Who cared if there was really any Being to pray to? What mattered was the sense of giving thanks and praise, the feeling of a humble and grateful heart. — Oliver Sacks
In Today's Session...
The children heard the story, "A Sword of Wood," about a Jewish man whose faith is tested by a shah. The Jew holds fast to his faith and relies on prayer as he meets various challenges. We talked about prayer as an important practice in many world religions. For the purposes of this session, prayer was presented as a two-step practice: first, naming what is in your heart, and second, engaging in deep listening. We made Unitarian Universalist prayer bead necklaces with each bead representing a common type of prayer: praise (gratitude bead), confession ("I'm sorry" bead), petition (wish bead), and intercession (loving wishes on behalf of others bead). We encouraged the children to think about actions we can take that help make our gratitude be felt by others, our apologies be heard by others, our wishes and hopes to become real, and our loving (healing) wishes to be felt by others. Actions that help care for the Earth, caretaking of animals, and thoughtful expressions of caring toward other people were some examples.
Explore The Topic Together. Talk About...
Ask your child to show you the prayer beads the children made in Moral Tales and to tell you what the beads represent. Share your own views or practices related to prayer with your child. Talk about what it means, to you, to have faith. Give some examples of your own experiences and thoughts related to faith.
Extend The Topic Together. Try...
Consider using the prayer bead necklace as part of your child's bedtime ritual. As energy winds down, bedtime can be an ideal time to think about one's day, as well as one's hopes. The prayer beads can become a tool for naming the important things in one's heart. Have your child hold each bead in turn and name something they are grateful for, sorry about, wishes for, and hopes for the world or for someone else. Encourage your child to take a moment to name the things that they have done during the day to make things they wish for really happen and what they could do in the future.
A Family Ritual
If you do not already do so, develop a practice of eating dinner together as a family. Begin the meal with a grace, a brief song, a poem or a reading that expresses gratitude. Then have each person in the family name something for which he/she is grateful.
Find Ideas to Help You Start a Gratitude Ritual in These Books
A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles edited by M.J. Ryan (Conari Press, 1994)
Earth Prayers From Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations for Honoring the Earth edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (HarperSanFransisco, 1991)
If your family is interested in experiencing spiritual practices together other than prayer there are many resources available for this purpose. There are many ways in which people can seek spiritual deepening, name what is in their hearts, and engage in deep listening.
Consider enrolling in a family yoga class. If classes are not an option, there are many good videos that introduce simple yoga poses, some specifically for children and a deck of cards with yoga poses, "Kids Yoga Deck" by Annie Buckley.
You may wish to combine an exploration of yoga with an investigation of Hinduism and the role that different forms of yoga play in the Hindu religious practice.
Look for books or tapes with guided meditations and experience a peaceful journey of imagination and relaxation. Guided meditations can be especially effective at bedtime and can be a useful tool for getting children ready to sleep. A good audio CD is Guided Meditations for Children: Journey Into the Elements by Chitra Sukhu (New Age Kids, Inc.: 2002)
You may be near a spiritual or Christian retreat center that has a labyrinth open to visitors. The labyrinth invites walking meditation, sometimes a more appealing form of spiritual practice for an active person.
Read about pagan practices honoring the cycles of nature. There are many great rituals that are child-friendly and help to nurture a relationship to the Earth. A recommended reading is Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk (Bantam: 2000).
Learn about Unitarian Universalist rituals. Adopt some in your household. Light a chalice, sing hymns from Singing the Living Tradition or Evensong for Families by Barbara Hamilton-Holway (Skinner House, 2006).
The online bookstore of the Unitarian Universalist Association offers a number of books about faith in a Unitarian Universalist context:
- Rejoice Together: Prayers, Meditations and Other Readings for Family, Individual, and Small-Group Workshop , second edition, paperback, collected by Helen R. Pickett (Boston: Skinner House, 2005)
- Our Seven Principles in Story and Verse by Kenneth W. Collier (Boston: Skinner House, 1997)
- Simply Pray: A Modern Spiritual Practice to Deepen Your Life by Erik Walker Wikstrom (Boston: Skinner House, 2005)
- The Gift of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar (Boston: Skinner House, second edition, 2003)