Sunday, January 29, 2006

Complicated

Today I'm going to treat you to some of my inner most thoughts. And I'm almost sure you might not understand why I'd care so much about this particular subject- children's spiritual formation. It may be hard to believe that I love observing and guiding children's spiritual formation as much or more as I enjoy savoring a succulant feast.

I did not say I love being a Sunday School teacher. The only reason I'd reference a Sunday School teacher to describe what I do is out of sheer desperation. I'd rather pull my own teeth out one by one with rusty pliers than sing the Christian Hokey Pokey (Father Abraham), make crosses out of popsicle sticks, or color a cartoon pictures of Jesus with cherub cheeked children sitting lovingly on his knee. I'm certainly do not want to criticize any precious person who does these activities on a regular basis, but it's simply not my style.

Maria Montessori paved the way for me to be with children in a way which doesn't plumb wear me out with cutting out and gluing animals on Noah's ark. In fact, and call me "crazy", but I take great delight in hanging out with three, four and five year olds if I can use Montessori principles. Did you know Maria's the one who revolutionized education from rigid straight backed desks swallowing up children, knuckle cracking discipline with the teacher's ruler, nauseating mills of education toward child sized furniture, self discipline, and child-centered individualized education? Maria also revolutionized Sunday School also by discarding mind numbing catechism recitation in favor of observation and experimentation to discover children's spiritual development. Did you know that? There's a good chance you didn't, and for a number of complicated reasons. Not the least of which are ugly denominational schizms in the body of Christ.

So, when I walk into my church to teach the little guys on Sunday mornings, I can't wait to plop myself down on the floor next to a four year old boy, and show him something I've been working on for our class. The next Sunday I teach, first thing, I'll show this little guy is how to carefully mix a dough himself with leaven and without. Then we'll read "The kingdom of heaven is like woman who took the three measures of flour, and one of yeast, and worked it till it was leavened through". We'll cover put the doughs on the heat vent while the child chooses and works on his favorite previous materials. When the leavened dough has puffed itself properly up, we'll sneak a peek at it and the unleavened dough while I ask a thousand meditation questions no one is ever required to answer like: "What happened to the dough which had leaven?" "What happened to the dough which does not have leaven?" "How can this dough with leaven be like God's kingdom?" "Who does the woman represent in this parable?" "What does the yeast represent?" "Do you remember how much yeast you put in? Not much compared to the flour. What does this say about the kingdom of heaven?" "What is it that works in the kingdom of heaven like yeast through the dough?" "Can you think of anything else that grows like this in God's kingdom?". To conclude I'll ask, "Is there anything you'd like to tell God or sing to Him in response to this new Word?"
Now this way of contemplative teaching lights my fire. The child and I don't talk about reading the Word; we do the Word. We don't talk about meditation; we meditate. We don't talk about how to pray; we simply listen and respond to God. Together- me and a four year old.

And who do you think learns more?

And do you know I have fifty two more lessons just as rich, deep and meaningful up my sleeve to follow? I do not joke here.

The trouble with me is that when I walk into a new church as I did two and a half years ago, I'm blazing on fire to teach preschoolers, but I could never simply jump on the existing curriculum. Have I already mentioned my particular aversion to making hearts that say, "I love Jesus" in glitter?

So, I have to lay some serious groundwork first to earn the privilege of teaching my very unconventional way instead of the church's prescribed curriculum's way. Over a year ago, and after some bold persuasion on my part, the nursery director at my church, Allie, fell head over heels in love the work I do with children. She's more than supported my work this year in the nursery; she has truly loved me. Regretfully for our church, she's resigning her position. We will not find her equal as she handles both people AND business with integrity and excellence.

My "out of the box" spiritual formation work will go on the auction block again with a new nursery director soon.

Cross your fingers, your heart or yourself for me. I'd like to continue to be taught about God by the little people in my own church.

4 comments:

Scott said...

It's harder and harder to be that individualized in our cookie-cutter, mega-church culture, isn't it? My metaphorical hat is off to you, however, for your passion for preschoolers and the obvious difference it must make in all lives concerned.

(I never knew half as much about Ms. Montessori. Time for some research. Ciao.)

truevyne said...

"The Child and the Church" is a booklet MM wrote though it's not so easy to find.

unquenchableworshipper said...

You've won me over too!

Jim said...

Are you familiar with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? - a Montessori/Cavaletti-based approach to children's spiritual formation.