Our regular resource for incorporating spiritual practices in your work with children, from Ian Adams and Carolyn Edwards
For a free pdf download of this resource click here
Why spiritual practice?
We sense that the time has come again for the Christian faith to be practised, lived and loved, more than just learned as knowledge (as important as that is). The disciples learned a way of life from being with Jesus as well as from hearing him teach. So the Christian path is something that we do, even something that we become, as much as something that we believe. We hope that you personally will find this reorientation towards a life rooted in spiritual practice liberating and life-enhancing, and that this will be an experience that you will share with the children you work with. When working with this material, ask yourself:
• What could this practice look like for me?
• What could this practice look like in the lives of these children?
• How can I help them to explore these possibilities in the time we have together and in other settings (home / family meal / school / church / all-age service etc)?
This month’s practice:
Place in the Christian tradition
One perspective on God’s great stories of salvation and kingdom-coming is to see them as the path towards true belonging. God’s desire, we might say, is for everything and everyone to belong.
The picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden may be a good starting point – human beings comfortable in their own and each other’s presence, at one with the earth, and conscious of their greater belonging in God.
Much of Jesus’ work seems to involve bringing back into belonging those who sense (or who have been told) that they do not belong. So the sick are healed, the forgotten are remembered, and the shamed are restored.
Our contemporary context
So many of our personal issues seem to be rooted in our anxiety about not belonging; so much of our divided political landscape is scarred by belongings (and not-belongings) in competition with each other. This is a vital aspect of human flourishing, and this belonging encompasses all of our human-ness.
Belonging based on body image is a current area of concern for children and young people, so our practice of belonging starts with the individual. It also needs to address our sense of belonging to the good Earth and its creatures, and it needs to open us up to our greater belonging in God.
This month’s practice
• Builds on the first three practices in this series exploring stillness, community and blessing.
• Offers three steps nurturing children’s sense of belonging through accepting their bodies, caring for the earth, and finding belonging in God.
• Encourages children to help others to belong.
The practice in four steps
Combine as many of these as will work in your setting:
Invite the children to look at their hands. Ask them to see how amazing their hands are and to think about the amazing things their hands do. See how similar your hands are to others’ hands - but also how unique they are. You might use this phrase: ‘I belong, you belong, we belong’.
Ask the children to crouch down and touch the ground / earth. What do the different surfaces feel like? Explain that through God’s wonderful creative power we are deeply connected with the Earth and with all God’s creation (see Genesis 1 for inspiration). ‘I belong, you belong, we belong.’
Ask the children to think about feelings they get when they know that they are loved and belong. Explain that God loves each one of us completely. We belong! Revisit your practice of stillness from two issues ago and focus on the possibility of belonging. Go into the stillness practice, and use the phrase ‘I belong, you belong’ as the prayer word which we return to each time our attention wanders.
Begin by having a conversation about what it feels like not to belong. Ask the children to come up with ideas for helping other children to belong – perhaps those who are new to a group or school, or those who are always left out.
The practice in different settings
Each child could be invited to create something that says ‘I belong’ – perhaps a bookmark or a card to go on a mirror.
Ideas for the family
In the so-called developed world few of us now make a living directly in engagement with the Earth. We have lost something important on the way. As a family make it a priority to renew this belonging, perhaps by growing some vegetables. Plant something together, care for it together, enjoy it together.
Ideas for a Sunday School group
Take a walk together to a park or field. Enjoy the space and the sensations of this place and talk about how we feel we belong (or feel we don’t belong) here.
Ideas for a family service
Create an art piece based on hands – each hand unique but similar and all belonging. You could do this on a large piece of cardboard, with each person tracing the outline of a hand. Use the phrase ‘In God’s world, I belong, you belong, we belong...’
Other ideas for the month’s practice
• With older children you could look at stories in the news, and discuss to what extent they are about belonging / not belonging.
• Explore children’s relationship with their pets, and how they express their sense of connection and belonging in care for them.
The practices have emerged from our own experience and study of practices within Christianity. For more information and source material for the practices see Cave, Refectory, Road and Running Over Rocks (Ian Adams), Slugs and Snails (Carolyn Edwards) and belovedlife.org