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Monday, October 22, 2007

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

All of our children began their prayers with Amen. That may seem backward, but it wasn't. You see, they first learned that Amen is a word related to prayer.

So, every time we said grace, or prayed over them when they were sick or scared, or prayed with them at night, and, of course, when we were at church, they would hear this word Amen. Amen meant prayer to them. So, each one of them would start saying Amen, amen, amen, to "pray" with us. Jerome has been at this stage for some time now. He amens his way through church and our prayer times at home.

This morning, I was thrilled to see him learning another prayer. He woke up starving and demanding mook (milk). So, I put him in his high chair with some milk, and started breaking a banana into little pieces for him to eat while I got breakfast for the rest of the family. Since he cannot pray, I pray aloud for him, thanking God for the food and ask God's blessing on him. I ended the prayer in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jerome immediately stopped shoveling banana in his mouth, put his thumb, index and middle finger on his right hand together, and tapped his shoulder and his chest.

We couldn't have trained him to do that. It would have been frustrating for him and for us. He has learned from watching his parents and siblings and observing the people at church that those words correspond with a physical act of prayer. Just as we bow at the cross, kneel in confession and genuflect to the living presence of the Lord in the altar, we make the sign of the cross. He doesn't understand the Trinity, nor what the sign of the cross signifies, in fact he can't really make the sign of the cross, but he is being formed to know and understand those things. His faith and conscience are being developed by the things he experiences and observes. It is our job to help him form his character now, but this training will help him form his own character when he is grown up.

I had a conversation a while back with a dear friend of mine who lives in Israel and is (with her husband and children) an observant Orthodox Jew. She related how proud she was to see her eldest son imitating the praying motions her husband did. We talked about how happy we were to see that these were the things our children picked up. At that point, Elijah was in the habit of elevating his psalter at church as he saw the gospel being elevated by the priest, and it just delighted us to see him doing it. She had no illusions that he suddenly understood all of the Jewish tradition, only that he was acting out what was normal for him to see in his home, neither did we think that suddenly Elijah should be made a priest. Her son was trying to do those things he saw in his parents.

All parents know that children find a great deal of security and comfort in a routine. What children also gain is instruction on those things that matter to the family, the values and beliefs that are conveyed in far more than the meager lessons in faith or ideology that are given in child friendly language. A child learns what his family loves and believes by what they do and say as a matter of routine.

It can, in fact, be discouraging explicitly teaching your children your beliefs. They fidget, don't seem to listen, can't remember what you said or read, don't make the connections you think are obvious. There are times when Rich and I have looked at each other with raised eyebrows and wondered what the point of our daily prayers, scripture readings and meditations on the lives of the saints is. There are times when we want to throw up our hands and quit, because our children are so clearly not getting it.

Moments like this morning are what keep us going. After days of yelling at our children to Get downstairs so we can worship and glorify God! for crying out loud, and interupting our prayers to pull Amira away from the window, put the crying baby down for nap, or tell Elijah to save his story for later, and feeling like I am wasting our time, Alexander will hear the epistle from St. Paul and ask me if that is why we have the general confession before we celebrate the Eucharist. Dominic will light up and tell me that those words from the Last Supper are what Fr. Joseph says every Sunday. Elijah, while eating his lunch, will ask me theological questions that adults struggle with, and wait while I explain in my feeble way (praying that my simplification doesn't introduce heresy to my son). Amira sings ancient church hymns as she colors and plays. They live out what they see and hear. Then, we heave a sigh of relief and realize they are getting it, and it gives us the hope and strength to keep on keeping on.

Each of them has a little understanding, some more than others, but at this point they are mostly imitating what they learn by observation. We see how much they understand when they live out the principles we teach them, when they make the connections, and even more exciting to us, when they teach their siblings about right and wrong, who our Lord is, or how important it is to pray. Right now, Jerome doesn't know that there is a different way than what he sees at home. He doesn't understand our faith, but he is being trained and molded to walk in that way. As he grows older, he will learn and have to make choices to either remain in this path or turn another way. Seeing his little attempt to pray with us this morning gives me all the encouragement I need to continue seeing that his character and habits are being shaped in the way we know to be right. We have no guarantees that he will always stay on this path, but we are forging the path for him and with him, so if he gets lost and wishes to return, it will be there, ready for him to walk in it again.

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Proverbs 22:6
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (NIV)

Ephesians 6:4
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (NIV)

Wish I could have seen Jerome. Thank God for the faith of children.

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