Activity 4: Prayer Stations
Activity time: 25 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Handout 2, Respecting Others' Spiritual Practices
- Optional: Silhouette images of body prayer postures, from Leader Resource 1
- Optional: Music, and music player
- Prayer Stations
- Work as Prayer. Lanyard, yarn, ribbon and other materials for braiding or making knots, cut into 12-inch lengths
- Welcoming the Sabbath or Sending Love and Healing with Candlelight. Candles and candle holders (at least two), and a lighter or matches
- Communion. Small, plain crackers or cookies, a small pitcher of grape juice, small cups and (optional) your congregation's Communion silver
- Welcoming the Divine. Yoga mats or small carpets, and a small lamp or a candle and lighter/matches
- Table Grace. A table and a few chairs; a bowl of snacks; and index cards printed with table graces such as "May we be truly thankful for the food we are about to receive." / "May we one day live in a world where no goes hungry." / "I thank all the hands that harvested and prepared this meal." Find more graces in the Tapestry of Faith Creating Home program, Session 11, Leader Resource, Four Graces; on the UUA WorshipWeb pages; or on Ingrid Goff- Maidoff's website
- Resisting Evil. Sheets of 8 1/2x11-inch card stock, peel-and-stick labels, color markers, wooden craft sticks or rulers, and tape or heavy-duty stapler and staples
- Praying with Icons. Photos, images or models of religious icons such as the Virgin Mary, the Buddha, saints, or gods and goddesses
- Praying with Religious Objects. Item(s) belonging to adult volunteer leaders, such as Catholic rosary beads, prayer beads from another religious tradition, a Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel or Jewish tefillin
- Counting Prayers. A few strings of fairly large beads, each with at least ten beads
- Altar. A low table, (optional) attractive cloth cover, a candle, a bowl of water, a stick of incense in a holder, small statues or toy animals, and matches or a lighter
- Sitting Meditation. Yoga mats or small rugs
- Dancing with God. Music and music player, (optional) carpet
- Foot Washing. A chair, a pitcher of warm water, a large bowl, and paper towels; (optional) wet wipes
- Receiving the Spirit. Chalk to draw on floor, or a small rug
- Holy Water. A table and a small pitcher or bowl of cool water
Preparation for Activity
- Read the Description of Activity. From the many prayer stations suggested, choose according to the size of the group, the space and materials available and-most importantly-the availability of specific adult volunteers in your congregational who are personally familiar with and knowledgeable about particular practices.
- Next, consider whether your congregation includes any adults who might be able to present another prayer practice not described here. An adult who knows and uses prayer practices from-for example-their own Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish or contemplative religious background could provide a culturally authentic introductory experience.
- Personally contact the adults you want to lead a prayer station activity. Ask them to lead a brief interpretation of the practice, focusing on how it is done and its faith and/or cultural meaning. Invite adult volunteers to shape their demonstration according to their own knowledge and understanding of the practice. Ask them to avoid both (a) inflating their own expertise in a practice and (b) distancing themselves from the practice, such as by categorizing it as something "Hindu people do," "Catholics believe in," etc. Encourage them to anticipate children's questions and be ready to give answers and/or point children toward further authorities about the practice for a deeper understanding. Ask volunteers what space, equipment or supplies the prayer practice requires. Make the arrangements and obtain needed items before the session. Confirm volunteer visits one or two days ahead.
Plan the logistics. Decide:
- How many/which prayer stations will you provide?
- Who will you invite to lead each practice?
- Where will you set up each practice? (Which prayer stations require an electric outlet, water, a window, a lit chalice, a carpeted floor? Are all the prayer stations accessible to all participants?)
- How much time should children spend at each prayer station? How many stations do you want each child to experience? Plan how the children will rotate among the prayer stations. Some stations may work well for one child to experience at a time; others may work well for small groups.
- Review Activity 5, Window/Mirror Panel - Reflections of Prayer. You may wish to combine it with this activity by including Window/Mirror Panel work tables as a prayer station. A co-leader will need to staff this station and guide children to respond to the prayer stations and other session activities. The Description of Activity section in Activity 5 guides you to help the children process and express their experiences.
- Read Handout 2, Respecting Others' Spiritual Practices. Decide whether you will paraphrase its content for the group, read it aloud, or simply distribute the handout.
- Optional: If it will not conflict with music at individual prayer stations, arrange to play gentle, peaceful music in the area during this activity.
- Optional: Cut out the silhouette images of body prayer postures from Leader Resource 1 and use them to decorate the prayer station area(s). Some figures may perfectly illustrate particular prayer stations.
- Make a card to identify each prayer station. Include the name of the prayer practice, the tradition(s) it comes from and the name of the adult leading it. Post the cards at the prayer stations.
