When I was a child prayer meant reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary before bedtime. When my daughter Allison was old enough to say prayers with me I taught her prayers of petition, “God, please bless Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa,” etc. When I became a catechist with children I learned that prayer is more about listening than about speaking.
In 1995 I joined a group of catechists visiting Dr. Sofia Cavalletti in Rome to observe her and her collaborator, Montessorian Gianna Gobbi, working with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. One day Gianna spoke with us through an interpreter about how to help children to pray. She told us that the task of the adult is to create the ambiente rivilatore (sp?), the environment in which the child can reveal himself or herself. Here is an excerpt from Gianna’s talk:
I would like to focus your attention on the word “help”. . . . When the child says, “Help me,” it is to an adult in whom the child has trust. The child believes that this person can help him, can respond. Its as if the child is telling us, “Stay nearby when I need you.”
We adults cannot pretend to teach to pray but we have the duty of creating the conditions of silence and meditation that can facilitate concentration and listening, [an] atmosphere for prayer…. The prayer of children has a special quality: it is silent and contemplative. The long silence of a small child, even less than one year, in front of a sunset or a bird flying in the sky, can be already a prayer. The prayer of the children is usually very short, perhaps only one word followed by a long silence: “Jesus,” “light,” “Amen.” Usually the small children make exclusively prayers of praise and thanksgiving, never asking for anything: “Jesus is wonderful.” “My body is content.” I quote here something that I read long ago: an old person was sitting in the back of an empty church, like someone who was waiting for someone. When he was asked, “What are you waiting for?” he said, pointing to the tabernacle, “I look at him and he looks at me.” This kind of prayer has the same qualities as those we so often see in the small child’s prayer.
In a corner of the [room] we have a place where there is a table with the sacred image and maybe a carpet or place where the children can go and kneel. When we want to do this activity, we can call the children around there and invite them to be silent. We turn down the light and light the candles. The prayer can be a short phrase from a song, which can be sung and repeated with intervals of silence. We say something very short like, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and then you make silence. Then we can say it again, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and again have silence, also to absorb what we are saying. In the beginning, we don’t invite the children to give a verbal response because we wait until they understand and then they will do it spontaneously. This is just to give them some vocabulary of this religious language. At the beginning it is necessary to give an external form to the moment of prayer, it is a ritual; the children sit around, we lower the light, we light the candles and we sing something, so that this atmosphere of prayer is created….We can say that the children like the ritual because it is something that touches them deeply, and the repetition is also something they know, so it puts them at ease and gives them security. . . . Of course, such a ritual would also be good in the family.
Three years later, Gianna published her book, Listening to God With Children; the Montessori Method Applied to the Catechesis of Children, Treehaus Communications, Inc., Loveland, OH, 1998. My next blog will contain more excerpts from Gianna’s talk, focusing on how to create “the conditions of silence and meditation that can facilitate concentration and listening, [an] atmosphere for prayer.”
My interactive app for the iPad, Who Are You, Jesus? brings Jesus’ message of love from the Bible to you and your child in a beautiful, engaging way that is easy to use. Touchscreen technology makes God’s message of love accessible to children of all abilities wherever they are. Who Are You, Jesus? adapts to children’s learning styles by enabling them to hear the words of Jesus and respond verbally or non-verbally, using a keyboard, speech-enabled dictation, and a built-in drawing capability. All the child’s responses are automatically saved and become their own, unique book about Jesus. Find it at whoareyoujesus.com
This is the fifth in my series of blogs about children and adults living together spiritually. I welcome your comments or questions. Please share this via email, or on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, using the hashtag #WhoAreYouJesus. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whoareyoujesus/
Until next time . . .