to see once again, that the work of peace is multifaceted and includes deconstructing the violence of our own faith against the earth, women, children, cultural and religious “others”; seeing and knowing the beauty of God’s presence in every faith; acknowledging that God is slowly but more and more clearly revealed in our own tradition as the God of love, not the God of war, wealth, weapons, or kingdoms; and that both our worship and lives must reflect the integrity of our conscience.
Of the intersecting groups of people preyed upon in our society, children are so vulnerable. As catechists, our particular work with, and on behalf of, children is focused on creating a space (the atrium) where they are respected, and are the subjects, rather than the objects, of their own religious formation. Sofia and Gianna modeled this so beautifully, letting go of the prayers and passages of our tradition that the children indicated were not life-giving, and drilling down to the essential and life-giving heart of our faith for both children and adults.
As time lengthens from their work to ours, we may find ourselves tempted to reinstate the formula prayers, the decorative vestments, or moral stories when they are developmentally appropriate. A priest may request this or that prayer or lesson or activity be included without deep knowledge of the child’s spiritual life. In an attempt to return to our favorite liturgical expression of the Eucharist, we may make it even more inaccessible to the children we hope to serve.
We live in a time when more and more people are dismayed and even betrayed by institutions, including churches. Part of what we struggle with are the customs, governance, and even theology that obscures the heart of our faith. It is more important than ever for us to be essential in our work, so the signs and stories that nurture faith forever are echoed by both children and adults in our atriums.
We have been given a great gift in the children of our atriums, and also a responsibility to advocate for them in our churches. Let us use the wisdom of Montessori, Cavalletti, and Gobbi to inform the adults of our communities about the treasure in our midst, and to defend the space we create to nurture the unique spiritual lives of the children as much as possible. Children of any of the disinherited may wish to pass through the doors of our programs – let us welcome them and their families with open hearts and resolve to work with and for justice in our churches, schools and neighborhoods.