Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Advent: Priming The Pump

By Kathy Gallo
Kathy Gallo

In a recent conversation on families the question was asked, “What do today’s families look like?”  Some of the responses included: busy; distracted; competitive; fractured; unstable; diverse; overwhelmed with information; use radically different communication tools; and relationships are mediated through a device.

The group had no difficulty coming up with this picture of families.  It was clear that these descriptors were not so much meant to be negative but were describing the reality of family life today. How do families find God in this distracted state? 

Over the years and up to the present day religious educators have identified the lack of faith conversation in homes as directly impacting the transmission of faith and growth in faith in the home.  Combine this with the fast paced growth of technology and general conversation happening on a device, sports, school, extracurricular activities, work, etc.; it is no wonder there is little time for intentional faith conversation or conversation in general.

And this is where prime or priming comes in.  To understand priming try this little game found on the internet with some friends.   It is a lesson in priming.  Ask them to answer the following questions as quickly as they can:

  • What color is snow?
  • What color are clouds?
  • What color is whipped cream?
  • What color are polar bears?
  • What do cows drink?

Watch how many of your friends tell you that cows drink milk. They have been primed by saying “white” so many times, and by the ready association between cows and milk.

Very simply the priming that can facilitate family faith conversation is a technique of questioning or directing attention to God’s presence in life.  A simple question such as “What are you thankful for in your life?” directs attention to moments of gratitude as they are experienced.  Many have utilized this priming in keeping a gratitude journal as a daily discipline to record recognition of gratitude each day.  This activity can also be done as a family by taking the time each evening at a meal or at bedtime to name moments of gratitude experienced that day.  This is simple and requires no preparation.  I know a family that keeps a “family journal” of grateful experiences.  It has made a significant difference in how they see life and each other.  This is prayer.  Another family uses a gratitude jar.  Each person writes down what they are thankful for that day, reads it at a specifically chosen time and places it in the Gratitude Jar.  At the end of the year they celebrate all they are grateful for by reading each one aloud.

If you are not looking for something, you don’t see it.

Priming enables our brains to see something.  Lectio Divina is an example of priming prayer. The Gospel or Scripture passage is read reflectively several times.  Each time one is primed to look for a word or a phrase that is striking.  The Gospel or Scripture passage is read again and again, with the words or phrases being shared and slowly chewed on by those involved.  Lectio Divina encourages one to look for the impact of the Word on one’s life and to read the Scriptures with new vision and clarity.

Spirituality has often been defined as “waking up,” “noticing,” “being attentive to God’s presence in all of life.”  During this highly distracting, colorful, chaotic time before Christmas called Advent, we can use priming to be attentive to God’s presence.  We can do this as an individual or in a household.  

When decorating for Christmas, prime the pump.  What do the decorations, the lights, the music, the art have to do with Jesus? 

Before Mass, prime the pump:  What did we do today at Mass that was different?  Listen for one word or phrase in the readings that you notice?  What was something new heard at Mass?  How many lights were lit on the Advent wreath? Identify a line from one of the hymns that spoke to you of God? Asking these questions on an ongoing basis primes the pump for new insights and discovery.

Family faith conversation does not need to be and should not be a formal process.  It can be done very simply using all that life and the liturgical year offers for discussion.  The one thing required is to create an atmosphere where the household is “looking for” signs of God’s presence daily and the opportunity to share these signs. All of us remember family traditions that marked our lives.  Looking for God’s presence in our lives as a family is important to each member’s faith growth and vital to the faith life of the household as well.

“Families appear to be saying that the daily activities of family life are the canvas for experiencing and sharing their faith life with one another, and that activities that call them as a family beyond their own boundaries are also significant—the care of nature and care of others in need” (Garland and Yankeelov).