Living & Growing: Radical presence

Last year on the first day of summer vacation, my newly-graduated, second-grade daughters woke up early to make me breakfast in bed. From the kitchen, I could hear their joyful voices belting out their favorite song from church: “Go Make a Difference.”

The feast they prepared was served to me on a wooden breakfast tray and accented with some freshly picked dandelions arranged in a squat glass jar. As I munched on my salad and raw carrots — apparently they’d been listening the week before when I’d had an in-depth conversation with their father, over a bowl of raw cookie dough, about my deep desire to eat more vegetables — and drank my pitch-black coffee, the girls chattered on about their plans for the summer: what trips we would take, what camps they would attend, and which relatives were coming to visit. Good thing the coffee was strong and the spinach in the salad was full of iron to fortify me in the face of their enviable energy.

Whether you are a work-at-home parent or not, summer often signals an intensification of family time. Whether on vacation, at family reunions or squeezing in an evening hike under a sun that refuses to set, summer’s long days call us to sink into our relationships.

Sofia Cavaletti, an Italian, Roman Catholic theologian known for her work with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, wrote that all relationships require moments of celebration — times when we can live out our connection with particular intensity. In my Catholic Tradition, the Sacraments provide us with moments to celebrate and intensely live our covenant with God.

At Mass recently, my five-year-old son pointed to an icon at the front of our Cathedral of “Our Lady Queen of Peace,” and sounded out the words “Queen of Peace” above the image of Mary holding the infant Jesus. Reflecting on the icon, he whispered to me, “That’s probably because Mary is peace. And Jesus is peace.”

Later on that day he crawled into my lap while I was reading a book and said, “Mom, I want to have some peace with you.” Sitting in the rocking chair with Jackson, I knew the power of a sacramental moment — one that conveyed the grace of God to me through the weight of my growing boy’s head against my heart and the sound of our breathing slowly synchronizing as we “had some peace.”

A few years ago, our Cathedral Women’s Book Group read a book on women’s spirituality with different exercises to try week-by-week. One of my favorites was the practice of taking one or two moments a day to sink into reality and to be fully present to whatever is going on. To do this we were encouraged to choose something that happens predictably each day and to create a mantra, such as, “Katy, when you are reading to your children be conscious of reading to your children.” Or, “Katy, when you are talking to your husband be conscious of talking to your husband.”

Moments to live out our relationships in intensity and peace abound daily. As summer nears, I’d like to take out this practice again and to consciously choose to sink into these moments, which strung together, form a life. From watching the tide come in to visiting Disneyland, parenting calls for radical presence to both the mundane and the extraordinary of everyday life.

Perhaps this practice of trying to be present to the sacramental moments of celebration within my relationships with family and friends may bring some peace and energy to the busy summer months this year, especially when combined with a salad for breakfast and extra strong coffee.

• Katy Beedle Rice is the director of Religious Education at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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