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All Together:

Creative Prayer with Children

Author(s): Ed Hone, Roisin Coll

ISBN13: 9781847301796

ISBN10: 1847301797

Publisher: Veritas

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  • Teachers in Catholic schools and parishes regularly look for resources for praying with children: for prayers, ready-made liturgies and, especially, for ideas. Often, this is something rushed or last-minute: for example, theres an assembly coming up soon, or a classroom prayer session timetabled for the next morning and something has to be put together at short notice. This book is not primarily about providing ready-made resources; it is, rather, something the authors believe to be much more useful. It is suggesting a way to work with children when putting together school assemblies and classroom worship, tapping into the childrens creativity and enthusiasm and real-life concerns. As teacher and children become familiar with creating prayer together, the need to rush around looking for ideas or resources diminishes.

    The book contains principles of creative prayer, uses a practical approach and contains extensive, tried-and-tested original ideas. It is for teachers in school, and is easily adapted for parish situations, different age groups and different ability groups. The book has a creative approach to the Scriptures and to the Tradition of the Church, and is rooted in both.

  • Ed Hone

    Roisin Coll

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    All Together: Creative Prayer with Children makes it clear from the outset that it is not a last minute resource that should be dipped into to help facilitate last minute prayer groups or assemblies. Rather it seeks to nurture and deepen the prayer life of adults who work with children and facilitate their prayer. While it is primarily aimed at those working in an educational environment, it is extremely useful for anyone involved in a parish situation and appeals to a wide variety of age groups and abilities that may participate in the increasingly popular childrens Liturgy of the Word.

    lf we as adults consider how we worship, it is often a linear practice - we do the same things at the same time, following instructions such as Let us pray together or now we shall stand and sing. This is the outer symbolism of how we as a community come together to worship God.

    Anyone who has worked with children of a primary school age knows that children seldom operate in this way. They are used to fulfilling individual tasks, often several at a time, or working in small groups. lt is always recognised that children present with different abilities and levels of participation and the often packed schedule of a childrens Liturgy of the Word can often struggle to accommodate their individual needs.

    This book, written by experienced catechists, encourages you in a friendly and supportive way to engage with the children in your group so that the prayer is their prayer and, in turn, it is their hearts and minds that are raised to God. The group exercises and methods of prayer detailed under various themes lend themselves well to the interactive classroom and curriculum or to the group format most commonly adopted during a childrens Liturgy of the Word. The authors strive to highlight that prayer can never fully be taught (93).

    Those who engage with younger children need to understand that it is much more than a technique, or a time when we ask God for favours, but rather a conversation we have with God, not just using words, but engaging our hearts and minds. Children embrace change and can easily bore of the same format. This book promotes the need to make prayer accessible for all children. Formats of prayer discussed include dialogue, litany and eye-witness accounts, examples of which are all provided.

    The book is clearly divided into sections and it is fruitful to read them in sequence, as the initial section on the Foundations of Creative Prayer with Children underlines the basis for the entire book, including an explanation of the keeping prayer with children real, namely that prayer must emanate from their concerns and express these concerns so that it truly is their prayer to God. The text allows for excellent
    guidelines and principles for the adult to begin the positive, creative and engaging liturgy, encouraging a rooting of the prayer in scripture and to provide a respect for Tradition.

    Section two contains insights, explanations and creative resources for various liturgical seasons and occasions such as Advent and Lent as well as foundations, ideas and resources for celebrating Mary and the Saints. These three chapters focus on praying together in a group situation such as class or an assembly time. The fifth and final chapter focuses on creative ideas for individual prayer and is appropriate for group and individual use.

    All of the exercises are adaptable to a variety of situations, as well as ages and abilities. Each exercise is clearly laid out with foundations for the prayer subject, for example the exercise on Sorrow and renewal of life (105) explains how prayer is a movement from us to God and from God to us and how this explanation can be illustrated with the image of a bridge. The children write on one half of a piece of paper how things are now and on the other half how they would wish God to make things. They can then make a simple (depending on skill levels) Lego bridge and imagine in prayer the crossing from one side to another. Due to time constraints, a childrens Liturgy of the Word cannot always be completed in the church and therefore some of the prayer activities described can be adapted for home use, possibly involving parents and other family members.

