by Jeanne Heiberg
Sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting to have a tooth pulled, I used my time to do some meditating from a favorite daily prayer guide. The title of that day’s mediation was “The Golden Key.” It said that when things get difficult, don’t think of the difficulty. Think of God.
Later, when the Novocain took effect and the dentist was struggling with the stubborn tooth, I practiced what I had read about the golden key—to think of God instead of the difficulty. In a lul when I could talk, I told the dentist about the golden key mediation. He laughed and said, “That’s easier to say than to do!”
Yet, when the tooth was out, I was serene, with a sense of peace and light—helped, of course, by the bright operating light overhead. With time, there was little bleeding and no pain, and the gap healed amazingly fast. I knew the golden key mediation helped.
God doesn’t want us to go through difficulties alone. God promises to be with us, carrying us through. Jesus and the saints knew this and so we can trust they are always present,with us, helping us to practice the golden key: to think of God when things are difficult.
With God in Mind
The saints thought constantly of God. With God in mind, they were able to accomplish great things in serenity and love. God is the key to everything good, the key to a holy, happy, and fulfilling life.
Saint Peter, whose symbol happens to be a key, agrees. In Acts 2:25, he quotes David: “I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I will not be disturbed. My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices” (see Psalm 16:8).
Many of the Psalms profess faith and offer praise and thanksgiving for God’s constant nearness. “Praise be the Lord I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies” (Psalm 18:4); “I lift up my eyes to the mountains” (Psalm 121:1) and “I wait for you, O Lord; I lift up my soul to my God” (Psalm 25:1-2). In fact, take time right now to read all of Psalm 91. What a promise from our loving God.
The golden key—thinking of God, like the saints—makes us winners, people of joy no matter what difficulties we face. It is said that joy is the surest sign of the presence of God. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” The prophet Sirach even associates longevity with joy and thinking of God like the saints: “Do not give in to sadness, torment not yourself with brooding. Gladness of heart is the very life of a person, cheerfulness prolongs his days” (30:21-22).
We Are Not Alone
On November 1 we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints and, the next day, we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls). In Jesus, we are one with people of faith—not only with those still on earth but also with those who are with God in glory. We are not alone on our journey home to heaven.
This is a good time to read about the saints and how they used the idea of the golden key to think of God and praise God during their lives on earth. Read about other people living now who are trying to do the same—thinking of God and of the concerns of others, rather than focusing on and being overcome by life’s problems and difficulties.
Say to the Children
Like most people, you likely have happy, easy days mixed with sad and difficult days. Sometimes things get downright hard for you. If you give in to the natural tendency to focus on what is difficult, what bugs you, what you don’t like, the sad and difficult days can overwhelm your thoughts and feelings. The sun can be shining and there can be wonderful things around you, yet you focus on what someone said that hurt your feelings, what you think is unfair, or what is very difficult for you.
Those are the times to practice the golden key: to think of God like the saints did, rather than focusing on the things that are difficult. Think of God’s goodness and love. Talk to God. Thank God for all the good things in your life and for all your happy memories. In your own words, from your heart, thank God for being with you and helping you through the problems of life. (Here you can tell the dentist story, or one of your own.)
Jesus taught the golden key. He taught us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind (see Matthew 22:37).
Saint Paul also taught us about the golden key. He said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and that the peace of God “that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” if we make our requests known to God by prayer and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7). When you follow these important teachings, you will build a habit that becomes a part of you. You will know how to practice the golden key.
This is what the saints did. They prayed to God—and so thought about God—without ceasing. They loved God with all their hearts, souls, and minds. We celebrate the saints every year on November 1 and, all the time, we learn from them. We know that the saints’ focus on God took them through many difficulties with radiant happiness. The saints thought of God constantly and, with God in mind, they were able to accomplish great things in serenity and love. They knew that God is the key to everything good. Even now, saints enjoy life and have the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Always thinking about God is called the golden key for a reason: Gold is the color that symbolizes the glory of heaven. In art, St. Peter often is shown carrying his symbol—golden keys, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. In early Christian art, gold leaf was used lavishly on crosses, altar pieces, and other art, especially in pictures of Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels. We don’t have gold leaf in our classroom, but we can use other kinds of “pretend gold” to celebrate and remember the golden key: to think of God like the saints did (see ACTIVITY below).
ACTIVITY: Golden Key Mobiles
* sheets of gold and yellow craft foam (or shiny gold poster board)
* gold glitter
* string or gold cord
* hole punch
* tree branches/twigs, wood dowels, or craft sticks
* large box
* small brushes
* key pattern [CLICK HERE] (or have students create their own key patterns)
Optional: real keys
1. Create a glitter station by spreading newspaper over a table or desk. Place on the newspaper: bottles of glue; bottles of glitter; small brushes; and tree branches/twigs, wood dowels, or craft sticks. At the edge of the glitter station, place a box big enough to catch glitter that doesn’t remain glued to the key.
2. Cut a key from craft foam using the key pattern or patterns the students make themselves. (If you use shiny poster board, cut out two keys, punch a hole at the top in one, glue the two dull sides together, and punch a hole in the other key, using the existing hole as a guide. Slip a piece of string or gold cord through the hole and tie securely. The key is ready to hang.)
3. Punch a hole in the top of the foam key.
4. Brush glue on one side of the foam key.
5. Hold key over the box at the glitter station and sprinkle glitter onto the glue. Shake off excess glitter into the box.
6. Prop key, newly glittered side up, on a tree branch/twig, wood dowel, or craft stick to dry.
7. When glue is dry, put glitter on the other side of the key, following steps 3 and 4.
8. Cut string or gold cord different lengths and tie one end of each piece to each key.
9. Tie keys to tree branches/twigs, wood dowels, or craft sticks. They will hang at different lengths. Older students might enjoy the challenge of creating a multi-layered mobile, but this can take a lot of time to achieve balance.
10. Hang key mobiles in windows, from the ceiling, against bulletin boards, or against a simple white wall or piece of poster board.
Optional: You can create the same mobile using real keys.
In honor of All Saints Day, do not use glitter on the keys. Instead, have students write the names of their favorite saints or their patron saints or saintly qualities on the keys before constructing the mobiles. See the Golden Key Prayer below for yet another option.
Golden Key Prayer
You may want to have students hang their keys on a small tree as a sign of their intention to practice the golden key—to think of God like the saints did. Have them write their names on the keys so they can take them home later.
Opening Song: “Psalm 25: I Lift Up My Soul.” Text and music, Tim Manion © 1976, Glory & Praise, Classic Edition. Or “Psalm 25: To You O Lord.” Scott Soper © 1988, Breaking Bread, Music Issue. Both published by OCP.
Prayer: Loving Lord, thank you for your promise to be with us always and to help us through difficulties. May we always remember to turn to you so that you may help us find creative solutions, serenity, peace, and joy.
Readings: Acts 2:25 (we set God before us); Philippians 4:7 (God’s peace will guard our hearts); Psalm 16:8 (with God near, we will not be disturbed); Matthew 22:37 (we love God completely)
One by one, have each student come forward and place his or her key on the tree.
Closing Prayer: Dear Lord, you love each of us so much that you want to help us with everything that is difficult. And so we practice the golden key—to think of you like the saints did. Through our difficulties, we grow stronger, wiser, and more loving in your care. Thank you for being near us, always present in and through your Son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Closing Song: “You Are Near” (text based on Psalm 139). Text and music, Daniel I. Schutte © 1971, 2008, Glory & Praise, classic Edition. Published by OCP.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent and Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs.
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