"And this is what my brain looks like when God (in yellow) comes in and tells me it's OK and to be still. His eyes say, 'Peace.'"
-Nathaniel, a highly articulate 11 year old who lives with Aspergers
"And this is what my brain looks like when God (in yellow) comes in and tells me it's OK and to be still. His eyes say, 'Peace.'"
-Nathaniel, a highly articulate 11 year old who lives with Aspergers
An excerpt from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide Till: Jesus, we are all ears. We are listening to you! Help us to listen with our ears and our hearts. Help us obey, so we can be students who learn to be just like our teacher. Help us to be like you.
Draw it: Create a picture of the plants in each of the four soils: the hard road, the gravel, the weeds, and the good earth. Which of these plants is most like you?
Apply it: Jesus tells us that the people who are his students are as close to him as family. How does it make you feel to know you’re in God’s family? What is one way you could act like Jesus’ family today?
Weed: Tell about a happy or sad thing that happened today. When did you have an opportunity to act like Jesus’ family today? Remember that you are a precious child of God and nothing can change that.
Kids question, too. Last night when I was putting one of my people to bed she said, "Mom, are you afraid of death?" and then she jumped right into, "How do we know, I mean really know, there is the one, true, God."
I know these answers like the back of my hand. I have spent the better part of four decades asking them myself. Seeking the answers my heart longs for in Scripture and nature, through prayer, in the lives and writings of many who have gone before me.
My knee jerk, mothering reaction is to step in- fill the space as quickly as possible. But this is her relationship with God, these are her questions. I am reminded of Jesus' parables, "they're like truth burritos," one child told me. The truth of God and the Kingdom wrapped in a story that opens when we seek it out; we have to want it. Questions can be the doorway.
Questions, even from children, come from longing and can lead to seeking and finding. Jiffy quick answers shut down longing. I don't want that. I want her to hunger and thirst for the truth. The Spirit who loves her so much, prompts me, "Listen to her. Show her how to look for me. I will give her the answers."
So I make a space for her to think about her questions...
1. Tell me about a time when you have felt God near. (She tells about being afraid and the comfort she felt after asking God for help.)
2. Tell me about a time when you saw something so beautiful you had to stop and look at it. (She tells about watching horses run through a field playing together.)
3. Tell me about a time when someone was so kind you couldn't believe it. (She tells about her Grandfather teaching her to drive the tractor. Which was news to me! Grandparents!)
Then I gave her a few pointers... ways to connect.
We talk about reading the stories of Jesus and listening for God to speak. I encourage her to ask God about death. We agree to both ask and see what he has to say about it.
After an hour of laying in bed with her and listening, I realize this will be an ongoing conversation we have. The Blessed Trinity, her and myself listening, questioning and learning together.
Excerpt taken from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide Till: Jesus, you are with us and it’s a time to celebrate. Help us learn that you are better than anything we give up.
Water: Enter it: In this passage, Jesus talks about fasting—giving up food or something else in order to focus on God. While he was here, his disciples didn’t fast because it was a celebration! What would it be like if you went to a birthday party, but refused to eat cake and acted really sad? How would the birthday person feel about that?
Apply it: Talk about what you have chosen to give up during this season of Lent. How can your fast (or your cravings or habits) remind you to look for Jesus today? (Or, if you are taking Sundays oﬀ of the fast,how can enjoying this thing today remind you to rejoice in Jesus?)
Weed: How did your fast help you look for Jesus today? Or, if you are taking Sundays oﬀ of the fast, how did today remind you to rejoice in Jesus?
Devotional excerpt taken from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide Ash Wednesday
Till: God, you made us, and you know: we’re made from dust, we return to dust. Thank you for being compassionate to us in our weakness, and accepting us in Jesus.
Water: Play it: Encourage children to act out the parable Jesus tells in today’s reading. This will help them visualize what Jesus is teaching.
