You can tell a lot about a person from how they handle a rainy day and tangled Christmas lights. Or even a snowy day and plugged up bottles of Elmer’s glue.
That was my weekend at least. Last Saturday was the retreat for St. Joseph’s Lakota (Sioux) students who have chosen to go through sacramental preparation. In typical South Dakota fashion, the weather didn’t go exactly as envisioned – bad weather and icy roads prevented some family members from joining in the activities.
When we gathered at noon to begin our day, I saw many glum faces gazing in disappointment at the fog and snow coming down outside. Just when I was beginning to feel blue myself, I noticed a young man in a snazzy dress shirt and tie. He really, really, really wanted to be there. I found his enthusiasm inspiring … even infectious.
Our Native American students were divided into groups for the hands-on activities. As they came to the station led by Karen and me in the Art Room, the students regaled us with tales from their other stations—tasting unconsecrated wine (ew yuck!); touching or trying on vestments (perhaps some future inspiration, eh?); baking unleavened bread; learning the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (for which they received candy prizes) and more.
Karen and I were assigned to help the candidates make their stoles for receiving the sacraments. This involved several days of preparation: cutting out 25 white felt stoles and drawing, cutting and assembling an assortment of felt symbols to be glued to the stoles: doves, candles, crosses, hosts and water.
All this done, they day was here. Students were arriving!
When we started, we were stymied by the Elmer’s bottles, which had become plugged with dried glue. I bet Martha Stewart never had days like this… jamming pencils into the bottle necks and slathering the glop onto the cutout chalices and crosses.
Sticky hands, sticky tables and what? A nosebleed?
Somehow it all came out right, even though Karen had to do some serious hot-glue repairs the next day.
I asked one family to pose for a picture and they beamed with pride. Everyone was there to help, even the baby. They surrounded the candidate with hugs and smiles as they assembled his stole.
Another group was definitely feeling the absence of missing family members. They stuck together tightly. All boys, they seemed a little awkward standing there with their stoles and glue. An affectionate family wrestling match broke out and eased the tension. When I asked for a picture, the eldest got quite serious. He put on his stole with the glue still drying. It made him seem older and wiser somehow.
When we all joined together as a large group once again before Mass, the feeling was relaxed and happy. Nate led them all in an unintelligible game of “What if…?”
What if you had to choose to eat a spider or a snake?
“I’d eat a spider!”
You would eat a spider? Are you crazy??
The boys couldn’t get enough of it and they hung on him like he was a jungle gym.
What could I take away from this mini-retreat? As always, I was awed by the contagious power of joy. When a person has it, they can’t help but pass it on.
I was also reminded of God’s love — a love that knows and accepts in all circumstances; a love that calls by name and overlooks the mess and the fuss; a love that is felt even when it can’t always be seen “in person;” a love that does not forget or abandon.
I feel fortunate to help prepare these precious children for a deeper relationship with God. I feel even more blessed in how they help my faith to grow as well.
Thank you to St. Joseph’s many benefactors who make learning like this possible!