Amy Welborn is a contributor - five devotions per issue - to the Living Faith daily devotional quarterly.
I have hauled my children to art museums and historic churches since they were small. As a result, they have become adept at recognizing saints since, traditionally, saints are depicted with easily recognized symbols: their attributes.
It becomes a game of sorts, a game that they also enjoy turning around on me--not allowing me to see the title of a painting and then seeing if I can identify the saint; Catherine of Alexandria and her wheel, Jerome with his lion, Anthony and the Christ Child and, of course, Peter with his keys and the rooster nearby.
My sons had been asking for a doorway pull-up bar, and when I saw one for 10 dollars at an estate sale, they finally got one.
It is hooked on the doorway that leads from their rooms to the living room, and it seems as if since we've had it up there, neither of them are able to pass through that doorway without hoisting themselves up a time or two. This tool for growing stronger is part of their daily lives now.
It seemed as if every time we passed the church around the corner from our small hotel, the door was locked. Finally, one afternoon, I noticed that the door was open. I peeked in: a stone church, worn wood pews, an elaborate old altar.
For Jesus' disciples carried his words into a culture that treated children as creatures, or even as things, lacking the faculty of reason that defined a full human being. To present a child--a thing that could be exploited and killed when inconvenient--and childhood as models for the spiritual life? Absurd. Countercultural. A radical, reality-shifting stance.
Our faith is marked by questions. We seek, trusting that there must be a source to satisfy the hungers we have been born with. St. Thomas Aquinas was a man of questions and answers, all born of deep hunger and love for God. Balanced, he prayed the Mass with intense devotion, wrote beautiful hymns, sacrificed much to give himself wholly to God and share with the world the fruit of his search.
At the end of a long day, I make time to pray. And, I even attempt it in what I know is the proper frame of mind: remembering the Lord's works with praise and gratitude before I tackle my own litany of concerns.
But perhaps you know how it goes: distractions, nudging, barging in, grabbing attention.
Those dry patches within are like little death valleys. But everything about these weeks promises something different. For a strange man stalks that desert. He has water. He eyes us boldly, speaks to us directly and announces that there is one who is to come who will bring life, even here to this dry, impossible place.
I took a look at the creche myself and then sat in a pew for a while, just watching. People waited patiently in line to view the nativity, but then they stayed and craned their necks to study the ceiling, gazed at the stained glass windows, pondered the furnishings.
My parents and grandparents left behind boxes and boxes of letters and photographs. They left record albums and books. I wonder sometimes about my generation and, even more so, those that follow. Most of our communication is digital and exists only as a series of 0s and 1s. So it is with our music, our photographs and even our books.
There's nothing unusual there--it's part of the early vocabulary of most toddlers, isn't it? But what strikes me is that he doesn't just say it when something "bad" happens. Any time there is any transition, it's what comes out: "Uh-oh!" It's cute, but I wonder, do I react the same way to potential or real change? Do I reflexively react with hesitation or even outright fear, or do I react with confidence that, with the help of God's power and love, I can move forward?
Once a week, I volunteer in an after-school reading program. The children arrive at the parish following a day in a struggling school in a struggling neighborhood. The early readers may have a few words they are sure about, but when they hit an unfamiliar word, their reaction is always the same--their eyes move from the letters and start darting about the page. There must be a hint. They're looking for a sign.
But there is someone, and the psalmist guides me to him. The God who created me out of love knows me. I listen as he teaches, I understand as my heart opens to his wisdom. In the stillness, he sketches the flaws, he captures the truth, and I see.
To see Mary is no distraction. For when I welcome her, something else happens too; like Elizabeth, I welcome the Christ she bears. In greeting her, I offer God praise, as her cousin does, for it is God who has done this, graciously entering creation in this ordinary, extraordinary way.
Vowed religious life, the bishop said, is also a radical sign of grace and mercy. He said that the heart of a religious is bound in love to "the poor Christ, the chaste Christ, the obedient Christ."
Living Faith is a print publication - available in Spanish and English - but a digital edition is available as well.