    Main points for the religious educator to communicate with the children are clearly laid out at the beginning of each prayer theme. lt is imperative that the educator fully comprehend the liturgical basis for the activities also allowing for their prayer. Children can adopt what they have heard in the childrens Liturgy and apply it to their own life, facilitating Christian practice into their everyday being. Activities such as Sin Bin and Sorry beads are eminently suitable for this purpose.

    - Intercom, October 2009

    One of the great problems facing many teachers, and I suspect parents too these days, is the great difficuty of finding ways of praying with their children. It is also too easy to hastily compose something, or to fall back too readily on a tried formula. The authors of this book, a Scottish Redemptorist and a teacher who is one of his long time colleagues, are not however setting out to provide anything formulaic at all, but put forward ways in which gatherings of children (in school or at home too) can be enlivened and made meaningful by the creativity of the children themselves, their responses to the moment become so to speak their Reponses to God. In this way they feel the real needs of prayer in the growing spiritual life of the children can be nurtured.

    - Peter Costello, The Irish Catholic, 26 March 2009

  • Foreword

    One of the joys in my own personal life as a Bishop is visiting Catholic primary schools. Always evident are the openess and joy of the children, and it is wonderful to see their natural reaction to everything about them and, especially, the way they respond to love.
    If our primary school children respond to the love of an adult, how much more must they respond to the love of God as they grow to realise the immensity of that infinite love and how that love was channeled in the love of Jesus Christ.
    It is the primary responsibility of parents to direct the prayer life of a child , but that responsibility must be shared also by our primary school teachers as well as by our priests. That simply is what I believe this book entitled All Together , Creative Prayer with Children is all about!
    The book does not give any ready-made answers. Rather, it helps parents, teachers and priests to grow and deepen in their own prayer life as they help children realise more of the wonder of their relationship with God and how to express that relationship through their thoughts and in their words. Helping a child grow in the light of the love of God is, quite simply, similar to watching a flower burst into full bloom in the light and heat of the sun. What a wonderful responsibility is ours!
    I heartily commend this book as a wonderful resource which will make the responsibilites of a class teacher, as well as those of parents, priests and also visiting bishops, ever more fruitful and joyful in themselves.

    With every blessing
    ÔÇá Keith Patrick Cardinal OBrien
    Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh

    Chapter 1

    The Foundations of Creative Prayer with Children


    Classroom and assembly prayer play a vital role in the life of the Catholic school. Where children and teachers work together and recreate together, it is only appropriate that they pray together too. In a Catholic school context prayer is not viewed as a duty but as a natural expression of what it means to be Catholic Christians. The disciples said to Jesus, Lord, teach us how to pray (Luke 11:1), and he readily taught them.
    Preparing classroom prayer can be both challenging and immensely rewarding. As a teacher engaging in prayer with children you need: to believe in the value of what you are doing; time to plan and rehearse; lots of energy, enthusiasm and a good dose of imagination. The task, however, need not be daunting. The key is, as always, working with children, not for them. When you work in this way you engage the children so that the prayer becomes their prayer and their minds and hearts are raised to God. In this chapter we primarily address creative prayer with children in classroom and assembly situations. Whilst the context here is school, the same principles and practice apply in all environments where people work with children in prayer.

    What is liturgy?

    The word liturgy comes from the Greek and literally means the work (ergon) of the people (laios) , and liturgy is the bringing of the lives of the people to God. When people come to worship God together this is called liturgy. When we speak of liturgy in school, we are not talking about the official Liturgy of the Church (the Mass, the Divine Office, the celebration of the Sacraments); rather we mean praying together by using words, silence, signs and symbols. This kind of prayer is also referred to as para-liturgy; that is, unofficial collective prayer. This chapter will focus on liturgy as classroom prayer and also on school and classroom assemblies.
    Liturgy is about God, and liturgy is about us. We bring our lives to God when we worship, and the spiritual strength and inspiration we receive we take back into our lives. Our liturgy gives God praise and gives us life. This is true for adults and children alike. The school classroom, with its community and its routine, is a good place for liturgy. In our classroom prayer and assemblies we bring this community and routine to God. God blesses us, hears our prayer, and helps us with our daily work.

