In "Windows and Mirrors," a Tapestry of Faith program
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.
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.
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Last updated on Friday, June 22, 2012.
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