Enter it: In this story, there are two men: one whose prayer focuses on his own goodness, and one who just asks God for forgiveness. Jesus says that the second man, who asked for mercy, was made right with God, and not the other. Why do you think that is?
Apply it: God forgives us when we confess our sins. (Read 1 John 1:9). What would it look like today if you trusted God and admitted when you are wrong, instead of hiding mistakes?
Weed: Lead your family in a time of confession at the end of the day. Where did you fall short of loving God and loving others? Be sure to thank God for his forgiveness. Then reﬂect: What was it like today, admitting mistakes instead of hiding them? How was it hard? How did it change your attitude?
We are not suggesting you fast from your children or give them away. (Tempting though it may be on some days.) Instead here are a few suggestions, a few practices to engage with children during Lent. A few suggestions from Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide on celebrating Lent, at home, family style. The Big Three: Prayer, Fasting, Giving
Prayer begins in the heart.
Family Altar or Prayer Corner: Cover a small table with a purple cloth,. Arrange on it a cross, or a family Bible, maybe a small shallow box with sand in it, where children can draw their prayers to God, maybe a family prayer journal. Choose a Christ candle to place in the center. (Battery powered candles are wonderful for the not yet fire worthy.)
Invite children to light the Christ candle in the morning or evening, or when you are reading the Bible as a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the World. This is the light of Advent that continued through Christmastide and Epiphany--and still shines on in Lent. Invite family members to visit the Altar at least once a day during Lent.
Prayer Box: Take a 3x5 index card box and write prayers from the Bible, or from saints, or beautiful pieces of poetry on the card and place them in the box. Read one each evening before bed, or at the dinner table. Try prayers from This is What I Pray Today by Phyllis Tickle or Prayers for Each and Every Day by Sophie Piper.
Fasting begins in our bodies.
Fasting from Meat:Traditionally many folks fast meat on Fridays and they will also choose some other vice to give up for 40 days. If this works for you and your people, go for it.
Fasting from Superfluous Foods: Others I know have fasted eating out for 40 days, still others have fasted sugar, or chocolate, soda.
Fasting from Technology: For children giving up nutritional food is not an option, but giving up TV, or video games, or texting is certainly a good choice.
Fasting is not popular in our culture. To deny myself something I want will sound strange to others, but it is imminently important that we and our children learn to tell our bodies, “No.” Letting our bodies and our desires run our lives will destroy us. Fasting is directly related to prayer. We will need strength beyond ourselves to die to our wills. The will is loud, and irritating; only the peace of God can quiet it.
Fasting is directly related to prayer. In fasting we teach our wills to ignore our mere desires and focus on our true needs. But the will is loud, and irritating, and is the habit of responding to the body's wants. We need strength beyond our own to die to our desires and retrain our wills. Only the peace of God can quiet the will long enough for it to learn.
Giving begins with others.
Giving begins right where we are. We look to our families and see where we take instead of give. We make the effort to overcome our natural pet peeves. We do something nice for someone who irritates us.
Giving Money: We choose to eat simple meals, or to fast junk food, and send the extra grocery money to someone else. There are many great organizations that truly give life to others.
Giving Time: We fast our favorite TV show and instead pack the family up and visit the local nursing home.
Giving Attention: We give up always having to talk about ourselves and give the gift of listening.
Let us know how it goes.
Thank you, Gregory! I could live on that last sentence for a decade.
Wonder Children come hardwired for wonder. “Children are born with certain values intact—namely their sense of wonder and their affinity for nature.” One reason is that the abstract difference between ordinary and profound is not a distinction a child can usually make. Therefore all experiences can be loaded with wonder. Rachel Carson noticed this in her walks with her nephew: “Many children delight in the small and inconspicuous.” Nature is loaded with sensory experiences. Through nature God becomes present to touch, smell, sight, sound, and sometimes taste. John Calvin called nature “the theater of God’s glory.” Further, children will respond to wonder with their own bodies. They will jump or scream, run and play. Through nature children are invited into a full body conversation with God.
