January 2022

Volume  101, Number 5

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As the curtain draws open to herald a New Year, I ease cautiously upon the stage, cradling a concoction of bewilderment, wonderment and promise, and yet to begin, I want to share my solace from the following words of wisdom.

If I can look at the New Year as an opportunity to stand on new ground, then strength and courage are on my side. I will remember that things do work out... not because I said it, but because I believe it. But it is time to make things right, to stay on the path. As water runs fresh and free from the woodland spring, so new life and meaning will bubble up from my own inner source. I will be still and steady, because there is nothing to be gained by showing fear in a chaotic world.¹

I dare to enter the honorable company of a respectful tangle of authors, poets, therapists, clergy and spiritual gurus whose breadth and depth of insight delves far deeper than my own. Their musings over the torment of the past couple years—some humorous, some deeply introspective—soothed my own entanglement in fear and confusion. Their gifted reverie has endowed me with the courage to imagine a future of possibility and disengage from the murky swamp of immobility.

And so, the doors of our SPRED meeting room at Queen of Apostles parish center stretched wide to welcome back our catechists and friends at the advent of October. There wasn’t a mask that could obscure the excitement and affection that radiated from both catechists and friends. My friend comfortably greeted me with a simple fist-bump and made an effort to whisper my name. Delighted parents greeted one another to celebrate the reunion that had been imagined and carefully planned for more than a year. We were back!

Our hallowed room sparkled with welcome freshness. Furniture had been rearranged, some removed, to provide space and easier movement around the room. Seating at each table allowed ample space between partner and friend. Familiar activities shined, sanitized and displayed carefully enticed exploration and provided comfort.

Our silence activity—our simple rite of election—heightened the anticipation of each member as they relished their special greeting and personal call to their place in the celebration circle—our holy room.  A slight modification was made to allow comfortable spacing between each chair. The community encircled the Holy Book that was enthroned on our artistically carved table and was graced with flowers and candle. We were home!

Catechesis unfolded with a spirit of gratitude and joy—a sacred reunion. The personal and prayerful reverencing that accompanied the message stirred a sense of the sacred and a profound assurance of God with us. We celebrated with easy movement to the song that followed. Hands free, we found personal expression from within.

Agape—our meal of fellowship—our evocation of a Eucharistic meal—deepened our attention to one another and an appreciation of the unfolding of this blessed evening. Tables brought together, were carefully arranged for ample spacing between each person. The tables were dressed with our special tableware, flowers and candles. Each member took their place. The activity and leader catechists moved around the tables to place an enticing morsel on each plate followed by a simple and delicious beverage. A prayer of thanksgiving led to an invitation to enter the feast—the breaking of bread; to indulge in the tasty offering; to take time to relish the gift.

Masks replaced, our SPRED family delighted in laughter and conversation. The evening closed with a sense of deep gratitude, as we celebrated with our closing song. Yes! We are back! All is well!

Nearly two years ago, as we were keenly aware, life was painfully altered. SPRED programs around the world were forced to close the doors and put their ministry on the shelf. And so, we withdrew for a time, as did the world, into our darkened corners of fear and despair. We were frozen in time without the ability to imagine the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As church doors closed and ministries were halted, we lost our sense of purpose. And, for a time, we needed to wallow in the mud. Resurrection would demand a full measure of faith, hope and trust. In the company of the masses, I found myself stuck for a time, wrapped in the shadow of the imposing demon.

Six months into the pandemic, the deep void in my life without SPRED urged me to explore and wrestle with new scenarios for the promise of reunion. Offered a return to my office and the building that houses our treasured place of gathering, as a solitary explorer, I spent time ruminating and probing the viability for revival.
I sat in the welcoming arms of our celebration room in prayer and reflection. Once I had absorbed the idea that returning to our SPRED communities would involve adjustment and re-creation, I gradually embraced the potential for rebirth. I indulged in a fresh and exciting encounter with the possibilities that awaited discovery. Yearning for rebirth, my very being gradually embraced a new perspective. Life had shifted and been permanently altered, setting the stage for new insight.

My heart informed me that honor must drive every imagining. There would be no rebirth without an inherent respect for our friends and their families, as well as the catechists and their families. Paramount to my work of planning must be a deep esteem for the SPRED Method and the carefully prepared environment that is essential to the catechetical process. 

 

As the year ahead unfolded, SPRED communities everywhere explored creative venues to maintain contact with their friends. Zoom meetings, parades to homes to drop off cookies and other treasures, Christmas carols and treats, phone calls and home visits evidenced an abundance of love around the world. Caring encounters heralded the deep hunger for reunion. All clung tenaciously to hope.

After a year of reflection, a series of four virtual gatherings drew more than a hundred SPRED catechists to explore the possibilities. Points for consideration were offered including preparation of the meeting space, safety measures, honoring the safety protocols of the various dioceses, and, most paramount, was the inclusion of all catechists and families of our friends in any discussion. Honest, open dialogue would be the most assured path to address the fears, hopes and comfort of all. There would be no room for presumptions. We agreed to look to the wisdom of our parents and their children who weather so many storms, often as a daily routine.

Author Paul Wadell shared this story years ago. It echoes the story of so many.

A child is born to us, a son is given us, but it was not the son they expected. Two months early and gasping for life, this Christmas morning gift took them by surprise and turned their lives inside out. His manger was a small, flat table in the neonatal unit where children are not expected to survive. He was not wrapped in swaddling clothes but in needles, tape and tubes that covered every inch of his innocent flesh. He was born with cerebral palsy.²

We look to the friends we welcome and to the parents who walk with them for inspiration. They are a powerful witness of the tenacity needed to face the challenges of moving ahead in faith. From birth, they have learned to maneuver and bend in the quest for a respectful place in life. Since birth, our friends entered an arena that pushes, prods and fashions them to fit into the expectations of society. Parents arise each day to walk that journey with them. Their perseverance can serve as an inspiration to embrace the unfamiliar and tolerate the uncomfortable for the sake of Love. They will show us the way.

Today as I drove along Lake Shore Drive, threatening grey clouds cloaked the city skyline. They wrapped menacingly around the towering giants of downtown Chicago, hinting at the foreboding of snow. As SPRED
communities embrace the morsels of hope waiting in each tomorrow, they will inspire one another into a longed-for homecoming.

Winter is a time of recollection. Winter affords us the time to assess where we have been and the possibilities for our path ahead. As we pass through the winter solstice and look to the promise of light, it is an
invitation to embrace an attitude of hope.

The ancient Celtic wheel of the year honors not just the obvious quarterly turns of the sun and seasons, but the finer midpoints, of cross-quarter signals that change is constant; even in a year that turns predictably around the sun, back to where we’ve been, everything is new again. An ever-changing yet prescribed, cotillion. The known dance to the music of Mystery and held in Love’s ballroom.³

Julia Hess, Chicago Community Religious Worker
Queen of Apostles SPRED Resource Center

  1. Helen Exley, In Beauty May I Walk, Words of Wisdom by Native American Indians, Creative Ltd. 1997

  2. Paul Wadell, Developmental Disabilities and Sacramental Access, Pondering the Anomaly of God’s Love, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 1994

  3. Catherine M. O’Meara, The Daily Round, The Quickening of the Year, February 1, 2021

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