The Spiritual Guidance of Children: Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future,

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The Spiritual Guidance of Children: Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future, by Jerome Berryman (2013, Morehouse Publishing,)

Berryman offers a unique and invaluable narrative summary of the history and development of the Montessori and Godly Play movements in the front half of this book. As a Christian Educator within the Believers Church tradition I found it fascinating to get an insider’s review of this movement that I have been inspired by, but have largely observed from the outside. Others, who have been part of these movements within mainline churches, or in the Montessori movement as it has evolved beyond church structures, will no doubt appreciate it from their perspectives

After this narrative beginning, the middle section shifts to poetry and commentary on developmental psychology, all of it around the dominant image of “the Center-Point.” Berryman asserts:

“Original grace strains with primal intensity to be renewed…Children need good guides to help them identify this original grace and to give it expression in classical Christian language, which in turn supports the community of the church to help guide them toward becoming non-naive and consciously graceful adults.”[1]

Spirituality, authenticity and the creative process are introduced with  excerpts from Eliot’s  “Four Quartets”, Marjory Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit”, William Butler Yeats’ “The second coming.” For those who are familiar with the Godly Play approach to children’s faith formation, I suspect their memory banks of experiences and the poetic imagery would have provided anchors for following Berryman’s psychological commentary, but I struggled to follow his analyses and presentation of the creative process and its essential role in the growth toward Christian maturity.

Even so, there is much to gain for those willing to do the mental work of attending to his presentation of these ideas. For instance, his answer to the question, “How does Godly Play feel?” which follows, is worth pondering:
“It feels like the middle realm out of which comes the creative process turning around its circle of opening, scanning, insight, development, and closure, but there is more. We are psychological, social, biological, and spiritual creatures, so the creative process is at work in each of these dimensions, seeking to bring deep unity back to our lives to recreate us.”[2]

His chapter, “The Center-Point and Spiritual Maturity” continues his commentary on methods that help us grow into ‘deep unity’ and toward having a durable center for our lives as we mature and age. Berryman’s own maturity as a professional and a man of deep and mature faith shine through as he discusses the psychological aspect of “Flow”, the social aspect of “Play”, the biological aspect of “Love” and the spiritual aspect of “Contemplation”  .

The final chapter, in which he reflects of the future and adaptations of Godly Play, the program he and his wife developed and supervised for over 30 years, reveal Berryman as a sage reviewing his life’s accomplishments with satisfaction and a twinge of melancholy. He concludes this section by restating the mutual blessing of adults becoming childlike that can emerge from worshipping with children.

A final, tender and practical recommendation rounds out this (probably last) Berryman book. He invites us to always invite a child to stand with the person who gives the benediction in a worship service, so that the child can also bless, simply by standing there and being themselves, because children are a gesture of blessing. In this way the mutual blessing becomes a parable of action that releases the original grace we were born with, much like the one Jesus enacted for his disciples and us so long ago.

While this book is more challenging to read than his earlier works, it is worth the effort for anyone who wants an expansive view of the dynamics at work when children grow in faith as they worship.


[1] Jerome Berryman, The Spiritual Guidance of Children: Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future, by ( 2013, Morehouse Publishing, p 125.

[2] Ibid., p 123.

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About Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel

As a young senior whose life could easily have ended in a nasty car crash in 2012 I live with an extra dose of gratitude to God, humanity, and the wonders of our human bodies. I am a passionate advocate for ministry WITH children and seniors in the life and ministry of the church. I started working in Faith Formation with Mennonite Church Canada in 2002. Thinking and writing about faith helps me see God at work in all kinds of surprising places. I'd like to be remembered as one who encourages others to live into God's good dream for our world. My book, Please Pass the Faith: The Spiritual Art of Grandparenting, is one big way I'm trying to share that encouragement with my peers. This blog is another way I'd like to engage people who care about growing in faith across the generations.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Child Faith, Child Theology, Intergenerational worship, Senior Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Spiritual Guidance of Children: Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future,

  1. Pingback: Lent Extravaganza! | Faith Bytes: Elsie Spins a Blog

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