On Children and the Eucharist

There’s a child in your arms, or perhaps in front of you, a squirmy little person accompanying you to receive the Eucharist. With each step you draw closer to the Priest and now the moment has arrived. The spoon draws closer and…

People are sometimes surprised at the communing of infants and young children in an Orthodox church but it’s something we encourage and hope develops into a lifelong positive spiritual encounter. Yet people sometimes wonder what do with their child when the time comes to receive the Holy Gifts. As a Priest of a decade plus I have some ideas.

The first is that you, as a parent, be a regular communicant yourself. More than anything else your children will learn, not from your words, but your actions. If they see you receiving the Eucharist often they will become comfortable with the same. The youngest, especially, need to be assured that everything is “okay” and you can do this by taking the Eucharist often, and when they are with you, before they do so they know what to do and how to do it.

Never force a child to receive the Eucharist. I have seen parents tilt a crying child back and force their mouths open and every time that happens I cringe. That sends a terrible message about what the Eucharist is and, quite frankly, who God is and the trauma can be difficult for a child to shake. I know you want your child to comply and I know you want to child to receive the blessing of the Eucharist. Force, though, never helps.

You don’t have to lift the child up under the arms so I can reach them. I am more than happy to bend down and let them take the Holy Gifts standing up. If you have an infant, of course, you can hold them in your arms but toddlers are perfectly welcome to “toddle” up and I will go to meet them. In fact one of my great joys is to bend down to meet a child where they are with the Eucharist. It’s good for me, and them, spiritually. Me to reach to them and for them to stand as a person in their own right.

Don’t be embarrassed about crying, whiny, or wiggly babies. That’s what they do and I’m not bothered by it in the least. I will adjust to them and do my best. If they really don’t want to receive, for whatever reason, I will bless them and we can both move on. The vast majority of the people in the church won’t care about babies and their noises and if someone complains I can talk to them privately later. You don’t have to have a perfect kid to come up front, and you don’t have top be perfect either because I certainly am not.

Finally, always bring your children to church for any service. The seeds you plant in these days will bear fruit well into eternity. It’s okay if they’re being kids sometimes. It can’t always be helped. Do your best and know that our doors are always open to you and your children every time the church is open.

 

 

Of Cemeteries and Life…

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The miles passed beneath our wheels as we headed west from the city to the Minnesota prairie. Among the towns that dot the rolling hills and open sky is Osakis, a small dot on the map with a life all its own, a town nurtured first by farms and then by tourists who come to the lake just off of downtown.

There were things for us to do in Osakis, possessions to clear away and graves to clean after the winter snows left them inaccessible. A family member had died in that same winter, just before Christmas past, and before the family went their separate ways for the summer there were things to handle. So back home we went past farms and fields to a place rich, like many small towns, with the memories of people who long ago left but somehow still feel they belong.

Arriving, we sat for a while and filled the air with small talk first putting boxes of knick knacks together for a rummage sake and then gathering in the car for the trip to the graves. In a small town nothing at least the cemeteries are not far away and in the time for a sentence or two we were at the graves of grandparents on the Protestant side of the family. We stood for a while and retold a few stories about who, and when, and where, put the flowers in place and then returned to the car. Next was a brother of the family, by himself in a cemetery west of town, a new one because even if prairie towns don’t grow their cemeteries can and do. Arriving we repeated both the rituals and the stories as we looked around the cemetery.

Here there was a stone for a baby who lived just over a week. They would have been in high school and driving now had death not intervened. A few feet away was the grave of a young man around 20. Pulling aside a metal cover you could still see a color photograph of a boy, really, who’s journey stopped for reasons that weren’t shared but at the bottom of his stone was an inscription “Mike, my friend, my friend.”

In what seemed like no time at all after leaving we were at our final destination. My father in law had died in 1985, his wife just before last Christmas. After decades apart they were finally next to each other in presence as they had been in spirit for all those years. There were flowers for that grave, too, and thoughts among us because the memories of her passing were still so fresh. Around that grave there were others of the family, each of them eliciting a story. For the most part they were pleasant but some were hard because lasts longer than death but so do some kinds of wounds. No one cried, though, because I suppose we all felt some pang but we also knew that this was the way things are.

Not too far away from these family graves are the graves my wife and I will one day inhabit. They sit on a hill overlooking a lake in the farm country a few miles south of Osakis. I know there are more years behind than ahead of me and that perhaps, one day, some members of the family will visit my resting place, clean the headstone, and put up some flowers. My hope is that anyone who comes will hear what I hear when I visit the graves of those I love, a voice of hope from heaven and the insistent whisper of God reminding us all to live holy, true, and well.

