One of the delights of my life as a semi-retired, young senior is caring for and leading two hours of “programming” for a group of 4-5 year old children on Thursday mornings while their mom’s enjoy a “Morning Out for Moms” in one of our local Mennonite churches.
Seven or more children arrive shortly after nine and keep two caregivers quite busy. Two are my grandchildren, one of whom is just turning two, but won’t stay in the preschool group.
We greet the children with a variety of toys and the option of hearing stories, including Bible stories. For the first hour we go with the flow, and let their interests determine what happens.
Then, just before snack time, we gather in a circle and practice silence. I pull out my simple chime, a metal bar that is suspended above a wooden bar, and ask them to hold hands and form a circle. I am amazed how easily they have moved into the rhythm of practising short periods of guided silence before singing grace for our snack time. The two-year-old sometimes sits on my lap, sometimes weaves in and out, but never disrupts us or misses his chance to ring the chime.
We begin by each ringing my barred chime and listening silently to its reverberations. It was the first practice I introduced, and they immediately loved ringing it; enjoyed listening to its reverberations, tucking the little hammer in under the bar, and passing it on to the next person.
After ringing the chime I read Jennifer Howard’s book, When I Make Silence, (Parent Child Press, 2009, 2012) to them. The simple text and pictures of the booklet are right at their level. When we get to the page of pretending we are a caterpillars slowly changing into butterflies inside our cocoons, several children gently spread their wings. As we imagine we are unique snowflakes floating down we allow God’s peace to embrace us. We close our eyes and imagine we are all alone in God’s great big heart. We imagine everyone else who is in there with us. Finally, we open our eyes and see our beautiful friends; see God’s love shining out of their eyes, and sing our song of thanks for snack.
Several weeks ago I added singing and signing the song “Be still and know that I am God” to the beginning of our quiet time. The children took to it like fish take to water.
This week I will add the pretzel prayer at the end. We will remember the monk who invented the pretzel by shaping and baking dough to resemble arms folded in prayer so he could give them to hungry children. Then we’ll each eat our pretzels while we think about how much God loves us and we love God.
I can hardly wait for this “sacred pause”* in my week, hoping and trusting that it will also be a sacred pause in the lives of my young friends at the Morning out for Mom’s Program.
*My friend, April Yamasaki, just released her newest book, Sacred Pauses, which includes many different life experiences that can help us take the sacred pauses we need to stay grounded in life and faith. Learn about it on her blog, Spiritual practice, faith, and life, http://aprilyamasaki.com/