“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”
Vicki Garlock, founder of Faith Seeker Kids and childhood interfaith educator:
I have the great fortune of being an interfaith educator for kids. My work is grounded in my beliefs that 1) faith development is a life-long process, 2) that each faith tradition offers a unique way of articulating and accessing the divine presence in our lives, and 3) that we should provide kids with the tools they need to walk their faith path.
We have teenagers who love Rumi, middle-schoolers who have heard passages from the Qur’an…
The real beauty of teaching kids about the world’s faith traditions is that I see examples of #TangibleHope all the time. We have teenagers who love Rumi, middle-schoolers who have heard passages from the Qur’an since they were in 3rd grade, and kindergarteners who have listened to stories from around the world. They are not entirely blank slates, but they are incredibly open-minded and open-hearted – free from the baggage so frequently seen in adults.
People often question whether or not kids can actually understand the way different religions articulate the Great Mystery. It is true that these kids are not mini-religious scholars; that is not our intent. But they clearly wonder about how the world came to be, how it works, and how they can find meaning in it from a very young age.
I am reminded of an argument that occurred one day in our Preschool-Kindergarten class. They were listening to the Biblical passage about Moses’ adventure on Mount Sinai when God gave him the first set of commandments. The Bible describes the mountain in this way, “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:18) The question posed to the kids was this: What does God look like to you? The mild argument ensued when three different kids tried to convince the others of his/her viewpoint. One child said she already knew what God looked like. God was an old man with a white beard and he lived “right over there” as she pointed to a non-descript, but distant, corner of the room. Another child took issue with her claim and asserted that “God is everywhere.” A third child was quick to point out that both classmates were mistaken since “God lives inside you.”
The give-and-take that one might expect from adults isn’t there, but neither is all the angst. When we talk about prayer, we take a wide view. We talk about Tibetan prayer flags, Catholic rosaries, singing psalms as prayer, Muslim prayer beads, mantras as prayer, Buddhist malas, Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Pagan clouties, Islamic prayer mats, chanting as prayer, and various prayer postures. We make prayer flags to hang in the classroom, we tie clouties to trees, we show videos of people praying in various ways, and we show them strands of prayer beads from the various traditions. The older kids even make their own set of prayer beads, choosing the number and colors of beads that are meaningful to them.
They don’t even realize their knowledge is special in any way because it all makes perfect sense.
And what do the kids say in response to all that? “Cool.” They don’t even realize their knowledge is special in any way because it all makes perfect sense. They may prefer some prayer methods over others, and their preferences will almost certainly change over the course of their lifetimes, but there is no judgment when we offer these practices as different ways to touch that which is sacred. Kids get it. Our job is simply to keep that #TangibleHope alive.
Vicki Michela Garlock, Ph.D., is the founder of Faith Seeker Kids and the Nurture Coordinator at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, NC. She has developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum for kids age 4 through 8th grade and is the co-founder of Asheville Interfaith. She is also a correspondent for the Interfaith Observer, writing for their on-line publication every month, where she focuses on the “kid angle.” Most of her time is spent writing, reading sacred texts/ancient stories, and attending rituals/pujas/services offered by various faith communities. When she isn’t working, she’s walking her dog, driving her son around to his extra-curricular activities, and keeping her teenage daughter focused. You can find her at faithseekerkids.com or on Facebook: Faith Seeker Kids or on Twitter: @faithseekerkids.
Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today. See you next week! Learn more here.