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The Program (Riddle and Mystery)

I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.  — Harry Emerson Fosdick

A curriculum about the “big questions” must begin with an inquiry: How often do you find yourself asking big questions? Write your answer lightly, with pencil, so you can change it with ease. The frequency of your changes may increase as you move through Riddle and Mystery.

Even without the stimulus of reading this curriculum, it may be every day that you ask what to do with your life. Maybe even more often you wonder whether life is fair—although you already know the answer is “no.” Perhaps every hour, in some way or other, you ponder whether something is right or wrong.

If even adults are uncertain about such matters, how must sixth graders feel? Perhaps sure of themselves sometime, and sometimes totally lost. The purpose of Riddle and Mystery is to assist them in their own search for understanding.

Each of the 16 sessions introduces and processes a Big Question. The first three echo Paul Gauguin’s famous triptych: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? The next ten, including Does God exist? and What happens when you die?, could be found on almost anyone’s list of basic life inquiries. The final three are increasingly Unitarian Universalist: Can we ever solve life’s mystery? How can I know what to believe? What does Unitarian Universalism mean to me?

Humanity’s list of big questions is not finite, of course, but Riddle and Mystery’s list is. Many sources were consulted to determine the questions most relevant to the faith formation of a sixth grader. What you have here is the result: 16 Big Questions for youth to unpack with a wide range of inquiry, activity and exploration as outlined under Program Structure, below.

Unitarian Universalists of every age may usefully consider life’s big questions. Why focus a curriculum at the sixth grade level? Because sixth graders are at a critical moment of growth, just turning the corner into adolescence. They face a sometimes bewildering world of increasing independence and choice. They are developing new abilities for abstraction and analysis as they encounter new ideas. Sixth graders need the wise counsel a guided Unitarian Universalist investigation can offer. And, sixth graders are typically open to the mix of deep inquiry and playful spirit that big questions prompt.

You will notice words such as “response,” “reaction” and “comment” occurring throughout Riddle and Mystery, more often than the word “answer.” Unitarian Universalists do not attempt to answer big questions for each other or for anybody else. Instead, we try to give reflective, generous responses that will help all seekers to their own understanding within the philosophical and theological frameworks expressed in the UU Principles and Sources. This is the intent of Riddle and Mystery.

This curriculum is part of the multi-faceted Tapestry of Faith program created by the Lifespan Faith Development staff group of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and works toward all the goals of Tapestry of Faith, nurturing faith development by providing a rich philosophical base and age-appropriate activities to help youth develop the ideas and skills they will need as they move into adolescence and beyond.

Riddle and Mystery does not directly pose one of the greatest questions: What is the meaning of life? Nevertheless, its 16 sessions suggest a response: The meaning of life—of human life, at least—is questions. Without them, the essence of humanity would be absent. Without them, the mystery would be lost. Without them, all would be fully known or not known; all would be dull. Life is, blessedly, in the words of the song introduced in Session 1, “a riddle and a mystery.”

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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