When adults are giving the opportunity to talk about their childhood experiences they will often recall an instance in which they felt “at one” with the “ebb and flow” that surrounded them. Far from the typical view of children as self focused, these experiences bring children well beyond the boundaries of self and into the relational space of creation and Creator. Rather than leaving the self behind and forcing an either/or choice, nature brings along the self and expands it to a sense of larger belonging. Human beings are beings of place. Rooting in Earth as place helps to widen human focus, to extend beyond themselves. The Genesis account of creation reminds us that human beings are created from earth and will return to earth (Gen. 3:19).
Experiences of nature make the space for mystery. Mystery acknowledges the end of the human range of knowing and is essential. Children find great mystery in the process of birth, growth, and death. Children find all three of these processes fascinating and completely out of range of their power to control or influence. While children have not reached Piaget’s stage of formal operations, they possess the humility necessary to understand their limitations. The great sorrow children often express at the death of a pet is a notion of the unity they feel with the animal, and also an expression of their powerlessness to change the outcome. Children are able to embrace the mystery in death. Humility and endless curiosity enables them to be comfortable pondering the depths of what they do not know. The mystery children find in nature contains both wonder and union, all of which can give them an experience of the Creator who longs to connect with them.
These aspects of spiritual formation cannot be directly taught. They must be experienced. However adults can aid by modeling awareness. Asking open ended questions and processing experiences aloud are formative tools; as is making the space and time for children to simply be in creation, communing with the Creator, without adult involvement. For some, these experiences will stand alone as anchors to Someone larger than themselves in whom they can trust, but do not know. In Christian spiritual formation these gifts from nature provide a pool of experiential knowledge that can be drawn upon in later stages of religious education.
Wonder, union and mystery are a part of adult formation as well. If we want to continue to grow into Christlikeness, these three will be a regular part of our lives. In what ways do you engage wonder, union and mystery?
A few resources that informed my thinking. I hope they are helpful for you too.
. Rachel Carson and Nick Kelsh, The Sense of Wonder (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998), 52.
. Rebecca M. Nye, “Convergence with Children’s Theory of the Mind?,” in Being Human: The Case of Religion, Vol. 2. Psychological Studies on Spiritual and Religious Development, ed. K. Helmut Reich, Fritz K. Oser, W. George Scarlett (Lengerich, Germany: Pabst Science Publishers, 1999), 67.
. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 3, Location 1122.
. David W. Orr, “Place and Pedagogy”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1724.
. Malcolm Margolin, “Indian Pedagogy: A Look at Traditional California Indian Teaching Techniques”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005) Kindle Electronic Edition: Part 2: Tradition/Place, Location 1433.
. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child. (London: Fount, 2006) Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 7, Location 2177.
. Ibid., Chapter 6, Location 1963.
I could not have been more than five years old. My family was cutting firewood in the LaSalle Mountains for the coming winter. As the adults were working, I wandered off and into a grove of Aspen trees. The leaves of the trees were golden and they sparkled in the sun. I lay down on my back so I could get a better look. The earth was wet, spongy, and sweet smelling. I fixed my gaze on the glittery leaves, and I knew Someone more than myself was with me. I knew I was safe and would never be alone. This is a pivotal moment in my life. This one childhood moment has often been an anchor for my faith. I am not alone in this, when I teach conferences on spiritual formation, I invite adults to use their non-dominant hand to draw their first memory of God. More times than not, they draw a picture that includes some aspect of nature. How does God use nature in the lives of children to invite them into a life with him?
The Trinity is both intimately within creation and extraordinarily beyond it. The Scripture is loaded with examples. Paul makes the case for the Cosmic Christ who is above all and in all (Col. 1:15-20). In Ezekiel 37:9-14, John 20:22, and Acts 2:2 the Holy Spirit is understood as wind. The Psalmist references the power of nature to form and inform humanity in the ways and grandeur of God throughout one hundred and fifty chapters. God is present in nature, and nature is present with God.
