nature, renewal, resurrection, easter

Sensory Play, Prayer, and Catholic Adults

nature, renewal, resurrection, easterI have recently purchased a preschool curriculum that is all about “sensory play”. Let them get dirty, “say yes” to the mess, let them explore through their senses is the idea. If you look up “sensory play” on Pinterest, you will see that this is a trending idea. In fact, there are studies that show that this type of play is more beneficial to a small child’s development and learning than focusing on numbers, letters or early reading.

 What is important in a day?

I ask myself this question often. There are so many options in my day that I have to be constantly prioritizing to the smallest detail. I have chosen the option to take care of my children for the most part of the day, but even just being at home with them brings countless, minute options. Do I cook or take out? Do I set the table in the living room or eat in the kitchen? Do I light a candle and pray in the prayer corner or just say a prayer while vacuuming?

I have also been reading some Sally Clarkson books and listening to her podcasts. If you know anything about Sally Clarkson, you’ll know that she is very into lighting candles and drinking tea. She is all about creating a welcoming, cozy environment in your home for your home and focusing on meals as a feast and ministry.

Since reading Sally Clarkson, I have opted more often (not always, but more!) for setting the table in the living room instead of in the kitchen with the glaring, fluorescent light. For setting the table with a cloth tablecloth, even though I will have to wash it eventually, and lighting some tealight candles. I have bought more chips and dip and thought about what would be something fun for a new dessert. We always open a bottle of wine. And I have tried to actually to go the prayer corner to pray and light the candle there, even though it seems a bit unnecessary and over the top if it’s just me praying.  

 Jesus Incarnate

This all makes sense to me, of course, because of the Incarnation. We are not purely spiritual, but we are a union of body and spirit. That is the way that the Lord chooses to speak to us and the way that Jesus chose to reveal Himself.

Paying attention to the physical environment in my home makes sense because of all of the studies that show how someone’s environment influences their mood. I think of the investment in art and architecture in cathedrals and know that my home is a domestic church, too.

Paying attention to the environment and food during meals makes sense because of the value of meals. God also made us require at least three meals a day. He made food hard to come by and hard to prepare. He ate meals with his disciples and friends and left it in Scripture so we’d know about it. He made Himself a meal, available as supernatural sustenance to us every day. Meals are important, can unite people and if anything in our day deserves some had work, meals are definitely one of them.

 I have even begun to drink more tea. I personally love tea, but some people might prefer coffee or some other beverage. There is something about having a warm beverage in my hand and in my tummy that warms my heart. I don’t think there is anything hedonistic at all about these small pleasures for this purpose. Trying to take a shower, do my hair, put on clean clothes, eat breakfast and drink a cup of tea is HARD WORK for a mother of three small children and sometimes requires various attempts throughout the entire morning. Yet this attention to my own self-care, my own health and mood is important so that I can pour out love

Sensory Play in Nature

The most important “sensory play” of all, which deserves mention, is the great book of nature. Many trends in education and homeschooling have come to value the importance of nature in children’s lives. Our generation is especially nature-deprived, with more people living in cities, more technology, more travel and high-paced lives. Rare are the lifestyles in which children spend the day climbing trees and playing in the riverbank like country songs describe. Even less so for adults. By loving what God has created, by enjoying nature, we are loving Him.

When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and stars that you set in place—

What is man that you are mindful of him,

and a son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:4,5)

As my children grow older, I try to meet this growing need of outdoors for them and for myself.

 Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God.” St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it”, for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: “Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand.” (CCC 293)

How many times do I look back on my life and see my greatest encounters with God involved nature? I try to go on hikes more often and we try to go to the beach in the summer. If I had a backyard, we would try to barbeque and eat outside. Living in an apartment, we try to have picnic dinners.

What is important in a day? Prayer, of course, connecting us to God. Relationships with others. However, as we power through our busy days and fast-paced, technology-obsessed lives, slowing down to “smell the roses” can mean paying more attention to our senses. We can connect with God better if we physically go to a church if we physically eat His body if we light that candle or take that hike. We can love others better if we serve them through their senses and take time to create beauty.