JOLIET – Years ago as a young mother, I was “mentored” by a 1950s Catholic author by the name of Mary Reed Newland.
Newland had written a series of books about parenting, but also about celebrating the liturgical year with children in a hands-on way using budget-friendly materials. I used and modified a number of her ideas during my child-raising years, including one for Lent that required an odd collection of items.
These were a Stations of the Cross booklet, two shoeboxes, Plaster of Paris and utility candles – you know, the type of white candles grocery stores sold in a box to keep on hand in case the power went out.
Basically, one poured the plaster into the shoebox to set the candles and then peeled away the shoebox once the plaster hardened. Then the plaster was painted in black, traditionally a color for Lent.
I had a friend who’s school-age son did plaster projects, and I “hired” him to create ours. I think he charged me $5, and our family used the two “candelabras” for many years.
The Stations of the Cross – for those who aren’t familiar with the devotion – is a series of 14 meditations on the final events in Jesus’ life – from Pontius Pilate condemning Jesus to death to Jesus’ burial.
During the evenings of Lent, we would light the candles, turn out the lights and then read one station at a time. At the end of each station, we would blow out a candle. (The kids would take turns. It was a good way to keep them focused).
When we reached the 12th station – Jesus dies on the cross – the entire room would be dark. It was a dramatic way of teaching that spiritual truth that Jesus is the light of the world, and one the kids remembered.
We then sang a short hymn, turned on the lights and finished the prayers.
With Lent having begun Wednesday for Christians in the western traditions (including Roman Catholics and Protestants) – and beginning Monday for Christians of the eastern traditions (including Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox), the conversation often turns to “what people are giving up.”
Although each tradition has its own guidelines for fasting and abstinence, people often want to do a little more – perhaps give up a bad habit or acquire a virtuous one.
One blogger who posted in Joliet Connect the other day (Joliet Connect is The Herald-News Facebook group) thought she might give up complaining for the next 40 days. The minute I read that, I became acutely aware of how much complaining I actually do.
And – what a great idea! Because it’s more than “giving up” something. To refrain from complaining (even within one’s spirit) automatically fosters dwelling on blessings instead.