    Liturgy and community

    Liturgy is the prayer of a community and really belongs in community. It is something we do together, where we open ourselves to each other and to God. In liturgy we share our hopes and fears, we pray for ourselves, each other and our world and we thank God for everything God does for us. In classroom and assembly prayer, we usually pray, in the plural , God, hear our prayer, Lord, hear us , rather than as individuals , God, hear my prayer, Lord, hear me. God is at the heart of our community, so it is only right that we should pray, and when we pray we are helped to live our lives more fully. The Gospel tells us, Where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20). Our prayer together makes us more sensitive to each others needs, more aware of our own need of Gods help, more willing to face the problems of life, knowing that we are not alone. The community is with us and God is with us. If we think of the Mass, the first words we say match the first gesture we make: the Sign of the Cross. We are acknowledging that we are in Gods presence. At the end of the Mass, however, the emphasis is different: The Mass is ended, go in peace or Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord. The emphasis here is on going out into the world, carrying with us something of what we have received. In short, liturgy takes us from our encounter with God into our full engagement in life.
    Where liturgy takes place and why it is important in the school prayer and liturgical celebrations are central to the life of a Catholic school, and it is recognised by the Magisterium of the Church that the Catholic teacher has a responsibility to help children engage with God. The teacher will assist students to open their hearts in confidence to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through personal and liturgical prayer.
    If there is adequate provision for prayer, it is during this time that God can communicate directly with children, and they have the opportunity to respond fully in adoration and praise, in thanksgiving and in petition. In order to maximise the impact of any prayer experience for children, time should be set aside that is neither rushed nor seen to be simply an add-on to the day.
    If we want to sustain a relationship with anyone, we must spend time with that person. We must try to find the way in which we can best communicate with each other. Likewise, with God, if we want to help children to relate to God, we need to help them to become aware that God is present in their lives. We also need to help them communicate with God: to be able to talk to God in prayer and to be able to listen to God speaking to them in the silence of their own heart.
    Traditionally, prayers are said at the beginning and end of the school day, as well as before and after lunch. However, there are many other openings that provide children with liturgical and prayer experiences throughout the school week. In both the primary and secondary school, assemblies provide opportunities for children and students to participate in active and creative communication with God. The effectiveness of assemblies is inevitably reduced where the teacher or someone in senior management takes sole responsibility for writing the material and instructing the children in what to say and do. Using the children as the chief resource means that the materials for assemblies can be created by working together, sharing ideas and tapping into the childrens own prayer experience and culture. Ultimately, children should have ownership of their prayer-time. They will then be sharing their own faith with their peers in a way that will be understood and sympathetically received.
    Having ownership of the liturgy is vital for two reasons. First, if children are directly involved in the preparation of the prayer, then the opportunity for catechesis is present. The teacher can work with the children as they plan the prayer while directing, informing and explaining to them the relevance of their work. Catechesis can take place not only through the prayer itself but through its preparation. Second, ownership is important because it enhances the experience of worship. If the children have been involved in its planning and implementation, then their understanding of it, engagement with it, and response to it will be strengthened. When children present an assembly or engage in classroom liturgy they have ownership of what they do, they are more committed to the project, more energised, and consequently communicate more effectively. All who participate in the prayer will gain more from the experience.

    What liturgy (and preparation for liturgy) can achieve

    It is worth repeating that in classroom and assembly prayer, the process of producing liturgy is as important as the end result. There is a world of difference between the teacher giving the class a script for classroom prayer, and the children being encouraged to generate one for themselves. Pupil and teacher creativity is vital. However, the teacher must be a realist and should be aware of what classroom and assembly prayer can achieve. It is important to consider age and ability differentiation. For example, it is impractical to think that young children can engage in meditation for long periods of time or even compose elaborate prayers. Furthermore each prayer time should have a particular aim. For example, a liturgy on the theme of friendship could have the aim of encouraging the children to be kind to others as Jesus is kind to us. Below are outlined some of the positive effects of creative prayer with children in the classroom:
    - Classroom prayer can bring the class together, uniting teacher and children more closely.
    - Prayer can help those who take part to reflect more deeply on life, giving them
    a new understanding of something which concerns them.
    - Prayer can help children to give voice to their longings and hopes (and, of course, their fears and concerns).
    - Prayer can instruct, painlessly catechising children whose knowledge of faith grows through engagement in liturgy.
    - Prayer can motivate, giving a new determination to a class, so it might then wish to actually do something practical after having been inspired in prayer.
    - Lest we forget, classroom prayer can entertain. It is not always solemn and worthy , God enjoys humour too!
    Knowing what you want the prayer to achieve is vitally important. We all know the impracticality of engaging children in an action song, for example, and then trying to calm them down to do some serious work! Classrooms are often such busy places that it should not be surprising to discover that silence can play an important part in classroom prayer (though it is harder to achieve in an assembly situation). Careful attention must therefore be paid to the effective creation of silence. Reflective music, simple chants (e.g. Taiz?®), a gently paced liturgy, all help in the creation of silence. Silence is shaped by what surrounds it, what comes before it and what follows it. The silence you create in the classroom may be solemn, joyful, expectant, grateful, sorrowful, even exuberant , depending on how it is created.

