One of the biggest challenges I found when working with my parish RCIA group was how to effectively shift the emphasis of the weekly session from the kind of intense catechetical activity of the catechumenate to the more reflective period of ‘intense spiritual preparation’ that this firmly time bound stage demands. In reality, the pressure builds at this time because of all the practical details in preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Rite of Election and then preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Scrutinies and then preparing for the Presentations and the Preparation Rites and …! If we’re not careful, the practicalities of so much to be dealt with in such a relatively short period can actually deflect our focus. As JD Crichton in his commentary on these period states:
“Lent has often been called a spiritual retreat and it is to this that both the elect and the local community are called during this period. For this reason it is to be marked by ‘interior reflection’ rather than ‘catechetical instruction’.”[i]
So how, in an ordinary parish context might we attempt a slowing down and give space for the Spirit to both purify and enlighten. Well one way that we discovered not only worked but was really appreciated by all who shared the journey was a ‘Praying with Paint’ session during the first or second week of Lent.
It requires some advance organisation to ensure that there is sufficient space for all to be able to ‘paint’ and that there are sufficient supplies of poster paint or crayons or watercolours (the parish toddler group or primary school can often be most helpful if approached in good time). Otherwise it’s just a question of creating a reflective atmosphere with quiet music playing and perhaps dimmed lighting (but not too dimmed so that people can’t see their own creations). Obviously the basic principles of adult formation apply and people are free not to take part, but in over ten years of offering this I only ever encountered one person who chose not to participate. So:
- Stress the reflective nature of the task, reassuring all those who had bad experiences of art at school that it’s not about creating works of art but rather allowing the Spirit of God to move within us in response to the gospel in a different way from those we may otherwise have experienced.
- Proclaim the gospel and allow a period of silence
- Proclaim it again but with a different voice
- Invite people to respond using the materials provided, as they feel appropriate.
- Quiet, reflective music will help and as people finish there should be no pressure to show the paintings, although most people will happily want to do so.
- There should however be a time to come together and say a word or two about how the experience was received and an opportunity to end with shared prayer, perhaps hearing the gospel one more time
In this Year of Matthew (Cycle A) the story of the Transfiguration affords a wonderful opportunity for a creative reflection. Happy painting!
[i] Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, The final Texts with Commentaries The Columba Press 1986