05 August 2010

Getting Devotional in Jail

There's a great meme going around the blogs, asking for favorite devotions (which I always assume Catholics know about and everyone else needs an explanation, but I'm frequently wrong). I went to Catholic grade school for five out of the first six grades, which may explain a lot of things about how I grew up to be who I am. It certainly explains my love for church-related trivia.

My first two years were spent at Forest Ridge Academy in Seattle, administered by the Madames of the Sacred Heart in a great stone building on Capitol Hill. It has since become the Hebrew Day School and the Madames and their students moved east across Lake Washington and now reside in Bellevue. The one devotion I remember from those two years happened during Advent. Each student was assigned a ceramic lamb. A ribbon with the student's name was around the lamb's neck. A Nativity scene was artfully arranged one of the landings of the great stairway. Our task during Advent was to make our way up the stairs to the Nativity. And no, we didn't get to place ourselves. We were judged on our behavior each week, given a small card with a gold star if we'd been successful. I don't remember much about the gold stars.

I do remember that I was in the middle to back of the pack by the time we got to Christmas break. Did I care? Probably not so much.

Second grade, public school, CCD in someone's garage once a week. Must have learned all the appropriate prayers because I do remember making my First Communion that year, even if the CCD students were treated like second-class citizens because there wasn't any room for us in the one Catholic school in town. I only remember that we had to make sure our hands were pointed UP while we prayed and processed. If we pointed them down, we were praying to the devil, came the hissed whisper.

Third grade, back in Catholic school. We'd moved to California before the start of second grade, so it was the first year I could walk to school. There was Mass before school, and I think I went at least once a week, a hard-boiled egg in my pocket to eat afterward. (I got to hate hard-boiled eggs. By 8th grade and an unfortunate science project about egg development, I gave up eggs for a very long time.) In third grade, our readers had stories about the saints. Memorable? I liked the one about St. Tarcisius. His school friends wanted him to play baseball after school, but he was taking communion home to his grandmother. They beat him up. He died, but he died doing a good thing, right? [Most of which had nothing to do with the actual saint, who was not a schoolboy but an adult deacon, or maybe a 12 year old acolyte. Besides, baseball hadn't been invented yet. Someday I'd love to track down that reader.]

Sr. Terence was a Franciscan, wore the full habit, including a 15 decade rosary that made great sounds when she joined the jump-rope line. She also prayed in her own words for our special intentions.

I have some evidence from 4th and 5th grades of spiritual bouquets for various reasons and seasons. Should have used those for examples of inflation when I took Economics in high school.

Sr. Marion in 5th grade read us The Story of Bernadette. Two years later, half the girls who got confirmed chose Bernadette as their saint's name, including yours truly. And I wasn't the only one who went through a phase of really wanting Mary to appear to me. Or maybe have the statue in the church come down from the pedestal and chat for a bit.

By the time I was in 8th grade, things had shifted significantly in our household. I was the only one still going to church, but I had a new object of devotion and every night, without fail, I would go out in the backyard, look for the brightest star, and pray, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight. Please keep Davy Jones safe!"

Hey, at least I was still praying.

Fast forward too many years. I worked in a prison and now in a jail. The most common request is for a rosary, the second most common request is, "Show me how to use it." For those who weren't Catholic, or who had little Catholic background, we did it the simple way. Everyone knows the Lord's Prayer, so that became the first bookend, then the name of Jesus on ten beads, followed by the Glory Be/Doxology. That was a good first step.

I readily confessed that I was no good at praying the rosary "the regular way" when I was on my own. It's good to know how to pray it in a group, but my brain goes umpteen different ways when I'm on my own, and praying with a recorded version? I lapse into St. Joseph's Meditation. (What? You don't know that one? You do know St. Joseph got all his information in dreams, right? And when do the dreams come? When you are asleep!)

I borrowed from St. Ignatius' Examen of Consciousness and taught people to take time at the end of the day to ask two questions: What am I most grateful for today? What am I least grateful for?

Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to be a comfort for Hispanics and Anglos alike.

At Sunday liturgies, we blessed those who were moving on with an adaptation of St. Patrick's Breastplate: May Christ go before you and behind you. May Christ be on your left and on your right. May Christ be above you and beneath your feet. In all your ways, may you go with Christ.

We observe the liturgical seasons with cloth and cross and art. We mark the comings and goings, the special days of family life, the deep-rooted call for repentance and praise.

And there was the Prayer of God's name, simply inhaling and exhaling Yah-weh.

Mostly we learn to not be afraid of speaking to God or the host of God's Friends who pray for us.

Like you.

6 comments:

Fran said...

Shannon - as always, you inform and you inspire. This was so great to read - about your life and about your life at work.

I am so grateful to know you out here - and one day, maybe face to face. Thanks for your words, which are always infused with a sense of joy, gratitude and hope, even in the hardest moments.

Jerry said...

Shannon - God has been really been good to me, especially lately...First I found Fran, and then yesterday I discovered the treasure that is you:-)
Look forward to you everyday from now on...

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I have seen that meme, but I don't know many formal prayers. Contemplation is the most common form of prayer for me, but I do find some of the formal ones quite beautiful. My brain is just too old, I guess, to remember them. I still need help with the rosary when we are doing it in a group.

claire said...

Forest Ridge Academy, hey? This sounds so familiar to me...

From my CCD class in my French grade and high school, I remember mixing up luxure (lust) with 'love of luxury'. I still think that this kind of love (for luxury) is a sin...

Makes me wonder if I have learned anything.

You have obviously learned a lot.

A Thorn Among Many said...

Shannon, read your journey again just now. You may remember being in the "middle of the pack" when you were going up those stairs, but girl...you're heading up the pack in my book:-)

Thank you for believing in me and my blog (even though it's just a title so far). I think of you and pray for you and those you serve every day. Peace and love, jer...

Shannon said...

Fran, some days there's a little notebook in my brain, scribbling away. And then I wonder why I only seem to post twice a month!

Claire, they made us learn French at Forest Ridge! Did I remember any of it when I took French in high school? I did NOT.

Elizabeth,my "devotions" are really a slideshow of the eclectic jumble of practices. Whatever works, that's my motto. I'm good at praying spontaneously with the offenders, rotten at sitting down with God. One day, I was on the bus, and jabbering away about how busy my prayer-brain was, and got a very distinct word: "Shut up and let me look at you." oooooookay. I did.

Jerry, it's a delight to find you here. Don't be a stranger. I'm looking forward to reading your blog--and I can honestly say, for at least some point in my life, "I'm number ONE!" (with all humility of course....NOT)