by Anne Marie Murphy.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "the spiritual life of children"? I never knew children had a spiritual life until I was introduced to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Montessori approach to catechism, while I was stationed at our house in Winslow, Arizona.
One of the most meaningful experiences I had in the Atrium (the specially set up place where this catechesis takes place), occurred when I was an observer in another catechist’s class.
As an observer, you sit on a stool and just watch the children work. This is one of the hardest lessons for an adult to learn—to let the child work and let the Holy Spirit work, and not get in the way of either of them.
The children had been given a presentation of new material, and now they were able to choose whichever materials they wished to work with on their own.
I watched a little girl of about four take down the Nativity material from the shelf. Unrolling a mat to work on, she sat on the floor and started to put the figures in place.
There were the sheep and the shepherds on a field of green felt, various animals to put in the stable, and of course, Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
At first she re-enacted the gospel story as her catechist had taught her. The angel came down and announced the Good News, and at once the shepherds hurried off with their sheep to see the newborn Babe.
Then all of a sudden she started to move the figures in a way I didn’t remember. I stopped myself from going over and asking her what she was doing. I thought she was doing something wrong. We had never showed her this!
She had taken Baby Jesus out of his manger, and he was crawling along the floor. He looked like a real baby, but my adult mind thought this seemed irreverent. I knew the child had a baby sister, and I figured she was probably imitating what her baby sister did. I continued to sit quietly and watch.
Now as Baby Jesus continued to crawl, she started to make little whining noises. What was she up to? Baby Jesus crawled up the side of the wooden stable and onto the roof. Still the little noises could be heard.
I was hoping Baby Jesus wouldn’t fall off the roof and break his neck. Should I intervene and tell her that this wasn’t how she had been shown how to use the materials? (We do this sometimes if a child is using the materials in a destructive way.)
But unbeknownst to me the little girl had a destination in mind for Baby Jesus. He crawled to the edge of the roof where she had hidden the tiniest sheep from the shepherds’ flock. So that was the source of the noise she had been making.
The little sheep on the roof had been calling out, and Jesus had left the warmth of the manger and crawled up on the roof in his diaper to find it!
Wow! I got it! This was the whole point of the catechesis. This little girl had taken two presentations from different parts of Jesus’ life, his birth and the parable of the Good Shepherd, and combined them making them her own.
In her mind, even as a little baby, Jesus was the Good Shepherd who wouldn’t hesitate to leave his manger bed if he heard a lost sheep calling to him.
As I continued to watch, Baby Jesus picked up his lost sheep and together they crawled down off the roof of the stable and together they went into the manger where she covered them both with his swaddling clothes.
She finished her work and put everything away while I thrilled at the glimpse the Holy Spirit had given me into the spiritual life of a child.
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