This is from our “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Explained” series written for our March 2019 Parish Newsletter by Laura Nelson, Coordinator of Children’s Catechesis.

“What does pouring beans have to do with learning about Jesus?”

Ok, maybe I haven’t actually had someone ask me that question but I can almost read some parents’ minds when they first see that one of the works for the child in the Atrium is pouring beans. And I can understand why they might be confused or even a little concerned.  After all, If I sign my teenager up for a driver’s ed course, I don’t want them learning to sew, right?  That’s not what I signed them up for!

But, there’s a reason the children learn to first pour beans and then, when they’re ready, water.  It’s the same reason we have them working with a lot of what we call “Practical Life” materials, to prepare them for prayer.

Think about it this way. Imagine that you don’t know how to drive. In fact, you’ve never even been in a car before. Now, imagine that someone gives you the keys, puts you in the car, and expects you to race in the Indianapolis 500.  Would you be ready to race? NO!  You don’t have the skills to drive a car in an empty parking lot much less to race an endurance race at top speeds through a sea of other fast-moving cars.

It can be like that for a child who is expected to pray easily without being taught the skills they need to enable them to pray.  In the Level 1 Atrium (for ages 3-6), we spend a lot of time offering the child materials that will help them build focus, concentration, and self-control.  Without those things, it’s impossible to pray.  Without self-control, we can’t settle our bodies to listen for God’s voice and we can’t control our will.  If we can’t control our will, we can’t choose to pray.  And, without the skills of focus and concentration, we can’t settle our minds into prayerful communion with our Lord Jesus.

So, yes, in the Atrium we pour beans.  Then we pour water (which is much harder). We even polish silver and wood.  And when the child works with these materials they’re gaining the skills they need so that they can answer the question we often ask them that leads them into a life of prayer, “What would you like to say to Jesus about this?”

I think we adults have a lot to learn from observing the young children in the Atrium.  It’s a reminder to us to slow down and focus, to calm our minds and bodies so that we can to reflect on God’s Word in Scripture, and to respond to Jesus’ invitation when we do.  If we can remember that our participation in prayer depends in part on the cooperation of our minds and bodies, we can prioritize that as part of our own preparation for our time with God.  If we rush into that time without a focused mind and a settled body, we may as well be a racecar driver without a driver’s license.