Talking Ashes with the Baby: Practical

My previous post laid out some of my theoretical thinking about how to talk to kids about difficult bits and pieces of theology.

Here’s how that theory plays out for me in talking about death (sadly, a big topic around here in the last year). And then, some ideas about how I’m planning to talk to Zora about Ash Wednesday.

Death and Dying

Zora, at age 5 1/2, hasn’t been completely isolated from death. Seven of her great grandparents were alive when she was born. (One of the surviving great grandmas turns 102 this year!) Three have since died. She’s been to every one of those funerals.

My grandmother died a little over a year ago. Since she lived in Chicago, this was the great grandmother she knew the best.

These have been our most helpful lines in helping her process.

We acknowledge that this is sad. It makes us sad and her sad. It makes other people we love sad. We all need to take care of each other.

We still talk about grandma. And we encourage her to talk about her.

We remind her, that even though this is sad, we don’t have to worry about grandma, because we know that God is taking care of her. Someday we will see her again, because God will take care of all of us when we die. This is my most thought-out line of discussion with Zora. I worry about heaven language because I don’t want her to think that heaven is a place with clouds and angel babies. I also want to leave room later on for talking to her about the whole New Creation concept. So I don’t want the idea of a spiritual “heaven” to get in the way of ideas about a physical re-creation.

All of this isa moving target, too. I have to explain more and more to her as she understands more and more and picks things up. Do pets go to God when they die? Is grandma watching us from heaven? etc etc

Ash Wednesday

Honestly, having covered the death thing, stuff like Ash Wednesday seems a whole lot easier.

The first thing for me about a worship ritual like Ash Wednesday: it’s about experience. And this is a GREAT one for kids because there’s a physical action built in: imposition of ashes. Even the baby gets something out of a physical action.

I’m going to give Zora some basic explanation. Probably along these lines:

This is a day when we remember that God made us. In your Bible books, it says God made the first people out of the dust of the earth. So we have dust put on our foreheads to remind us that God made us.

Some people also put dust on themselves when they are sad that things aren’t going the way they should. Like when people die. Or when people do mean things to each other.

So that dust is a reminder that God made us and that God made us to be good. And it reminds us to try to be good like God made us.

I might also bring up some things from her baptism: that we made the sign of the cross on her head with water when she was baptized, just like the ash cross.

And then, we’ll just have to see where it goes. The questions are always the fun part!