- Set out materials at each prayer station. Make sure adult volunteers are ready for participants to visit their prayer stations.
Description of Activity
Gather the group. Invite them to prepare to experience in their bodies several different spiritual practices that are used by people all over the world. Say, in your own words:
The world's religions, including our own, offer many ways to express gratitude, regret and hope or make some other connection with a spirit or force within or beyond ourselves. In some faiths, people use prayer or meditation to ask or petition for something for themselves or someone else, to lament about how things that have happened, to express a sense of awe, or to show their submission to a deity. Some prayer uses words. Other times, people use their bodies to express their awareness or hopes in prayer.
As you rotate through our prayer stations, search for a practice or posture that feels right for your body and offers something for your spirits.
Present the guidelines you have determined, such as whether children will travel alone or in a small group; how many prayer stations they should visit, in what order; how you will signal the end of the prayer station activity; and where you would like them to end up. You may wish to ask the children to remove their shoes to maintain quiet and keep the prayer areas clean.
Mention that some practices may feel uncomfortable, weird or difficult to one person, yet liberating for another. Ask participants to respect one another's privacy, even in the shared practices, and refrain from giggling or commentary. Let them know it is disrespectful to make fun of anyone's religious practices and they may be removed from the activity if their behavior is disruptive. This may be a good time to refer to the group's behavior covenant (Session 2). Optional: Distribute Handout 2, Respecting Others' Spiritual Practices. Read the handout together.
Ask participants to move slowly and quietly between stations and to take three deep breaths as they begin each practice. Invite children to begin visiting the prayer stations.
Work as Prayer. On a small surface, place colorful 12-inch lengths of lanyard, yarn, ribbon and/or other flexible items for braiding (or making knots). Children will make a small bookmark by tying three or six lengths of material at one end, braiding most of the length of the material, tying off the end tightly. The Shakers believe "Hands to work, hearts to God" and that all work is sacred.
Welcoming the Sabbath or Sending Love and Healing with Candlelight. Place two candles in candlesticks on a flat surface and allow children to light them. Invite them to think of someone they love or for whom they are concerned as they light the candle. You might suggest they whisper "Repair the world" as they light the candles. In many religious traditions, candle-lighting (including lighting the UU chalice) is an act of prayer. Jews light candles on Fridays at sundown to welcome the holy day-the Sabbath.
Communion. Place small snacks (crackers, cookies, etc) and a small pitcher of grape juice on a flat surface. Greet each child by saying, "We are all connected to one another. Take a piece of this cracker (or cookie)] as you are a part of a larger humanity," and guide the child to break a piece of the food and eat it. Then say, "As humans, we all share the same blood. Drink this sip of juice to represent our common humanity." Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and many Protestant denominations practice Communion as a remembrance of Jesus at the Last Supper. If your congregation has Communion silver, you might arrangement to borrow it for display or use at this prayer station.
Welcoming the Divine. Place a yoga mat on the floor. Invite each child, one at a time, to step onto the mat in a deliberate way, facing a source of light (a candle, a lamp or an open window). Demonstrate pressing palms together with thumbs extended and touching the chest. Ask the child to stand in that pose, take three deep breaths, and feel their heart opening up with each breath. People who practice yoga use this position to begin and end their practice.
Table Grace. Place a chair, table, index cards with table graces and a bowl of snacks in a separate space. Invite each child who enters the space to sit at the table and read a few of the graces to find one they like, for example, "May we be truly thankful for the food we are about to receive." / "May we one day live in a world where no goes hungry." / "I thank all the hands that harvested and prepared this meal." Then ask the child to fold or clasp their hands, bow their head and whisper the prayer slowly. After saying the grace, the child may take a snack to eat while remaining seated at the table. Many religious traditions encourage a prayer of gratitude, thanking the many sources of our food.
Group Chanting. Chasidic, Native American, Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox and many other traditions use group chanting as prayer. An adult with experience in this type of prayer practice should lead this prayer station and provide appropriate words or syllables to chant or sing.
Resisting Evil. Set 8 1/2x11-inch card stock, peel-and-stick labels and color markers on a table. Invite each child to express an idea for something in the world they would like to improve. Provide a few examples, such as "Stop wars," "Stop crime," Make schools better," or "Recycle." Suggest each child write or draw a brief message on a card or labels. Children may place the labels on their clothing over their heart. Or, help children attach their sheet of card stock to a wooden craft stick or ruler to make a placard.
Praying with Icons. Place photos/images of religious icons on a small table. Examples include the Virgin Mary, the Buddha, saints, or gods and goddesses. As children step up to the table, ask them to examine each image and choose one that appeals to them. Ask the child to hold the image with both hands and gaze at it, while taking three deep breaths.
