The only (relatively) important point here is this one: Peace is an inside job.
If you’re just scrolling through and see only the first line because you’ve got a busy day and don’t have time to read more, then you’re all set, with just that first line. If you’re here for a little while longer, then here’s the rest.
For context, I’m a trained Sunday school teacher, meaning I have two pieces of paper certifying that I completed two levels of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training. The short description I’ll give of that work, “children’s religious education, Montessori-style,” definitely does not match what you’ll read on the CGS website, but I’ve never been that kind of conformist. I don’t mean to be disrespectful here; I just think layers of lofty seriousness often become barriers where we need more open doors.
Anyway, the back story is that I married a recovering Catholic who does not ever willingly attend any church, so our children’s religious education was up to me, and their religious education was important to me for education’s sake, more than a matter of faith. I wanted them to have some basis on which they could make their own decisions, in time, about faith traditions and practice. I also, quite frankly, wanted them to know, for example, the story of David and Goliath, a reference sure to appear throughout their lives.
So I started taking my children to Sunday school, and while they were in their rooms I would read a book or read the paper, and that is just the truth.
One Sunday when my daughter was about three, I was sitting outside her little classroom (I would later learn to call it an “Atrium,” not a classroom…) and I could hear the sounds of little children running amok. I peeped into the room and saw that there was only one adult and 12 or more little children. I asked if she would like a hand. That’s how it started.
A few months later I began the official training. “You’re not going to go all Jesus-y on me, are you?” the recovering Catholic asked. “Of course not,” said I. “Episcopalians aren’t like that.”
Since I was raised Presbyterian, not Episcopalian, the training was two-fold for me. I was learning the liturgy and learning how to invite children to discover the liturgy, and all of this was, in the majority, a tidy intellectual process that also involved a little singing and a lot of candles.
I completed Level I training, for work with children ages three to six, and then jumped into Level II training (children ages six to nine), so I could move along with my daughter.
If it’s been a while since you’ve worked with young children (or if that’s something entirely foreign to you), here’s a snapshot of children in these two age groups: When presented with the work of making a folder, drawing pictures on the cover to make the folder personal, younger children (3-6) will draw pretty flowers and stars and sometimes Lego figures or action heroes, while older children – particularly boys – will sometimes draw start and flowers but will also draw something funny, with a funny title, like: “This is a picture of Sam’s butt.” No, I did not make that up (though I did change the child’s name).
In this Level II work, there is a presentation (they’re not called lessons, because they aren’t traditional lessons, because, again, “Montessori-style Sunday school”) about the passing of the peace.
(Ah, you might be thinking, finally we’re getting to the point? And we are….)
In training to make this presentation and do this particular work with the children, we, the soon-to-be-Catechists, were guided very firmly to make clear to the children that passing the peace is a friendly but reverential gesture, that it is a hand clasp, not a high five, a controlled movement, not a funky peace sign in the air. Episcopalians lean toward being a little stiff and formal, which is why I’ll never really fit in even though it is the faith tradition I choose, for other reasons that are all my own.
In my admittedly-limited (but not that limited) experience, some children take naturally to this calm, restrained, gentle passing of the peace. And other children are, in gesture, exactly the same humans who draw “This is a picture of Sam’s butt.” And they are all, if we’re truly invested in the spirit of the work, children of God.
I quit teaching Sunday school years ago. To retain qualifications, all youth education volunteers, including coaches and Sunday school teachers, were required to take annual training about child sex abuse, and part of that training included watching a video of a man who lured and abused children for many years. I watched it once, because I didn’t know what was ahead, and vowed never to watch it again, ever. But the requirement was firm, and it came from higher up than just our parish or even our diocese, and my refusal meant I was out.
Having set the habit for my daughter, though, she continued to want to go to Sunday school and to Sunday service, and eventually to serve as an acolyte. So I was free from teaching but not free from going on Sundays, and the highlight of every Sunday was watching children be their true selves when it came time to pass the peace, all formal training be damned. I love this about children, and I always will.
