Okay, so this morning I was filling in at a colleague's church and it was time for the Children's Time/Sermon/Moment--it's called something different in every church. And these Children's Moments are not my forte. I mean, I was good with my own kids when they were little. Then again, I gave birth to kids who somehow grooved on me reading them poets who were super-cynical or simply insane. Maybe it was because they depended upon me for their daily bread and Happy Meals. Nevertheless, they did tolerate me reading excerpts from the mad eighteenth-century poet, Christopher Smart's "For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffry":
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
(Trust me, this poem goes on forever.)
My daughters just never seemed too scarred by hearing Emily Dickinson poems and the occasional, only barely traumatic tale by Edward Gorey as bedtime reading.
Still, I consider myself a failure when it comes the Children's Time thing. I'm usually something like, "Well, kids, how's about those 95 Theses?" And they're usually like, "WTF?" Even at seven. I'm serious.What DO they learn in school?
But today was different. Today the gospel story was about Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointing Jesus' feet with fancy perfume only days before his death and Judas getting all pissy about it. So the for Children's Sermon, I brought in a couple of essential oils and told the kids how, after their baptisms, their pastor might have made a little mark on their forehead with a fancy oil. And I told them they could do the very same thing if they wanted, since they wouldn't be able to remember their actual baptism if they had only been a baby when it happened.
Then I let them smell the oils. There were some "ahhs!" There were a couple of crinkled noses. (We all agreed that not every perfume smells good at all. And they will learn more about this as they grow up to find themselves on crowded subway trains or in lobbies at intermission, breathing through their mouths.)
Then they got to try the oils out for themselves. This was the best part. Most of them couldn't wait to try, putting out their tiny index fingers for a drop of oil which they then brought to their forehead to make a mark to remember that they had been baptized.
Did they get it? Hell, no! Was it efficacious? Hell, yes! These kids are too young to know what it means to be baptized--maybe we all are. But they're old enough to know that something we can do with our bodies is an important and meaningful ritual. It smells good. And it feels good to have a pastor tell you that this is something you can do for yourself to remind you you are loved. This really was a children's moment. And it meant something. (And it made me realize I could actually do the same thing on my very own forehead any time I wanted to!)
And then.....later in the day, at yoga class, my yoga teacher (who was my former yoga student) came round as we lay in savasana or corpse pose. Savasana reminds every yoga practitioner of our mortality--why else would it be called corpse pose?
And my teacher/student came round to anoint each of us with oil, just as Mary anointed Jesus with oil in the days before his death. Her hands on my temple--her firm and gentle touch--reminded me, just as the Ash Wednesday service reminds all who come, that we don't get out of life without death. But that with our shared human touch, we will arrive safely there.