In Isaiah 55 the trees and mountains dance and clap their hands in praise. Nature is the place where the kingdom of God is most available to the senses. Cognitively speaking the Eastern Orthodox Church has given a vocabulary to Christians to understand immanence and transcendence beginning with the Cappadocian Father, Saint Basil the Great. He helped articulate the immanent God who would make himself available through creation and yet paradoxically be exponentially beyond and other.
Transcendence can be a bridge that brings together the concrete nature of experience with the abstract quality of religious training. Nature experiences have a quality of transcendence, meaning that nature experiences go beyond religious tradition or doctrine. These experiences transcend religious language. They often transcend language in any capacity, especially in children who have a limited command of language. Often when children share about their experiences, adults judge them as undefined and vague, however, they wield tremendous power.
Authentic transcendent nature experiences include the body and all its sense-gathering capacity. Authentic experiences produce concrete knowledge. Developmental theory is a linear formational system as opposed to nature experience which is a living system based on interconnected elements. Those interconnected elements include all the parts of the person, including those parts which researchers do not have direct access to, namely the spirit.
Children have not yet learned to hide inside their bodies and as a result they have a natural propensity for awareness. They are able to engage with nature with their whole selves. Children are fully present to their current surroundings. Maturing human beings must learn to shift their awareness to past and future, but this is a learned skill. This may be why children report more spiritual experiences than adults. Nature invites the whole self of the child into an experience with the immanent and transcendent God. The characteristics of these experiences are wonder, union and mystery.
Tomorrow we will explore wonder, union and mystery and how they draw children to God.
How has nature drawn you to God? Do you have a childhood experience in nature?
In addition, here are a few resources that helped form my thinking.
David Hay and Rebecca Nye, Spirit of the Child (London: Fount, 2006).
Fritjiof Capra, “How Nature Sustains the Web of Life”, in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005).
Fritjiof Capra, “Speaking Nature’s Language Principles for Sustainability,” in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, ed. Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2005).
Hay and Nye, Spirit of the Child.
I can't tell you how many times I have asked children, "Are your listening ears on?" (As if they had a second set that weren't exactly for listening... oh the stupid things adults say to children-- I digress.) This year at Good Dirt we are introducing a series of blog posts called "In Their Own Words... or Pictures." We have our listening ears on and we want to hear what children have to say about God.
We'd love to see their picture, sculptures, poems, and narratives. Whatever they want to use to carry their voice, we'd love to see.
These can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Our listening ears are on!
Yesterday I introduced our new blog series for the next year; where we are encouraging children to speak in their own words about God. As we begin this time of listening, we (adults) have to remember that children are having a relationship with God even if they can't articulate it. The Holy Spirit is hot on their heels from their beginnings, inviting them into a relationship with the already relational Trinity. The Spirit is both a fire that warms and convicts, and an ever present wind inviting them to play. Due to developmental levels, children often can't communicate exactly what they are thinking and feeling, but that doesn't mean there is nothing going on. The concrete nature of drawing can provide a space for children to express themselves. Inviting a child to draw and color their response will open a window for us to see and learn from them.
And we are learning. They have much to teach us about life with God. They are more open to the present moment and mystery than most of their adult counterparts. In a sense, we lost what they still have. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to these little ones and if we want in on this glorious life with God, we're going to need a few pointers from children.
So how do we open the window a bit?
1. Create a safe space. Safe spaces are spaces where we can say anything. Anything. What they believe about God, just is. Notice what they are saying/drawing without judging. Phrases like "This is interesting, can you tell me more?" can be helpful. Resist the urge to use words like "good" or "bad."
2. Break the boxes. As adult Christians we like our theology in neat and tidy packages. Children don't care one flip about tidy. They don't care about it when they wipe a booger on your sleeve and they don't care about it when they talk about God. THIS is not the time to teach them. THIS is not your time to speak. It's theirs. Let them. Listen.