Then the pandemic shut everything down, and church services in particular.
Services moved online, and many priests got busy writing more frequent messages to the scattered members of their flocks. Upside? The flocks disbursed and reconfigured; it because as easy to follow a faith leader in another city (or state) (or country) as to stay connected at home.
One of my favorite pieces from early in the pandemic was written by the Dean of Trinity Cathedral (Cleveland, OH), Rev. BJ Owens. In a short but lovely post Rev. Owens wrote specifically about the tradition and spirit of passing the peace:
I suspect that this disruption is the first time we Episcopalians had to collectively reflect on the meaning of the peace since it was first (re)introduced in 1979. So let’s not miss the opportunity of the moment: let’s use this time to recall the ancient meaning and practice of the peace, a gesture that we need now more than ever: it’s a greeting of love, reconciliation, forgiveness, renewal, and seeing the face of God in the ones we meet. It is a moment to dwell in the presence of others, to be reminded that our faithful journey is walked with others beside us.Rev. Bernard J. (“BJ”) Owens, Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, OH
I’ve been thinking, in recent days, about this notion of passing the peace, of saying, “Peace be with you,” whether in a formal faith setting or online yoga class. The notion of greeting, love, and reconciliation, of seeing the divine in the people we meet, is quite lovely.
But no one can give something they don’t first possess. I can’t wish in you a peaceful heart if I haven’t first worked to cultivate a peace of my own, if I am not at peace with myself. That work belongs to each of us to do alone, together.
At the close of every session in the Atrium, we gathered, children and adults, settling into a circle for a little singing, candle lighting, and reflection. One Sunday, the artist who gave me “This is a picture of Sam’s butt” was unusually, uncharacteristically quiet. I asked what was on his mind, and he said: “Sometimes I just like to sit here an look at the candle.”
Food | August 29, 2021
I know; food day was yesterday, because Saturdays are almost always food days around here, right? But here’s the thing: I prepare food every day. Every single day. Not just on Saturdays, but Sunday-through-Friday as well. And if I’m going to follow through on this nutty decision to post every day, and since I prepare food every day, shouldn’t every post have a food-themed end cap?
Since today is Sunday, let’s talk about Sunday cooking.
My daughter – the same one and only daughter for whom I became a trained Sunday school teacher – once spent an extended summer vacation with a friend and her grandmother at the grandmother’s lake house. And at the lake house, when they were tired from being on the boat or hiking or swimming, they binge-watched TV series collections. Little House on the Prairie and Blue Bloods were my daughter’s favorites (and no, don’t ask me to make sense of that for you). When she came back home that summer, she wanted us to have Sunday family dinner just like the family on Blue Bloods, all of us at the table, eating a more involved meal than we would have on an ordinary weeknight.
On occasion, I actually pulled it off, and it was always enjoyable in surprising ways. I found myself, on these Holy Grail Sundays, cooking something I might not ordinarily cook and sometimes even making a dessert. In the pre-pandemic days, I went to a yoga class at 4:00 on Sundays, so I would take advantage of the time away to do some hands-off cooking: roast chicken, for example, or, in winter, Ina Garten’s Beef Bourguignon.
Now that she is older and a little more adventuresome in her eating, I’ve used Sundays to work on my Indian food cooking skills (thanks to a cooking (and writing) (and life) friend, I have two Meera Sodha books to use as guides.
At the market yesterday, Mrs. Lockard had lovely plums (which taste nothing like the kerosene-flavored commercial ones from the supermarket, I promise), and I bought more than I’ll eat before they become overripe, so tonight for Sunday dinner I’m going to branch out and try Sodha’s Hydrabadi Chicken Kofta with Plums. Maybe you bought plums and will try it, too?
I’ll report back, in either event.
Be well. Pray for New Orleans, and for everyone in the path of the storm.
It must not go unwritten: Peace.
This post is 20/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.