I began working in parish-based children’s ministry when my youngest child was just two months old. Churches are familiar places to them. Children’s spaces in particular become like an extension of our living room.
Recently my daughters helped me to select and prepare a small gift to give each student and teacher at our parish’s Blessing of the Backpacks – pocket-sized holding crosses made of olive wood in Bethlehem. Sitting in our Godly Play room, the girls took up the big work of taping said crosses to prayer cards and placing them neatly in baskets so that they could be handed out at each Mass.
Finally, this weekend they could place their new pocket crosses in one of the cool zippered compartments on their backpacks. (The one on the shoulder strap seemed to be the most awesome, in case you’re wondering.)
This week the girls and I prayed with the crosses on our way to school. Nothing revolutionary, just our standard “Daily Devotion for Families and Individuals” straight from the Book of Common Prayer, which, like storytellers of our Godly Play stories, my daughters and I have come to know by heart.
“Open my lips, O Lord,” I begin.
“And my mouth shall proclaim your praise,” respond sweet voices from their booster seats, as small hands hold crosses that smell distinctively like olives.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” I offer.
“And renew a right spirit within me…”
We prayed for our friends starting school that day, for people affected by hurricanes, for their dad’s upcoming birthday.
As we ended in our usual way, my youngest held onto her new cross a moment longer, processing something about the morning. When she spoke, she said something like this: “You know those stories about how God comes close to people, and people come close to God? That’s how I feel right now.”
I wish I could adequately express the emotions that welled up within me as I heard her six-year-old voice saying this phrase that is woven through Godly Play stories. I wanted to say, Yes! We are created for this! Instead I smiled to her through the rearview mirror, listened to some ongoing theologizing between the girls, and all the while remained in silent awe and wonder of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their young lives. I am grateful to accompany them as together we draw so close to a God whose movement is to draw close to us.