Be Still and Know That I am God

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

"Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God."

We sing this song every week in chapel, and I will never forget the time a four-year-old asked me if I was, in fact, God. "No, I am not God, but I am a child of God like you," I said. "Well, why do you sing this song to us then? Why do we sing it?" What a bright and logical little boy. His question prompted me to introduce the song from that day on in a new way. Now I invite the children to image that God is whispering this song into our ears. God's whisper is so rich that we hear God's voice not only in our ears but all the way down into our hearts. We sing the song as we listen for God sing it to us. With this in mind the song has become almost a call to prayer; a call to gather around in a circle and listen to a story from the Bible about the love between God and the people of God. In its simplest form that is what Sunday school is for all of our children from 4 to 18 years old. It is a time to gather with peers, to stretch their contemplative muscles, if you will, to learn to hear their story in God's story, to know and experience the love of God.

At a first glance into our chapel space, where our junior kindergartners through second graders gather, it might seem that the children are simply playing with toys on the floor or doing arts and crafts. With a further look it is easier to see that the "toys" with which the children work are actually beautiful manipulatives that enable the children to hear and then retell a story from the bible to themselves and one another. Godly Play, the curriculum used with our chapel children, is experiential in style and begs the children to take the story "off the page" and place it into their hands. They may hear the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments by the adult Story Teller of the day, but they are then handed manipulatives which help the child know the story better. Holding a wooden figure of Moses and moving him through a box full of sand, our Desert Box, and speaking the story aloud to herself or with a friend enables the child to internalize the story and make it their own. It helps the child find a personal connection with a person from the Bible and pray, as they work, to God. The stories are not only stories that happened long ago. They are alive and are the child's story too. Each fall our children hear deep, classic stories from the Hebrew Scriptures such as Noah, the Exodus, or Jonah. The chapel teachers choose stories that help our young ones see the state of the people of God before the arrival of baby Jesus. They learn not just that he was born but why. After Christmas they hear stories Jesus used to teach about the kingdom of God, such as parables. In Lent they hear stories that teach them why Jesus was killed and the last few moments we mark during Holy Week. After Easter they hear stories about the apostles, St. Paul, and others who took the message of Christ to others. The facts they learn are good, but the power comes as the stories become a means for them to know God personally. Through the use of Godly Play, the weekly use of song and prayer, the contemplative, structured nature of the chapel space, our young children are practicing two of the four keys Vibrant Faith Ministries names as essential in passing on our faith, i.e. Prayer, and Rituals and Tradition.

This rich foundation continues as our children move into third and fourth grade. Now they are old enough to move into the larger sanctuary with the older children and adults. With help they can begin to see that the sanctuary, like the chapel, is a place to be still and know God. Stories are told, songs are sung, prayers are said, and rituals and traditions are kept. However, now the children must use their minds and hearts to help hear the story and make it their own. During these years they spend their Sunday school time after worship either learning about Holy Communion or Holy Baptism. The classrooms still contain some manipulatives to help them reflect on Bible stories such as the Good Shepherd, The True Vine, Loving Father, or Lost Coin which connect back to the theology of Baptism and Eucharist. For practical, tactile work our third and fourth graders have occasional trips to our sacristy where members of our altar guild teach them the names of the articles used during the Eucharist and at baptisms. They get to stand by the altar, look into the Tabernacle, touch the Pascal Candle, and try on a vestment. During these years they begin and strengthen their role as acolytes. They learn our specific Episcopal liturgical rituals and traditions during this time. All of this work is done not simply to teach them facts about God, but it is done for the sake of deepening their relationship with God, that relationship given to them in the womb.

Now the wise and experienced ones in church and the ones whose weekly school work includes the study of the United States, foreign countries, influential people, or earth science and geography, our fifth and sixth graders are ready to engage in another one of Vibrant Faith Ministries' four keys to faith formation, Caring Conversations. At this age our children ask questions like, "What kind of a person was Jesus really?" They are curious about what it means to live as a Christian and how that informs how they live as citizens, ten and eleven year olds, and members of a community. They have served in worship for a while at this point, but now they are really getting curious about what all of this religion stuff really means. Wooden manipulatives are not used as much with this age group. Now, they consider maps, read from the Bible itself, and look at You Tube videos about the Holy Land today. During these two years they dive deeply into the stories of people like King David, Ruth, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. They study the cultural life the Jewish people with a trip to a local synagogue. The fifth and sixth graders host a Seder for the third and fourth graders during this time. During these years they also meet through story and study Christian saints such as Patrick, Teresa, Francis, Martin Luther King, and many others. They dig deeper into the idea of the kingdom of God and how that kingdom looks a lot different from worldly kingdoms. Through their work in these years they begin to see how being a Christian is a walk of life and that they like many before them are called to be followers of Christ and Saints of the Kingdom of God. As always it is about a relationship, not simply following rules and learning facts. All the while as they learn and study they can continue to hear God whispering to them, "Be still and know that I am God..."