    To whom do we pray?

    Consciously or not, when we pray we have some kind of image or understanding of God in our mind. God might be the judge we have to appease, the friend with whom we can be ourselves, the parent who nurtures us and makes us feel safe (or of whom we are afraid). Many images of God are evident in our prayer. Classroom prayer can reinforce or challenge these images, promoting an image of God who is merciful, forgiving, understanding: a God of light, life, peace and hope. The nearness of God in Jesus can be communicated, as well as the otherness and majesty of the Father and the restless inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian prayer will become natural to children and the image of God they form in their school prayer may well be the image that stays with them throughout the rest of their lives. The God to whom we pray is influential in the life we lead.
    At the most basic level, how we think of God is shaped in the representations that we use. For instance, in prayer a teacher might use traditional representations of Christ like a crucifix, a Sacred Heart image, Holman Hunts painting of Jesus as Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, or the Infant of Prague , each containing nuanced messages about who Jesus is (examples can be found using Google Image search). In the religious art of different cultures, Jesus is represented in a variety of ways which express aspects of these cultures. For example, Eastern European icons often show Jesus as an enthroned Byzantine emperor; South American depictions of Jesus often emphasis his simplicity and closeness to the oppressed poor whom he leads to freedom.
    At the next level teachers might focus on the words we use in song and in prayer , and explore with children the different images of God that they portray. The formality or informality of our approach to God is significant (and it may vary from occasion to occasion). Finally, the kinds of things we say to God and ask of God are significant. If we call God Creator of heaven and earth we evoke Gods power and might, whereas if we call God Father of the poor we evoke Gods care for the disadvantaged , all in a title! The teacher must be conscious in preparing liturgy with children which image of God is being evoked.

    Seasons, people and the world , keeping classroom prayer real

    When children come to school they bring their home concerns with them. Their busy minds are full of ideas and their concerns can range from family to pets, friends and games. In class it can be quite a challenge to help them to focus on work or on prayer. It helps their concentration when the prayer is real. By real we mean that if prayer emanates from their concerns and expresses these concerns then it is truly their prayer to God. For example:

    Dear God,
    Sometimes I worry about not making friends at swimming. Please help me not to worry. Sometimes I worry about my little cousin Aidan because he was in hospital for a long time after he was born. Please help him. Sometimes I worry about my Granny because she is quite old. Please pray for her. Please help me with all my worries.
    Thank you God.
    (Maura Frances , aged 8)

    Three ways of keeping classroom and assembly prayer real are:

    - praying the seasons of the year and of the Church
    - praying for the people and relationships who make up their daily lives
    - praying for the world; that is, the world beyond their own immediate experience, whether it be on another street or, indeed, continent.

    Praying the seasons is relatively simple. It involves observing nature and bringing nature into the classroom through flowers, leaves, berries, fruits, bare branches etc. Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter have their own rich symbolism that can be represented in the classroom, along with the colours associated with the liturgical cycle (e.g. purple for Advent, white for Christmas etc.). The whole appearance of the classroom can be changed in a way that evokes the season and affects the tone of the prayer. When the visual appearance of the prayer space is combined with appropriate music, seasonal words and liturgical actions, the resulting prayer can be very powerful.
    When praying for people, the teachers first exercise should be a listening one. What is of significance to the children? Who are the people who are important to them? Is someone ill or has someone died? Is there a new member of the family on the way? Have there been new friendships, fallings-out, new playground groups? Teachers need to be attentive to the people in a childs prayer. The child might open up in the reflective, prayerful environment in a way that they might not do at other times. A child might begin to cry whilst praying for someone, thereby indicating a level of emotion that the teacher should be aware of. If this happens the teacher will then comfort the child without drawing undue attention and then follow up, once the prayer is finished, by chatting with the child and providing appropriate support. It is healthy to balance prayers of intercession or asking for something with prayers of thanksgiving, so children do not just focus on asking God to help people in prayer, but also give thanks for the people who make up their lives.
    In praying for the world, children become more aware of the needs of others and they also exercise generosity and openness by allowing themselves to be affected by the plight of people they have never met. In such a process prayer can enhance their awareness of their global citizenship. A sense of common humanity is encouraged and co-responsibility becomes their second nature. Here thanksgiving is important as well as praise to God, the Lord of all creation.