3. Listen for the fingerprints of God. Before we have a "tidy" theology (that God will eventually break apart and rebuild around the second half of our lives) we are more aware of his fingerprints. His fingerprints look like beauty. Children notice the beautiful and they call it God. The fingerprints also look like goodness, this, they also call God. And truth... while they will lie all day about who broke the lamp, they are especially tuned into the truth as it pertains to justice, they also call this God. You won't want to miss these!
4. Give them a variety of choices of mediums with which to communicate. How about writing a poem? A narrative? Draw a picture? Gotta dance? Send us the video. How about a sculpture with silly putty, or clay, or mashed potatoes? Go for paint! There is something about watercolors and children. I don't know if it's because they are so forgiving or if the mess is just right, but put a little music on-- ask a question and see what they communicate with color.
5. Questions to get you started... Keep in mind that this is an invitation. Invitations can be turned down. If children don't want to share. Don't make them. (Frankly, you can't make them. They may give you "something," but it won't be what's in their soul.) When they are ready to share, they will. Here are a few invitational questions to try.
Would you draw/ write a poem about you and God?
When did you see or hear God today?
Would you tell about a time when God was with you?
When did you see something that was good, or beautiful, or true today?
Read any passage in one of the four Gospels where Jesus is interacting with a person. His healings and interactions with children can be particularly moving. Invite your child to draw "the best" part of the passage. Or invite them to write a letter to Jesus about it. What would they say to him?
One last thing, ask your child's permission before passing on anything they have shared. These conversations are sacred and must be treated with honor.
Ok. Two last things. We are only getting a glimpse. There is a depth of relationship between a child and God that you can never see and never understand. Get used to it. Be uproariously grateful for the bit they let you in on.
There are few things I love more than books. Pecan pie is close. Old books, new books, children's books, books with illuminations... I love books. Children's books have special powers, though. If you don't believe me, invite a child to snuggle up next to you and read The Nativity by Julie Vivas.
Reading a picture book is formational. Trust me on this one. When I invite a child into my arms and we share an experience, full of art and word, both of us are changed.
All the parts of the person are in engaged in picture book reading. Loving touch is transformative. Children feel safe and wanted when they are sitting on the lap of an adult they trust. Shared space holds a mystery all it's own. Our mind is engaged through words and pictures. Both halves of the brain are engaged. Together we share sight and sound, even smell. Today if I read The Bugliest Bug by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash, my mind returns to the smell of Cherrios mixed with baby shampoo.
If we will allow ourselves, children can lead us to engage with our emotions. Children's picture books are often written to engage emotions. Long ago most of us adults have learned to stuff our emotions, to keep them hidden. A healthy life includes emotion and children can help us move toward wholeness.
On that note here are a few suggestions, book suggestions. You'll have to get your own kid.
Close as Breath by Callie Grant (This is a board book, for preschoolers and it's terrific. She's got more board books on her site and they are also very good.) http://www.grahamblanchard.com/product/close-as-a-breath
December by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz
Butterflies Under Our Hats by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and illustrated by Joani Keller Rothenberg
Psalm Twenty-Three illustrated by Tim Ladwig
The Lord's Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig
To Every Thing There is a Season by Leo and Diane Dillon
Will's Mammoth by Rafe Martin and Stephen Gammell
Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson
Chrysamthemum by Kevin Henkes
The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood
King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood
The Blessing of the Beasts by Ethel Pochocki and engravings by Barry Moser
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood illustrated by P.J. Lynch
The Three Questions: based on a story by Leo Tolstoy by Jon J. Muth
Making Heart-Bread by Matthew Linn, Shelia Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn illustrated by Francisco Miranda
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony and illustrated by Cris Arbo
The Circle of Days by Reeve Lindberg and illustrated by Cathie Felstead
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr
I think this is a good starting place.
Which books would you add to the collection?
Share about a time when reading with children has formed you.
