Following my March blog, this second excerpt from a lecture on prayer with children by Gianna Gobbi focuses on three elements that create the atmosphere for prayer. Although Gianna was speaking to catechists you may find, as I did with my own children, that these simple practices work equally well with children at home.
The three essential elements that can help prayer are: silence, position of the body, and the words we use. The first element, silence, is more necessary than before because today it is very difficult to have the right conditions for silence. Even places that once were very silent, like the country, now have a lot of noise: like airplanes, cars, big machines. Also, radios and cassettes that can be used everywhere, even in the fields. It seems that we can never stay alone with ourselves. Our environment is not helpful anymore, and the riches that lie within silence escape us. Only by practicing yoga or meditation techniques can we recover the values of silence.
In the past, in religious places where monks and nuns lived, they were accustomed to create this special atmosphere of silence and prayer because all the teaching of the Bible calls for these conditions of concentration and silence. In silence God revealed himself and will continue to reveal himself to human beings. Even Jesus went away from people sometimes in order to communicate better with the Father and take strength from being in silence. Jesus gave us practical advice for prayer, “When you want to pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to the Father in secret.” To close the door of ourselves in order to keep out all that can disturb: movement, words, noise, so that we can make silence inside and pray. Quietude and silence allow us to reflect and listen to the Other so that we can take Him inside. We wish to help children to become conscious of the value of quietness and silence as a condition for responding to God.
The second element is education of the body and control of movement. This helps the child very much to become capable of silence. Prayer needs a position, and the child is capable of understanding the meaning of the different positions of the body, so she can achieve the habit of being conscious of what she is doing. An old Montessorian was reading solemnly something from the Bible to a three-year-old child, and maybe because of the solemnity the child said, “Don’t sit, stand up.”
Of course, the gestures are transmitted in the environment and by imitation. Still, we have to teach some of the gestures, like folding the hands, kneeling, the sign of the cross, etc. Also the hands have their own language when we fold them for prayer. We can see this has a religious meaning in the gesture of the praying person that we see in the catacombs. We can see some people greeting each other, saying “Shalom, Peace,” putting the hands together, also in Japan. Its as if one wants to put the whole body together to greet you.
All these conditions can help to receive the Word of God and make it ours. They will enrich the language of prayer with words that have reached us through the centuries, which have been said by human beings who spoke with God, and can be a help to express our feelings when we don’t have adequate words. We can choose a small verse of the psalms, which are very vast. We can choose the verse which is most attuned to the different moments, feelings, or has a relationship with the two most important festivities of the liturgical year, Christmas and Easter, and also the times of preparation, Advent and Lent.
The language of the holy scripture hits the religious sensitivity of the children, and certainly also in your experience you have noticed that the children love to repeat what we say in certain moments, for example, the names of the Messiah, “Prince of Peace,” “Wonder Counselor.” Or they like the names that the angels say announcing Jesus, the Son of God, Son of the Most High. Maria Montessori says that the children love words passionately and around three-to-five years they are still in the sensitive period of extreme interest in words. I remember a five-year-old child, who loved so much the prayer of the three young men in the furnace, in which they praise God for all the things of creation. Every night he wanted this prayer to be repeated in Latin; evidently, even if he was unable to understand the language, he was able to catch the religiosity of it. All this will bring a quantity of vocabulary that the children will acquire and will then put into their own prayers. So they can have the possibility of expressing what they want to say and reach the content and external form of 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 sixth 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 . . .