I've been tapped to teach catechism to first graders in our parish.
I'm just going to let that sink in for a minute for all y'all.
Yep, I'm teaching Sunday school. 'Cept we don't meet on Sundays. This all happened by accident--or wait, there are no accidents. Is it divine intervention? Providential guilt for being a somewhat lapsed Catholic? A big, holy joke? I don't know what it all means, but I do know this: When I'm tapped on the shoulder and literally asked to teach a bunch of six and seven year olds that God is Love, I answer the call.
I had signed up Sean for CCD now that he is no longer attending Catholic school. I want him to have formal Catholic education, to make his sacraments, and to become an adult in the Church. How he or his brother regard the dogma of the Catholic church as they get older is entirely up to them. But for now, I think they need a foundation. Something to go on. A framework full of rich history and amazing stories, peppered with lots of rules. The Church has a long, bloody, corrupt and inspirational past. Kind of like the United States, only older...
When I signed up Sean, I checked off the little box next to "willing to volunteer" on one of the forms. A week later I received a call: Did I want to be listed as a sub, as back-up? Sure! I enthusiastically answered. Two days later I received another call: The first grade teacher is out with a broken tibia for at least six to eight weeks, if she comes back at all after that. Would I be willing to fill in--maybe for the entire year?
So here I am. Me. A 36-year-old mother of two. I have a trailer full of transgressions behind me. I have gone months--years!--in my life without going to mass regularly. I question everything. I am at odds with certain dogmatic teachings. I am not perfect. Not holy. I have been married, divorced, remarried. I swear a lot.
But I believe Gandhi, when he said that if you don't see God in all, you don't see God at all. I believe in the Beatitudes. I believe no one should be thrown out. I believe we all deserve second, third, fourth chances. I believe it is not up to us to judge. I believe we should do the best we can do, and that's going to change from day to day. I believe there is a God. I also believe that there is a one true God, too, and that humans have made up a bajillion stories throughout the years to make sense of it all. And that true God is all love, all good, all light, all knowing, all forgiving, and something we can't possibly comprehend, so how on Earth can we label it?
I am grateful beyond words that I have been asked to teach first grade CCD, as opposed to, say, 8th grade. I believe I can handle (read: not get fired for answering) the questions of this age group as opposed to older kids. Our first class was pretty fun and interesting. We brainstormed. I grabbed some chalk, scratched out GOD on the chalkboard, and said, "What do you think of when you think of God?"
After all, these kids are LITTLE. They're not even entirely sure why they're sitting at desks for an hour on a school night to learn about this enigmatic thing that has to do with a guy on a cross. A bloody, thorny man nailed to a cross who loves them and says "Let the children come to me." I mean, when you look at it that way...
I don't point that way of looking at it out to them. No worries.
Anyway, the kids came up with some great answers: God is in your heart. God made things, like rain, snow, fire, and frogs. God made us. God is our friend--he wants to listen to us and he wants us to talk to him about everything, not just when we want something. God wants us to be good to one another. It went on and on.
I think the kids already have it down. It made me kind of sad, in a way, that they've got to learn the dogma, when they already have a pure understanding of God's love in their big, beautiful hearts. But we need the dogmatic teachings, if only to have the information and knowledge to debate, question, and eventually understand that you can spend a lifetime studying the teachings and miss the lesson entirely.
I do not know how fit anyone really is to teach CCD. I guess that's the point. We're human. We're trying our best to make sense of it all. But in the meantime, let's at least remind each other to be a good friend, treat others the way you want to be treated, and trust that something much larger than us--something we can't begin to comprehend--loves us. Call it God, Allah, Krishna.... Call it the Universe. Call it Nothing and claim it doesn't exist.
I will call it God. My God, who was beside me during my beautifully fraught upbringing as an Irish-Italian Catholic kid from 'Staven. (That Catholic childhood was rich in tradition, history, a lot of talk about the Kennedy's, and a genuine sense of faith and love that has carried me through some dark, dark hours.) The God who cuts through the dogma and is simply a quiet, loving presence in my life even when I forget to thank him/her/it. Even when I have ignored God for so long, he has still been there for me when I needed him.
I have laid down on my back on a bench in the Sistine Chapel, against the posted rules of the Vatican, and stared at the ceiling. How else are you supposed to look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, after all? All around me, people were sitting and standing, craning their necks. I was the only one lying down. The only one! The guards seemed almost pleased not to see yet another American moron with a camera around her neck, standing and craning. They smiled at me and looked the other way. The Vatican has gotten so used to truly magnificent art, and a magnificent God, that is has forgotten how to look at either of them.
I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I also believe I have a job to do--and that is to teach a room full of tired first graders that God believes in them.