This blog was originally posted at www.Renovare.org. Celebration: Knowing that every good gift is from God and a reason to party.
Of all the disciplines I’ve practiced over the years Celebration is the one I have struggled with the most. Celebration often begins with gratefulness, which leads to joy and when done right carries over into a jig. While I start well, I just can’t seem, with much consistency, to pull off the joy and the jig.
I have spent the majority of my life with children and this is not an issue for them. They are perpetually party ready. I have been to countless tea parties and been asked to dance by people under three foot tall at least twice a week for two decades. But I’m always feeding off their celebration, it’s rarely my own.
Lately though I’ve been paying attention to their partying ways, trying to grab a few bread crumbs from the celebration table. I found that they don’t even count their blessings! For shame, they aren’t even overtly thankful! After spending an evening with six of my favorite young friends, I realized Celebration begins with an all encompassing sense of safety. These children can party because they feel safe.
Here’s the difference…. When I start to count my blessings, I do begin to feel joy and the jig, but before I can say “party streamers”, my joy is hijacked by the need to feel safe. The “what if’s” begin to ring in my ears, and I’m back where I started.
But my young friends live in the land of safety, they are free to party at a moment’s notice.
Listening to Richard Foster has given me many gifts, but maybe one of the greatest is the saying, “The Kingdom of God is not in danger.” Dallas Willard often said, “The universe is a perfectly safe place to be.” Anybody with ears or eyes knows this is crazy talk. The world is not safe– but the kingdom of God is. Our God is a redemptive God and there is nothing he can’t turn around for good- and that’s some serious safety.
So the LORD and I are working this out. I count my blessings and he says, “See, I can be trusted. You are safe.” I’m going to keep gathering crumbs from my young friends, but I’m also practicing the merengue just in case.
What is the root of celebration in your life?
Tell us about a time you have celebrated with children.
This blog was originally posted at www.Renovare.org. I knew it was coming and frankly, I couldn’t wait. My children can argue the hind leg off a dog and I was really looking forward to our Ignatian Meditation time with John 2:1-12, the Wedding at Cana. The point of this story is so obvious. I mean it’s so clear, to a mother who after a summer of bickering children hides in the pantry.
When Mary called Jesus’ attention to a chore that needed to be done, he obeyed her. Yes, some might say he gave her a little lip, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But in the end, he obeyed his mother.
(As as I side note, when I was fantasizing about my children obeying their mother, my fantasy did get away from me and I heard my daughter respond after asking her to clean her room, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me. My hour has not yet come.” I was struck instantly with a migraine and had to lie down.)
I digress. The morning came and we began our usually ritual of reading the scriptures with our senses. And then we asked the Holy Spirit to speak to us. And I told the Spirit, “Here’s your chance to really push that ‘obey your mother’ message.” (Um… yeah, pray for me.) We ended our time together by sharing a word, or a phrase, or an image the Holy Spirit had given us.
Tween daughter, “I love that only the servants and I guess his disciples, and his mom knew.[That he changed water to wine.] He didn’t brag or charge money or tell anyone.”
Newly Nine year old daughter, “I think someone who likes to laugh turns water into wine, not into grape juice.” (Maybe too much TV for this kid.)
Nothing. No one got my message. Instead they got God’s.
A parent must respect the spiritual person of his child, and approach it with reverence, for that too looks the Father in the face and has an audience with Him into which no earthy parent can enter even he dared to desire it.
You see the Tween, she’s been serving at a soup kitchen. And the Newly Nine shares a ritual with her Dad of smelling the corks from wine bottles. They rate them and discuss funny things like, this smells similar to paint thinner, or old socks. These messages from the Holy Spirit are just for them, because he knows their hearts so well.
When we engage in the discipline of study with our children, or even within ourselves, submission must be our ever present companion. It seems so much easier to submit myself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit than it is to submit my children.
In my greatest moments I want them to learn directly from God; I want to be looked through— a transparent parent, pointing the way, not becoming it.