Thursday, December 1, 2016

Some Special Symbols

I find symbols very meaningful in my spiritual journey. These are some special symbols that I often wear when I am with the children to remind me of certain spiritual truths.

The Celtic knot above (on the left) has a triangular shape that represents the Trinity, and the interlinking circle represents mankind. I wear this particular Celtic knot, because it reminds me that the Sacred Three-in-One is always near and that we are intricately woven into relationship with this Triune God. 

The second cross is the Tau cross, an ancient symbol named after the Greek letter. It was especially beloved by St. Francis of Assisi, who lived a simple life of service to God and who saw nature as a mirror to God's character. This cross reminds me to cherish the creation and be attentive to how it speaks to me of the Divine. 

And the third is the Maltese cross. This one reminds me that the ability to do both good and evil lies in each one of us. Sometimes we lose our way, but God graciously helps us get back on track. That is the story of the order that designed this cross. 

The Knights of Malta began as servant monks who built hospitals and cared for the sick and dying. Each person in their care was to receive equal medical treatment, whether they were prince or pauper. Sadly, as the Crusades began, the Knights of Malta strayed from their original calling and became a class of warrior-monks, who evolved at one point into little more than pirates, looting and enslaving others in God's name. Their kingdom and power, however, came to an end, and they were forced by Napoleon to leave Malta forever. Today, the Maltese orders have returned to their original purposes and carry out numerous social services for people all over the world. Their story reminds me that should I get lost for a while, the Good Shepherd will lead me back to the fold. 

What are symbols that have special meaning for you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Revisiting the Blessing

The blessing at the end of a Godly Play lesson is an very important aspect of the overall concept. When we bless the children, we are asking God to call forth all that is good, beautiful, and like the Triune God that is in them. 

I've been thinking a lot about blessings lately, because when I was in Ireland, part of our retreat was to write specific blessings for each member of our family. We also wrote blessings for rooms in our home where community takes place. 

Usually we do a group blessing at the end of our Godly Play blessing before we say good-bye at the door. We do this, because the parents are standing outside the door waiting for us to finish the feast and the children then get in a big hurry to get out of the door. It doesn't always make for a meaningful individual blessing, although I do this with certain children anyway if I notice that they are not in too big of a rush to receive it. 

On Sunday, at the end of our feast, we put on some classical music, Bach's Christmas Suite, and told the children that we were going to do something special before they went home. They were very tired, antsy, and ready to get up. Nevertheless, I explained that I wanted to whisper a special blessing to each one of them in their ear that was just for them and only they could hear. Immediately, a 5-year-old girl asked if I was going to say the same thing to each person or if each blessing would be different. I replied that each blessing would be unique. 

Well, as soon as I started, it was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. Each child sat quietly and eagerly awaited their turn to be blessed. Their faces lit up and beamed as I whispered the blessing into each of their ears. It was truly a holy moment that I will never forget. 

A special thanks to Maxi, my co-teacher, who had the idea to play classical music while we were doing this special blessing. That helped a great deal in setting the tone for what was to come. 

How do you bless the children in your church?

Public Domain Image

Monday, November 28, 2016

First Advent Sorting Game: The Words of the Prophets

On Sunday in Children's Church ("Kinderzeit" is what we call it at our church), we began the Advent Journey with the children. The first part of the Godly Play Advent lesson tells about the prophets who pointed the way to Bethlehem. 

Unfortunately, there is as of yet no German translation of the Bible into children's speech, so the actual words of the prophets can be quite difficult to understand. Even older children who are good readers stumble over the archaic words and struggle to make sense of them. 

Maxi, one of our children's workers, had the idea to make a sorting game with pictures to help the children understand the most important parts of Bible verses. 

We chose the following verses:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."  Isaiah 7:14

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." Micah 5:2

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2

Then, Maxi made cards with with pictures and short phrases (for those who could already read) to help the children understand what the verses were all about. 

