“We read psalms today because the thoughts and feelings that the People of God felt long ago are the same thoughts and feelings that we, the People of God, still feel today.”
Bringing Psalms to Children’s Chapel
On Sundays at St. Andrew’s, children are invited to attend Children’s Chapel. In this holy time, our liturgy mirrors the elements of the worship in ‘big church,’ and we explore with children different ways to learn stories, prayer, and worship practices.
Recently, we have turned to the psalms. Our goal was not only to introduce children to the beauty of the psalms, but also to meditate on the psalms. Could we really teach children ages 3 to 5th grade how to meditate? The answer was yes!
Our goals were three-fold:
- Increase familiarity with the Psalms
- Bring spiritual practices into our liturgy
- Provide the children with a practice they can use in their daily lives
Before we began the psalm series, I wanted to gauge the children’s understanding of meditation. I asked them about “meditation,” and we talked about words like calm, quiet, silent, and still in mind. In addition, several children described meditation as a time when you calm down your mind and your body, and as a time to let everything you’re worried about disappear. I was preparing for a group of beginners, but they clearly understood the concept.
Moving ahead with the plan, we selected six psalms from Psalms for Young Children by Marie-Hélène Delval. Looking at the psalm for the coming Sunday, we chose 4 to 6 words that the children could represent with their bodies while remaining seated. For example, in Psalm 1 the words could be:
We also found an image to reflect or represent the main theme of the psalm. This image should be large enough to show to the children as the psalm is introduced.
The Process: Meditating on the Psalms with Children
Before the lesson: As described above, you will have selected a psalm – a children’s version, or short section of a psalm. You will also have picked 4 to 6 words from the psalm that children can represent with their bodies. Finally, you will have found an image for the psalm.
1. Explain what a psalm is
Introduce the idea of Psalms with words similar to this:
“Psalms are found in the Bible, in the Old Testament, the part that was written before Jesus was born. But people also write psalms today. The Psalms are poems, prayers and songs that were written by The People of God to express thoughts and emotions like praise, hope, joy, sadness, fear, and anger. We read psalms today because the thoughts and feelings that the People of God felt long ago are the same thoughts and feelings that we, the People of God, still feel today.”
2. Introduce the motions
First the children demonstrate what their bodies look like while they’re meditating. Then the leader says the 4 to 6 words chosen for the lesson’s particular psalm. (Note: the children are creating motions before they have heard the psalm.) Invite the children to create a posture or movement for each word. Encourage gentle movements and simple postures, so that the children can easily remain in the quiet, meditative state. Give a few minutes for each word, but don’t let the decision-making overtake the lesson. Children should be free to change their minds about which posture they’ll use.
3. Calming sound in the background
Create a meditative mood by playing a calming sound, like wind chimes or gently flowing water, in the background.
4. Show the image
Show the picture associated with the psalm you are going to read. You won’t be describing the image or having any conversation about it. Visual learners will appreciate you leaving the image in a visible place during the rest of the lesson.
5. Read/say the psalm
Ask the children to close their eyes and remain still while you read through the psalm out loud.
- Read one line at a time, and have the children repeat the line. You might choose to have each line printed on large paper for readers who need to see the words.
- Repeat the psalm again, line by line, adding the motions for the words you chose.
- Read the psalm out loud again, but this time ask the children to do the motions, while remaining silent.
- Have everyone say the psalm silently to themselves while doing the motions together. The leader is also saying the psalm silently to herself and modeling the motions. Suggest that the children follow the leader and remember each part of the psalm as best they can while doing the motions. This is not a time for being word perfect!
- Ask the children if they would like to meditate silently on the psalm one more time – have them answer silently, by nodding or shaking their heads.
- Ask the group to keep silence and be still for another moment before we come back and wonder about the psalm.
- End your meditation time with a bell or other gentle sound to bring the group back to the present.
6. Ask wondering questions
Invite children to answer some questions to help them respond to the psalm:
- I wonder what part of the words of the psalm you liked best.
- I wonder what part of the words of the psalm were most important.
- I wonder which body posture or movement you liked the best.
- I wonder which you liked better, doing the motions for the psalm with the words or without the words.
- I wonder what you felt the most important part of this whole thing was.
- I wonder what part of this you might do at home this week to help you remember the psalm.
- I wonder if you would like to hear me read the psalm again.
Bearing Fruit: Our Psalm Meditation Success
On the first week that we tried this method, the children were fascinated. For example, when we finished the wondering questions, an eight-year-old boy asked if we could have some time to just meditate. The other children looked at me, heads nodding. Of course I said, “Yes.”
We had a six-week time frame for this series and it felt just right. We plan to repeat the practice of meditating on the psalms again later this year. The one change we will make is to use short sections of psalms as they appear in the Bible, such as the entire congregation hears each week. Previously we used children’s versions of psalms from Psalms for Young Children. Overall, our series was a holy success. Every now and then one of the children will ask if we have time to meditate after the story or during the prayers: mission accomplished.
Kat Mercer is the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, MO. Kat has worked with programs for children, youth, families and adults at the congregational and diocesan level, and is an enthusiastic advocate for intergenerational formation and supporting families in faith formation at home.