Church Without Cheerios

Children practice their times tables. They practice for sports. Why should church be any different?

"Annie is learning to sit still," her parents informed me as they prepared for evening prayers before putting the toddler to bed. "It would be unfair to ask Annie to sit still in church unless we practiced it at home," they continued, clearing the kitchen table and setting out the liturgical books and candles for the reading that always closes Annie's day.

I had come for dinner and was staying on for some adult conversation once Annie was in bed. I was amazed as I watched the routine for her unfold. Annie's parents were only in their early twenties, but they'd developed a full set of goals and tools for shaping the young life that had been entrusted to them. As an inexperienced "adopted aunt," I was going to be stepping in as caregiver while Annie's parents attended an out-of-state wedding. That was why I was especially interested in observing and remembering her bedtime routine.

First dishes, then a bath in the kitchen sink, where we also brush teeth and shampoo hair. Jammies, then back to the kitchen for prayers, a little hugging in the rocker, and then bed. "Don't worry if you're a little early or late," her mother assured me. "As long as the sequence is observed, Annie will go to sleep at the end of it, because she knows the routine and what is expected of her. This order gives her security."

The candle was lit, and we sat at the table while Annie's father read the church lessons of the day. I was dumbfounded to see this little child sitting absolutely still and listening attentively, even to words she could not possibly understand. "That doesn't matter," her parents said softly and confidently. "Some day she will understand. Who of us understands completely? The important thing is that we all learn to listen." I thought of the deacon's call before the readings at church: "Wisdom, let us be attentive."


Only 10 minutes ago Annie had been splashing in the sink. Thirty minutes ago, she had been spinning in dizzy circles around the room, obviously enjoying being the center of a guest's attention and clearly wound up a little more than usual on this special company night. Now she was perfectly quiet, somberly studious. Only once during the reading her parents had to remind her, "It's time to be still." She returned instantly to her attentive silence. The readings ended and everyone stood to face the icons. Family prayers were said, with all the relatives and special friends remembered, all names Annie knew. "And now comes her favorite part," grinned her mom. I smiled while Annie puckered to kiss each icon, including the one of her patron saint.

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