During the Response Time after the story, Maxi sat at a table and told the children that if they want to know the actual words of the prophets, they could play this game with her. It was wonderful to see a gaggle of children gathered around, concentrating intensely, and making sense of the the prophet's words foretelling the coming of the Messiah. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A First Advent Blessing

Today, we begin the journey together to Bethlehem. We await the King who once came, who will one day come to renew heaven and earth, and who somehow comes to us each year again and again.

No matter how many times you have made this journey or how prepared (or more likely unprepared!) you may feel, may the journey to meet the King strengthen and refresh you for the next chapter of your life. 

The hand of a prophet showing the way.

May the prophets show you the way . . . 

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth." Job 19:25

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."  Isaiah 7:14

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." Micah 5:2

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2

Advent Nature Table

Wishing you joy and perseverance on this First Advent Sunday!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Caring for the Soul

As Godly Players and people who accompany children on their spiritual journeys, it is important that we pay close attention to our own walk with God and our soul's condition and needs. Like the seasons of the year, our souls also have seasons. 

I had noticed in the past year that I was many times just going through the motions. Life was going at such a fast pace that I wasn't attentive to what was going on inside me. 

When an opportunity arose for me to go on a spiritual retreat with Communitas International, I knew this was something that I needed to do. I chose this particular retreat, because it was in Ireland and focused on Celtic Christian practices. 

Rather than having a book to read on this retreat, we had a "place as text". The "text" was the ruins of an old Irish monastery called Glendalough. While visiting this place and learning about the rhythms of the people who once lived here, we spent time asking God what we could learn from them and apply in our present lives.

The Celtic monasteries had walls, but the first thing you notice about them is that they were very low walls. They weren't meant to keep people or anything else out. Rather they were meant to be space markers, to show that within these walls, there was an alternative way to live. 

I was immediately reminded of the threshold in Godly Play. We cross a threshold into our Godly Play space and come into a place where we meet with God and each other. The walls of the Godly Play space aren't there to keep people outside, but rather to invite them into a special place. 

The Irish monks embraced life and found meaning and fulfilment in normal, everyday work and living among normal people. Children and families lived inside the walls of the monasteries. I loved imagining the laughter and play of children as I walked among these ruins. 

Even as they worked, the Celtic Christians found time to pray at different periods of the day as a way of returning to God and keeping him in their thoughts. I began to think about the rhythms of my day, and how I could take a few minutes at certain times to "return to God" as well. For me, that would mean in the morning as I am drinking my coffee, when I am working out, during my lunch break, and in the evening when the children have gone to bed. 

The Irish monks also lived in an ebb and flow of withdrawing themselves to be alone with God and afterwards using the insight  and energy they gleaned from the time alone to focus outwardly on the world. Glendalough itself was founded after St. Kevin spent an extended time alone with God in a cave in this national park. This made me think about how much I need this in my life, and about what the natural times of the year are when I can and should withdraw. This flies in the face of a society that is always under pressure to "produce", but we need to do this in order to be more creative and productive in the long run. 

The Celtic Christians were also very attuned to the seasons, and how nature reflected the character of God. Glendalough is in the middle of a national park, so we were asked to silently walk around for several hours and observe what God might say to us through our surroundings. 

And, as if God had prepared the Parable of the Good Shepherd just for me, I stumbled up on a flock of sheep. Not many sheep running around in Berlin, so this was definitely interesting to me!

One sheep had gotten lost from the flock and was bleating his little heart out to find the others. I became internally distressed, because as he got closer to the flock, the other sheep plainly heard his bleating, but didn't bat an eyelash. They just kept munching on their grass, as if everything were peaceful and quiet. It made me think about my own reactions when I see that someone is having a difficult time.  Do I ask God what to do, or do I sometimes just keep on doing my own thing, because that is easier?

