Our regular resource for incorporating spiritual practices into your work with children, from Ian Adams and Carolyn Edwards
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 explore these possibilities in the time we have together and in other settings (home / family meal / school / church / all-age service, etc)?
Thanksgiving: The Jesus meal
Place in the Christian tradition
The Eucharist – the Mass, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread – is perhaps the central and defining act of communal Christian worship and spirituality across the main traditions and denominations. In some eras of the Church’s life, emphasis has been primarily on communion as a solemn memorial of the death of Jesus. There has almost always been a sense that (in various ways, according to tradition) in communion we may experience God as being particularly close. And an early understanding of the Eucharist (which means ‘thanksgiving’) was that it was a small revelation of the paradise that Jesus was, in words and action, both pointing to and bringing into being (described as the kingdom of heaven). In this way of seeing communion, each sharing of the Jesus meal is a glimpse of the wonderful reality that is often hidden from us. It is a real cause for thanksgiving and the source of a life characterised by thankfulness.
Our contemporary context
Our sense is that communion needs to be rediscovered as a glimpse of paradise and a source of thanksgiving. To share in the Eucharist is to enter a joyful feast that reveals the love of God, now and in whatever is to come. And we passionately believe that children should be able to taste this experience. In the parish church where I (Ian) was curate, one of the most important things we did was to go through the process of enabling children to receive the Eucharist before confirmation (the usual Anglican process is to make children wait until after confirmation). In one of the public meetings required to make sure that all views were being heard, one parishioner asked what we would do if a child, not understanding the solemnity of the service, ran up the aisle to receive the communion. In that moment it was as if we could hear the sound of pennies dropping and each of us thinking: ‘Shouldn’t we all be running up every week to receive the bread of life and the wine of salvation? A taste of paradise!’
This month’s practice
The Eucharist is both a source of our unity as churches, and, at times, a sign of our disunity. However you respond to this article in the series, we suggest that you work within the grain of the practice already present in your church community. It will also be important to work closely with whoever is given responsibility for the practice of sharing communion. A good question might be something like, ‘how could we enable our experience of communion (however that is done here) to be a little more of a glimpse of paradise than it already is, and how might children participate more than they already do?’
The practice in your main settings
Invite each child to make a record of anything and everything that they are thankful for during the course of one week. This could be written, drawn, photographed or videoed and then shared in a group time.
Ideas for the family
Look for a way to enable family meal, to be a place where thanksgiving is made. This could (but need not) include traditional prayers of thanksgiving.
Ideas for a Sunday School group
Whatever the nature of Eucharistic practice in your church, make some simple sharing of food and drink a regular part of your life together. And find a way for this to be a focus for thanksgiving, perhaps by giving each person the opportunity to say something about whatever they are thankful for. The preparation of the meal together would add additional depth to this experience. Breadmaking can be particularly helpful and fun in this context.
Ideas for a family service
Explore the idea of paradise. With some preparation, everyone could be invited to help decorate the space as a paradise. If communion with children is not part of your tradition, perhaps some food and drink could be shared as a sign of our hospitality and togetherness. If communion with children is part of your tradition, it would be great to do this paradise imagination in the context of such a service.
Helpful tips for this month’s practice
Possible Bible passages:
- The account of Jesus breaking bread at Emmaus (Luke 24:28–35)
- Jesus describing himself as the bread of life (John 6:35)
Ian Adams is the author of Unfurling, Cave Refectory Road and Running Over Rocks (all Canterbury Press), director of Stillpoint, creator of Morning Bell and partner in the Beloved Life project (belovedlife.org)
Carolyn Edwards is lecturer in mission and ministry at Cliff College and author of Slugs and Snails (IVP)