 

 

Since Childhood…

my mind has been filled with many thoughts from the sublime to the ridiculous and often more than one at a time. There is a beauty and creativity to it and a frustration as well. It’s also why I truly enjoy the focus of performing music live, of sharing homilies, and of serving at the Altar. In each of those there’s a need to be in the moment as completely as possible and when that happens there is for me both great challenge and a great peace. Someday, presuming that heaven is my lot (and for this I trust God and not myself) I believe that one of the greatest joys of it will be having only one thought, that being God. That for me will be a most sublime rest.

 

 

The Tree is Set and Lit…

in white as the darkness falls over St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s been a rainy day, warmer than usual and the ground is still soft without a blanket of snow. There’s a warmth in the house, a warmth of electric lights, an occasional burst from the furnace, and the sense of being in the same comfortable place where you’ve spent more than twenty years.

In these days preceding Christmas there is both a kind of busy rush and moments of quiet that dance with each other throughout the day. In the quiet moments I’m visited, like clockwork, by people and memories from the distant pass. Friends from school. People I’ve loved who’ve gone to be with God. Moments in time and memories of Christmas past. Each is a little pause in the rush of time. Each is a little gift. Each becomes very special and present and alive this time of year like welcome visitors from a long journey.

I hope the friends who have walked with me for whatever time are being blessed in this season. I hope they have food enough, warmth enough, and people who love them in abundance. I pray that those who are with God have found the promised rest and never grow in that place where time means nothing in the light of eternity. I hold on to the memories as a kind of nourishment, food for the journey home.

And now my mind wanders back to my grandmother, my mother’s mother and the only grandmother I ever knew. I remember her kind face, the house she shared with my grandfather, and the gifts that would make their way north like clockwork about this time of year.

They were slippers, hand knit and always just the right size. They came from Florida or later Arkansas where my grandparents spent the winter. I don’t necessarily remember the colors but they were always done with a kind of art that only comes from a person who really knows how, and likes, to knit. One pair each, and all of us boys got them every year. They were warm and most of all they were great for getting a running start and sliding across any smooth surface. Mostly I think we wore them out about spring time and so we needed new every Christmas. More than just something to wear they were a kind of reminder that we had people out there, far away, thinking about us and sending something special, something they made themselves, as a reminder.

My grandmother died in 1982. Has it really been that long? Sometimes when people ask me to share a favorite memory of the Christmas season I remember and talk about those slippers and how much I miss her and how much I wish I could get just one more pair for Christmas. There’s a sadness to that, but a joy as well because when I recall it’s if as the years have vanished and I am somewhere back there and we are not that far apart after all.

And there is peace.

 

Sometimes I Cry…

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because the leg is so uncomfortable. The knee is new but to place it there muscles had to be stretched well beyond the range of comfort, muscles now telling me with pain about what happened when I was under anesthesia.Sleep is hard to come by because just when you find a comfortable spot your leg reminds you of what occurred a little over two weeks ago. I sit in the house, a lot. I hobble up around the block with a cane just to keep things moving. It gets better, but often so slowly that it’s hard to notice. I wonder why I signed up for this sometimes.

Yet, at the same time I’ve had moments when I’ve been buoyed by the knowledge that people are praying for me. I have people caring for me who have been gracious and kind. I am being humbled by not being strong and yet learning so much about the grace that comes in weakness. I’ve cared for people all my life and now I have to learn about how to be cared for, a humbling and challenging thing for a person who’s pride was often too much about being strong, capable, and in control.I simply cannot be strong for anyone but myself these days and anything I have is grace because my body is still far from recovered by the short term damage done for my long term healing. I must wait. I must be patient. I must be many things that are hard for me so I can be better.

Little things are so much more important now. A few minutes outside in the sun. Little acts of kindness seem like amazing gifts. My wife helping me get on my socks. The cat sitting on my lap. The autumn trees outside my living room window. Even the shortest trip in a car. I wish I could do so much more, and sometimes tears of frustration well up in me but I’m coming to understand things about God and myself that I perhaps could have never learned otherwise.

In time I will be better. The knee that feels swollen and painful will give way to way to one that works so that I walk and be free of pain. A little while longer, one hour, one day, one week or however but it will come. Until then, in my own way, I am God’s wheat.