This past week our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated Rosh Hashana which is the beginning of the new year and a celebration of the creation of Adam and Eve and the birth of creation. It’s also known as the days of AWE. As we begin again into a new season, my friend Anya Almgren invites us to take time for AWE and WONDER and to receive this gift of NEWNESS. Lilly
“What is the biggest gift you have ever received? Did you know that there are some presents so big that nobody notices them? They are so huge that they are hard to see. They are so hard to see that the only way to know that they are there is to go clear back to the beginning, or maybe a little before the beginning.” – Jerome W. Berryman
Those are the words at the beginning of the Godly Play story of Creation. If you are unfamiliar with Godly Play, it is a Montessori-based ministry that mentors the spiritual development in children and can also be used with youth and even adults. Originally based in the U.S. in 1974, Godly Play is now implemented in various denominational and non-denominational churches and Bible camps in 57 other countries as well. But don’t let the word “play” fool you! As we know from Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin, play is important in our lives and faith. The designated Godly Play room becomes a sacred space for children to hear, wonder about, and respond to sacred biblical and liturgical action stories and parables. Each story is told using quality made wooden materials and incorporates contemplative moments of silence and a time of wonder before children respond to the stories using art supplies, the wooden story materials themselves, and other objects to allow the children to explore the deeper meanings in the stories and to process what they have heard and learned and relate it to their own life.
Each year in September, when the kids come back to school, and Chapel Time starts up again, we begin with the story of Creation. As I tell this story, I pause on each day’s creation and say “God gave us the gift of….” How often have we read through this familiar story in Genesis 1 and not realized that all that God created is a gift, not just for us, but for Creation itself? How often have we read that story and not realized that the sabbath rest was also a gift?
The hallmark of Godly Play is really the wonderings of the community of children. The storyteller is there to ask the questions to prompt the children to wonder but does not lead them to any specific answers. This wondering time always makes me think of Rainier Maria Rilke’s famous quote:
Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
One of the reasons I love teaching 3-5 year olds is because everything is new to them, and they still have their sense of wonder intact. They also have a sense of hope and responsibility. They always want to help and do the right thing. When I have asked the question, “I wonder which part of the story we could take out and still have all we need?” the children will have me remove the wooden story materials, day by day, as they discuss amongst themselves the pros and cons of removal of any part of Creation and the consequences thereof. It is quite an interesting phenomenon to observe these young children try to work out whether it is a good idea to remove all sources of light and water or annihilate all the creatures that walk on four legs and those that walk on two legs or to cause all of the creatures of the air and water to become extinct and the green growing things on the land to no longer live. It may surprise you that they are using critical thinking skills at such a young age, but children understand cause and effect and the consequences for actions. They are, after all, constantly being taught what to do and what not to do, what is right and what is wrong.
Sometimes there is one child who will ask me to remove the sabbath day of rest wooden board. Perhaps they think it is not important, but it may also be that they are simply following the pattern of having me remove each individual day of Creation for them to ponder and discuss. Inevitably, the other children will yell, “NO!” and will try to talk me and the child out of removing it. Some children have even put their hands on the board and begged me not to remove it as they try to impress their thinking upon the child who wants to remove it. They have come to understand its sacredness, but they also argue that it is important because if we did not have the gift of rest, we would always be working and moving and living nonstop. Hmm I wonder why adults have forgotten that concept. After all, it was the first full day after humankind was created and it was not a day to rest because we had been so busy working, but because God wanted to spend time with us, and it was God who had been so busy making all things new. In our world of go-go-go, we frequently stop only when we are through with our To Do List or can only take a vacation when we have accrued enough paid time off. Some folks do not even get a vacation. Isn’t it a wonder then that God gave us the gift of sabbath rest before we even did any work? How might that concept change your routine and rhythm?
READ: Today, I encourage you to reread the Creation story from Genesis 1and to reframe it from the perspective of all creation being a gift from God.
WONDER: Take time to wonder “Which day of Creation is the most important?” “Which day of Creation is your favorite?” “Which part of the story could we take out and still have all we need?” “Which part of the story do I see myself in?” “Which part of Creation am I indifferent to and which part am I passionate about?” “How will these wonderings affect how I live out my faith from now?”
ACTION: Then, if you are able, take a walk outside and let the Spirit direct your path. Find a tangible part of Creation and hold it in your hand as you walk along.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Creation. Thank You that You have provided all that we need for sustenance. Help us to witness the cause and effect of our actions and to act according to Your will in our daily lives, Lord. Guide us in our dealings with others who may be indifferent to Your gifts and help us to model for the younger generation what environmental stewardship truly is. In your holy and precious name, we pray, amen.