Over the holidays I had the opportunity to participate in Advent celebrations in churches of different faiths. I am always curious to observe how churches include or exclude children in the life of the church because it says something about how they view the spiritual growth and development of little ones. In one church the pastor explicitly addressed the importance of having children in worship alongside their parents and he encouraged everyone to embrace their wiggles and rustling of paper as a good and positive thing.
It warmed my heart to see the ways in which congregations included and embraced children during the advent season. I witnessed moments of “awe and wonder” as time seemed to stand still and a holy hush came over them. Wiggly bodies suddenly were still as their eyes sparkled and their faces reflected joy and wonder.
This picture is of my three-year-old granddaughter observing a Christmas pageant at her church. For two hours she watched in rapt wonder as her ballet teacher danced across the stage under dazzling lights. She heard and saw the Christmas story portrayed through drama, live animals, singing and dancing. She insisted on staying until the very end of the two-hour performance, completely destroying the myth that children have short attention spans. They only have short attention spans when they aren’t really interested. (Isn’t that the way it is with adults too?)
In some of the churches, children were the very ones who ushered the adults into that place of transcendence as they played the piano, read scripture, lit candles and participated in candle light services. Sometimes just witnessing their very innocence and vulnerability is a moment of sacred awe.
But these moments aren’t just reserved for the holidays. Children can experience sacred moments of awe and wonder all through the year. Though we can’t manufacture these moments, we can create spaces when we pause from the busyness of life and turn down the noise. We create opportunities to just be still . . . and know. Yes, notice that I said, “we” pause. This is probably the hardest part. It is about us, the grownups, calming the noise and chaos within ourselves to model and help our children to be quiet and just be.
1. Take a walk on a snowy night and listen to the silence.
2. Read together as a family—even when they are teenagers.
3. Build a fire in a fire pit on a chilly autumn evening and huddle together and just talk.
4. Lay a hula hoop in the grass on a warm day and with a magnifying glass, look for all of the living creatures you can find in that space.
5. Attach a bird feeder to a window in your home or at your church so that children can observe their habits and behavior.
6. Catch fireflies on a hot summer night and put them in a clear container to observe (Let them go when you are done.)
7. Instead of just talking about creation with children at church, let them experience it. Bring in butterfly gardens, ant farms, and root viewers.
8. Plant a garden at your church and let children sit on a blanket to sing and hear stories.
9. Give children opportunities to taste, touch, smell, hear and see stories of the faith. Eat lentil soup when talking about Jacob and Esau; dye fabric with natural sources of dye when talking about Joseph’s coat of many colors. Include lamps and candles, clay pots, bread, stalks of wheat and grapes as you talk about metaphors of the faith.
10. Sing together. Did you know that when people sing together, their heart rate begins to synchronize with one another?
Take time this week and pause . . . just be . . . and invite your children to be still . . . and know.