Teaching Children How to Pray

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First, teach them the words.

The ones your grandmother taught you she tucked you into her quilt, the ones you would forget until you visited her again on your next school break. Teach them these words, the ones they will say over and over again, sometimes with meaning and many times without. They will then join the unbroken hum of humanity, saying words that have been spoken since before they joined this world and will continue to be long after their feet have left it. Should they choose to listen a bit deeper, under this hum of words that has been resonating for millennia they will hear what has been resonating since before words became words. Help. Please.

Do not teach them to bow their heads. This can be dangerous, because at a certain age the only time they will pray is when a beat up Subaru they promised to fill with gas on the way home is skidding over ice toward a four way stop. Head bowing is not advisable in this situation.

Instead, teach them humility. Help them to find their place in the universe, and to realize it is a very small place. A very small space that is theirs, and theirs alone. They must know about their smallness, because only then will they be able to see how many people sit beside them. And from that very small space, they will realize how beautiful it is to be heard.

Tell them it is absolutely necessary that they use their hands to pray. They may hold them together if they wish or interlace their fingers. They can hold the hands of the person sitting beside them should they choose to. That is all well and good. But it is not what I am talking about.

Tell them to use their hands. To roll together a loaf of bread and lift a ladle full of tomato soup. Tell them to use their hands to drive a nail deep into a plank of wood, or to wipe the runny nose of someone much smaller than them. They need to know they are praying as they wash the dishes of someone they will go to bed angry with, and change the tire of someone they don’t know. When their mouths and their minds lose their words, their hands will continue the prayers.

Teach them to stop talking so much. Instead, tell them to start listening to the spaces between the words of their prayers. Here they will hear what the monks who have kneeled before the flicker of a candle feel. Here they will hear what mountain top lovers sitting on the hood of their car think as they watch the setting of a sun. Tell them to listen to themselves when they struggle to find the right words to pray, for it is in these searching moments they have said all they need to.

Teach them to listen. Don’t teach them to listen to you, that hasn’t worked yet and it probably won’t anytime soon. They can’t hear you over the noise of the world. They can’t hear anything. Invite them, instead, to listen to the sheer silence.

 

 

 

 

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