Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Diary of Starting Stations of the Cross with Special Needs in Mind

Quiet, attentive reverence.

Due to sensory challenges and poor executive functioning skills, one of my three children rarely succeeds at demonstrating such “acceptable” behavior at Mass.  So, the idea of attending our parish’s traditional Stations of the Cross prayer times makes me cringe.
Silent prayer does happen, but not often with my seven-and-under crowd.

I know that stating my dread of going to Stations seems irreverent. For isn’t Lent partially about bearing one’s crosses and trusting in the Lord?  Thus, shouldn’t I be willing to just shoulder forth with my kiddoes to our parish’s Stations of the Cross prayer time despite my fears?


Or, perhaps not.

As a parent, I know that it is my duty – and privilege – to help my children in their spiritual formation. As such, I take seriously the call to be a “first herald” for my children, initiating them into the mysteries of the faith.  (CCC 2225)  And, with my children’s needs in mind, I think that being a literal first herald of the Way of the Cross is most fitting. 

Stations of the Cross, Week One:  A Gentle, Snuggly Introduction

I am confident that my children will come to appreciate the rich experience of praying the Stations of the Cross with our greater church community if they first come to know and understand the Stations within our own domestic church.  So, last Friday, we “did” the stations at home, in bed, no less. 

All three children and I snuggled into sensory-calming* delight in one, single bed while reading The Story of the Cross and praying the prayers included in it.
At another point in the day, we also visited the church for just a moment to wave hello to Jesus.

Simple.  Sensory-friendly.  No distractions or challenges to divert the children’s attention from the story of the cross.

Stations of the Cross, Week Two: Running and Reverence

Nina's sketch of Our Lady.
This week, I felt the children were already ready for a next step in experiencing the Stations of the Cross.  So, I asked them if they’d like to pray the Stations at our local church, all by ourselves, with our “special stations book” and some sketchbooks to help us. 

Even my youngest cried out with delight at this idea.  So, off we went to the church – in the middle of the day, when I figured no one else would be there.

Jack's sketch, in Lenten purple, with the cross at the top drawn by Nina.

Thankfully, I was wrong about us being alone at the church, though.  For when we entered the building, it was dark.  No lights were on and, even though I felt there was plenty of light coming through the stained glass windows, the children were a bit concerned about the darkness..  Luckily, a kind-hearted woman that works at our parish offices was in the church building and offered to go turn on some of the church’s lights.

Whew!  She saved the day!

Luke's "favorite" station.
Comforted by the increased light, the children joined me to kneel before the tabernacle for a prayer.  Then, I asked the kids if they could find the first station. 

They bubbled with childhood excitement when they discovered that it was behind the church organ, up near the altar where they had never been before.  However, once I began reading from The Story of the Cross, they quieted,  listening to the story and alternating between examining the artwork of on the church wall and comparing it to the art work in our book.  Then, just as I was reciting the prayer portion of our first station reading, excitement kicked in again. 

Our sensory seeker burst forth with a near-run to get to the next station.  And, thus began the pattern for the day:  a run-pause-listen-pray-run one.

Now, I know that some reading this might be shaking their heads now.  Running in the church?  During Stations, no less.  I know, it seems rather inappropriate.  Unless, of course, you have a child who was gifted with a neurology that is a bit different than everyone else’s.  One who needs physical movement and heavy work more than most others do.  Then, it becomes par for the course.  And, quite honestly, even a victory in the eyes of that child’s mama, who was less concerned about the dashes between the stations than she was delighted about the control it took for that child to actually pause at each station, and, even more, the desire of that child to do so.

Grace abounds!

So it was that the children and I ended up “walking” the Way of the Cross at almost a running speed at times.  The children attentive and relatively reverent at each station, but with a journey that was punctuated by quick bursts of movement between stations.  My sensory seeker, leading the way.

And, then, came the slow down -- the keying into what my differently gifted child loves and sometimes synthesizes best through: drawing.

Luke sketching Jesus on the cross.

Fasting, Giving and Praying at the Station

My son Luke had been unkind to his sister Nina right before we left for the Stations.  As a penance, he agreed that his sister could pick which station we sketched after praying the Stations. 

It was very difficult for Luke to honor his word once the time actually came to break out our sketch books. He knew right away which station he wanted to draw and had to practice patience and control as Nina walked – slowly – from station to station (after running from station to station earlier!) to make her decision as to where we would plunk down with our colored pencils.  As Luke’s eyes followed her around the church, I could feel the strain it took him to maintain a fast from outbursts or a loud cajoling for his sister to pick the station he wanted to sketch.

Luke's sketch.

Or perhaps I felt Luke’s pleading prayers to God.  For, after Nina passed one particular station, I heard Luke sigh with angry disappointment and saw him hand his head.  Then, Nina, true to her compassionate and giving nature, lit up Luke’s world.  She began a second round of the stations, paused, smiled, came to the center of the church, announced that she knew what she wanted, and, as Luke inhaled deeply, walked over to her big brother and said “for Luke to pick.”

Nina helping Jack to draw a cross.

Luke immediately led us over to the station I thought he wanted to sketch – Jesus on the cross.  Whereupon Nina, whose sensitivity was disturbed by the image, politely inquired, “Mommy, I want Luke to make his choice, but can I draw something else?”  Of course, I said she could.  So, while Luke sketched Jesus on the cross, Nina sketched “Mary from the window”, only stopping to help Jack when he asked someone to draw a cross on his paper.

A more comforting image for Nina.

Finally, we all talked about how we knew the “end of the story” – that Jesus rose again and is still here with us in the form of the Eucharist.  Jack found his way to the candle that tells us that Jesus is present in the tabernacle.  All the children said a prayer in front of the tabernacle with me.  Then, Nina asked to go pray in front of a statue of Our Lady and Baby Jesus while Luke searched for images of St. Luke and St. Micheal, before we went over to the parish offices to tell them we were done.

"Jesus is here."
No sensory meltdowns.  Growth in self-control.  The story of the stations shared.   Prayers spoken aloud in the quiet of hearts.   By His grace, Stations, Week Two was a success.

Jack praying in front of the tabernacle.

Now I pray for the guidance and grace to make decisions about how best to share the Stations with the kids next week.  Will I tap into some of the 10+ Stations of the Cross resources I collected (and shared!) a few weeks back for another at-home heralding? Will we repeat what we did this week, perhaps at a different church to appeal to Luke’s interest in viewing different artwork?  Will we try a group service?  I am not sure yet.

How do you pray the Stations of the Cross wit children, especially children with special needs?
*For those unfamiliar with sensory needs and how to best meet them, please realize every child is different.  What is calming to one may be stimulating for another.  If you think your child has sensory challenges, consider researching what Sensory Processing Disorder is and getting a handle on what you can do.  The SPD Foundation and Special-ism are great places to start.


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KSB said...

What a beautiful and appropriate family event!

Elisa said...

So glad your experience went well, and I love the idea of incorporating drawing into the experience. We will try that next week.

Kim said...

Beautifully done my friend. I love how in tune you are to your children, you are such a blessing to them.


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