I’ve just returned from an exhilarating conference, Reimagining Children’s and Youth Ministry through Story, Theology, and Rhythm. Here’s an overview of one memorable presentation, by the author of Midrash, and many delightful and profound picture books, such as And God said, Amen.
When Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso was asked to come and respond to a long list of question children in a Jewish School had about God she responded by telling the following story:
A tired old man was dosing during the service. He woke to hear these words from the rabbi, “God wants twelve loaves of challah bread.” So he went home, baked 12 loaves of challah, brought it into the synagogue and placed it inside the altar as a gift for God.
A little later, the poor synagogue cleaner entered the sanctuary to do his work and prayed about feeding his family as he cleaned. He found the loaves of bread and accepted them as an amazing answer to his petition. Rejoicing, he took them home and fed his family.
The next time the old man came for Sabbath service he checked the altar and was pleased that God had accepted his bread. He went home to bake some more, but since God accepted it, he decided, “This time I’ll make it with raisins!”
Once more the cleaner found and joyfully accepted the bread with raisins as an extra gift from God.
After some time, the rabbi, contemplating his next sermon quietly in one of the back pews, observed what was happening in his synagogue and wondered what he should do. He decided to invite both of them to his office to meet each other, and to recognize each other as the hands of God for one another. And so the old man joyfully kept on baking bread, and the cleaner’s family ate it with gratitude.
With stories such as this one, Rabbi Sasso showed us how experiences lead to stories which lead us to theology. She demonstrated that, when we speak with children, we don’t have to simplify the concepts, but we do have to simplify the language, which also improves our communication with adults. Our language should always be clear so as to be comprehended, rich in metaphor so as to be meaningful, concrete so it relates to the world, and critical so it continues a conversation. However, she consoled us that we don’t have to be experts to talk about spiritual matters, and that Judaism is suspicious of any rhetoric that never stammers.
She also reminded us, when using a story, to introduce it with a focus. For example, “Have you ever been angry? I’m going to tell you a story about someone who was angry.” And then, after telling it, to follow up with wondering questions like, “I wonder what part you liked best.” “I wonder what’s most important about this story?” and “I wonder where you are in the story?”
Thank you, Rabbi Sandy, for sharing your wit wisdom, and your wonderful God glorifying stories!