So many things to think about. Since this trip to Ireland in October, I have been in a process of trying to establish new rhythms that allow me to "return" to God at different times during the day, even if for only a few moments. I have also been trying to pay more attention to the ebb and flow, and recognise and accept when I need to "ebb" rather than "flow". 

Do you have natural rhythms in your day, week or year that help you to care for your soul? If so, what are they?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sacred Space: What does it say to the children?

One of our topics at the Moscow Core Training was about the Godly Play Room and how to set up sacred space for children. Whether one has an actual permanent Godly Play room or not, the sacred space that we set up for children communicates non-verbally to the children. 

At one point, I asked the group to wonder together about the following questions:

What might we as the church say to the children through the room?

What might God want to say to the children through the room?

Here are a few of the things the participants thought of:

- We are waiting for you here. This space and everything in it is for you.
- We love you, and God loves you!
- This is special place for you to meet with God.
- You are valued here.
- God prepared this space for you, and he is waiting for you here. 
- You are important to God.
- God wants to talk to you and you can tell him anything. 
- You are accepted here just as you are!
- We trust you!

As a church-planter in Russia in the early 90's when children's ministry often took place in very inadequate spaces, it really did my heart a lot of good to be with such thoughtful people in Moscow who really get it when it comes to children

Thursday, November 24, 2016

New Storytellers in Moscow!

There are 20 new Godly Players in the Moscow region!  Nineteen women and one man from four different churches attended the first-ever Core Training in the heart of Moscow. It was a privilege for me to meet and spend three very full days with such lovely people who truly carry children in their hearts and take seriously the idea of accompanying them on their journey with God! 

Ironically, the training took place in an old German church, the Lutheran Cathedral of Peter and Paul. It was amusing to me to find this very German architecture just minutes away from Red Square!

Normally, we only have 12 participants at a Core Training, so it was challenging to have such a large group. I was assisted in the training by two experienced storytellers, Asmic from Moscow and Alesya from Minsk. These two amazing women were invaluable, and the training could not have taken place without them!

On the first day, everyone came ready with notebooks and pencils expecting more of a lecture format. They were pleasantly surprised to find that the training was interactive, experiential and encouraging of critical thinking skills, and with elements of a spiritual retreat. 

As you can imagine, we wondered as a group about a great many things. In the picture below, we spent time thinking about what we, as the church, and God might want to say to the children through the sacred space/room that we create for them. 

Another particularly intense and moving Wondering involved the principles of Montessori that are inherent in Godly Play as well. Asmic introduced the principles on notecards, placing them on the floor in the middle of the circle. Each participant was asked to stand by the principle that she/he was most drawn to. As each person shared the things that attracted them, the rich love and devotion to serving children became a tangible element in the room. A truly holy moment. 

Here Alesya shares "The Faces of Easter" with the group. 

Each participant had the chance to be a storyteller and a door person. They worked hard during the practice sessions, asked great questions, and were very teachable. They were open to learning the stories in their original format, even though their traditions usually differed from the Episcopalian background out of which Godly Play originally emerged. 

Telling stories for their peers involves a lot of excitement and nerves! 
 Lyuda shares the Parable of the Mustard Seed . . .

and Sergei shares "The Good Shepherd and the Worldwide Communion". 

The participants gave us feedback at the end of the course that they had rarely encountered the level of love, support, and respect that they had experienced in this group over the last three days. 

A moment of joy - receiving a storyteller certificate and a few gifts at the end!

Asmic had a friend bake People of God gingerbread for each person!

Before we said good-bye and blessed one another, we asked each person to spend some time thinking about and write out what they felt the next steps with Godly Play were to be. Some people shared very concrete steps, such as making the materials for the Advent story and sharing it with their children. Other shared long-term dreams. One young woman even said that she wanted to become a Godly Play trainer! I'm praying that will happen. 

The seeds of an ecumenical Godly Play group have been planted. Like the Mustard Seed, we trust God that he will water it and cause it to grow, and that the children of Moscow will be blessed through it.