Praying with Religious Objects. These might include Catholic rosary beads or prayer beads from another religious tradition; a Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel (a wheel mounted on a spindle so it can spin and inscribed with a mantra in Sanskrit); Jewish tefillin,(two small, leather boxes which strap onto the prayer's head and upper arm and contain parchment with mitzvot (commandments) in hand-written Hebrew).
Counting Prayers. Invite each child to sit cross-legged and hand them a string of beads. Ask them to first notice the feel of the entire string of beads, and then focus on a single bead-its shape, size, texture, etc. Then ask the child to close their eyes and, while counting each bead, whisper, "I appreciate life." Count up to ten beads while taking deep breaths. Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and Orthodox Christians are among those who use prayer beads.
Altar. On a table-optionally, covered with an attractive cloth-place a candle (unlit), a bowl of water, a stick of incense (unlit) in a holder, and small items arranged purposefully such as statues or toy animals. As each child approaches the table, invite them to kneel in front of the table, notice the items, and choose an action of prayer. Suggest they could light the candle or incense, dip a finger in the bowl of water, hold an item for a moment, or simply bow their head. Altars are sacred places for people of the Hebrew, Mormon, Buddhist, Jain and other traditions.
Sitting Meditation. Locate this prayer station away from activity and noise. Invite each child to sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position on a yoga mat or small rug. Ask the child to relax their arms at their sides and place their hands in their lap with palms upturned, one hand resting on top of the other, as if holding a precious gift. Say, "With each deep breath, release any physical tension, worry, or thought to clear the mind. Zen Buddhists use sitting meditation to awaken insights to the mystery of life." Lead the child(ren) in breathing. Repeat the instruction several times.
Laying of Hands. Form pairs and lead partners to take turns placing a hand on the other's shoulder or elbow and/or clasping their hands while saying "May this human touch offer you comfort and healing." Many Protestant denominations use touch to pass blessings among participants.
Dancing with God. Provide a music player and a range of musical choices. Each child may dance for as much as a minute to music they choose. Set this prayer station apart from other sounds. You may wish to use a carpeted area and invite children to remove their shoes. Encourage children to close their eyes while they dance, if they are comfortable. Liturgical dancers, Hindus, Chasidim and Sufis are among the people who use this practice to commune with the Divine.
Breaking Bread. Place a plate small dinner rolls on a table. Invite pairs of children to sit together and split the roll. Before they eat, ask one child to say to the other, "Welcome, my friend, to my home. You are no longer a stranger." In many traditions, prayer is entwined with rituals around sharing food with others.
Repeated Body Prayer. Invite each child to step onto a yoga mat or small rug and stand with hands clasped in front of their chest. Ask them to take three deep breaths, then touch their toes, bend down on hands and knees, rest their hips on their heels, touch their forehead to the mat, stretch their arms forward, and then rise slowly back to standing. Repeat the sequence two more times. Islam, yoga and other traditions use the full body to pray; the repetition builds strength, humility and devotion.
Foot Washing. Set a chair, a pitcher of warm water, a large bowl, and paper towels at this station. Form pairs and invite the partners to take turns sitting in the chair and placing a bare foot into the hands of the other. Show the foot washer to hold their partner's foot over the bowl, pour a small amount of water over the foot and then dry the foot. Instead of the water, children can use wet wipes to "wash" each other's feet. This practice in Christian traditions highlights humility and service to others.
Compassion Prayer. Ask children to work in pairs. Facing each other, they will clasp both hands and close their eyes. After taking three deep breaths, they will whisper "May you find peace." Many religious and ethical traditions hold compassion as the centerpiece of spiritual practice.
Receiving the Spirit. Draw a circle in chalk on the floor or place a small rug. Ask the child to find a comfortable, open standing position, for example, with palms turned upward, hands cupped and head lifted. Direct the child to take three deep breaths, raise their arms or hands, and say "Come to me, Great Spirit" and just listen and feel. Many religious and ethical traditions encourage the public display of welcoming God, Spirit, Allah, awe, etc.
Holy Water. Place a small pitcher or bowl of cool water on a table. Following three deep breaths, allow each child to dip a hand in the water and drip the water on their face. As the water drips down, lead the child to say "Make my heart and mind clean." Catholics, Hindus, Baptists and others use holy water for a symbolic spiritual cleansing.
Passing the Peace. Ask children in pairs or a small group to face one another, shake hands or hug one another, and say, "May peace be upon you." You may choose to perform this practice after everyone has completed all of the stations.
Including All Participants
Adapt the practices to the needs and abilities of each child. Working one-on-one, or with just several children at a time, will allow ample opportunity for personalized adjustments.
Designate at least one adult to watch for and redirect any children who have trouble participating respectfully in the prayer station activities.