    The creative process

    So how does a teacher go about this process? How can this kind of positive, creative and engaging liturgy come about? There are a few key principles:

    1. Involve the children from the start. Invite children to work with you from the start when preparing classroom prayer or school assemblies. Let them know that this will be something that will involve teamwork, where ideas will be shared and worked on together. At the very beginning ensure that the liturgy will be relevant to them by including them when deciding on the theme of the prayer. Quite often this discussion is very revealing as children share the issues that currently affect them and their community.

    2. Be rooted in scripture. Liturgy provides the opportunity to communicate effectively with God. It is a two-way conversation so listening to Gods Word as well as listening to each other should be at the heart of the prayer. Let scripture be at the centre of your liturgy. This can be done in two ways: a) Children can choose a theme for their prayer and then, with the help of their teacher, consider a suitable scripture reading as the basis from which to work; b) Choose a scripture passage from the outset, and then from this the theme and subsequent ideas will emerge. In choosing appropriate scripture passages with children, the gospels are often the most suitable to work with, especially gospel narrative and stories. In working with the Old Testament, stories are the most accessible parts to include in liturgy. Likewise with the gospels: for example, if children choose forgiveness as a theme for their prayer, the teacher could then suggest various suitable scriptural passages from which the children could choose, such as the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Repentant
    Thief (Luke 23:41-43), or the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-7).

    3. Respect Tradition. Children have great ideas (which sometimes need careful monitoring!) and using them to communicate the theme can be exciting and worthwhile. However, it is also important to respect tradition and to recognise appropriate opportunities to include well-known Church prayers and hymns. It is important for children to recognise, learn and understand traditional prayers and to appreciate that inclusion of them in a liturgy, alongside more creative and imaginative ways of praying, can add to the prayer experience.

    4. Keep focused. Have one scriptural message or theme that the prayer develops. It is sometimes helpful for a phrase which reinforces the theme to be repeated throughout the prayer and this can be done in a variety of ways (said aloud, chanted, written on a banner etc.). For example, working again with the theme of forgiveness, the phrase God forgives us, so we forgive each other could punctuate the liturgy at appropriate points. This means that the children ministering the prayer, and all who take part, are likely to leave the liturgy with the message clearly in mind.

    5. Appealing to the senses. When prayer consists only of words, it easily becomes a mental exercise, engaging only the mind. Children in class or assembly are prone to loss of concentration, so the more they are engaged, the longer they are likely to remain involved. Appealing to the different senses in liturgy has a long history and involves such things as candles, bells, movement, incense, visual images, bread, wine, oil, music, rosary beads , and there is no reason this tradition cannot be built on in the school situation. Ensure that you build into each prayer-preparation session the question, How can we enhance this prayer by appealing to the senses. Then watch the result! Returning to the theme of forgiveness, children might be invited to wash each others hands, or place a pebble at the foot of a cross, symbolising the offering of their sins to God for forgiveness.

    6. Dont be scared. While appropriateness is important, do not hold back. If the children are being creative in their suggestions then try them out. God speaks to us though the work we do, and even if some of the preparatory work for the liturgy is not used, the process of involving the children and participating in such work , based on the Word of God , is significant in itself. Creative prayer with children is as much about the process as the final result. Creative prayer helps children own their prayer. It can draw children closer to God and to each other. It can strengthen them for everyday life while nourishing spiritual life and encouraging spiritual growth. Creative prayer challenges adults to new ways of thinking about God and approaching God. Finally and most importantly it can form the children in a mature faith, focused on God and in touch with their real lives so that they become citizens of this world and of the Kingdom of God.
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