Most of the time, as a professor, I am busy with meetings and photocopying and reports and classroom preparation and writing and so on, and then when I come home, I am inundated with housework and cooking. Throw in a few other non-home or non-work commitments, and you could say I have a rather busy life - non-stop.
You might think that one of my non-work commitments, working as a Catechist of the Good Shepherd at my parish, would be one of those things that just adds to the busy-ness.
I suppose in a way, it does. My atrium started up again this week, and I am exhausted from doing the cleaning and maintenance of the space that I must do to be ready for the children. For my readers unfamiliar with the terminology, the atrium is the name for the environment I set up for the children in my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program on Sunday mornings. I am a catechist for 3-6 year olds. I hope one day to add the next level (6-9 year olds) and perhaps even 9-12 year olds. It is an "atrium" because it is meant to be not quite church, not quite home, but a place that opens up both of those spaces. The word is a recognition that children receive most of their catechesis from their church and home families, and only a small bit from the 1.5 hours they have with me on Sunday mornings.
Not that what we do on Sunday is unimportant - quite the contrary! The atrium is a place where children can come and learn about the mass using small replicas of the altar table, chalice and paten that they see in church. They think about the mystery of life and death by growing wheat seeds and thinking about Jesus's saying: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain...." We use 2-D wood figures of a good shepherd and sheep to think about what Jesus means when he says "I am the Good Shepherd... I know my sheep and I call them by name...." How great it must be to be known that way, to be called by name! All of these are ultimately aimed toward helping the young child fall in love.
Ah, but it's a way for me to fall in love too.
Because the atrium is a time for me to remember to be contemplative too, to recover my practices of prayer that went out the window with all the activity of the summer. Just as I show the children that they cannot move quickly or suddenly, so my own pace becomes slower. And I always have to remember not to speak and move at the same time - for younger children get distracted if you do too much. Being with the children is an unschooling of my multi-tasking ways, which is a very good thing. It turns out, pretty much anything I want to do turns out worse if I multi-task than if I can focus on it long enough to do it well.
At the end of each week's atrium session, I turn out the lights and light the candles; I might read a short Psalm with the children, and we just sit. We enjoy the light and the silence and each other.
I'm always amazed that the children are able to sit still for so quiet and so long - but maybe I'm even more amazed, these days, that I can sit still for so long too....