prayer, spiritual nourishment

Today’s lesson: prayer, spiritual nourishment.

September 26, 2012: First things first: Class went really well. We had a group of a good size—six children, most of whom participated pretty actively in the lesson. We told everyone we would have a short class because we had to leave for Feast, but we ended up having enough time to cover what we had intended anyway. We started with prayers, and everyone made a really good effort to show reverence. Next we explained the lesson: We asked them how they would feel if they hadn’t eaten during a whole day, and then explained that our soul feels the same way when we go a day without praying. The children seemed to get the idea, which helps to illustrate the idea of spiritual nourishment as compared to material nourishment. We then tackled about half of the quote, explaining difficult words as we went along. Since we’re doubling up the classes (doing the same class two weeks in a row), we generally have enough time to study the entire quote at a slightly more relaxed pace, which helps since many of our students are only learning English as a second (or third) language. And when I say we tackled it, we really tackled it. We sometimes play word games or write words on index cards or add movements to make memorization easier, but this time we just repeated it until we got it—after splitting it into manageable chunks, of course. Next, we got everyone to stand up for the drama exercise, or what we called the Superhero Olympics. Building on what we had discussed earlier, we asked the children to pretend they were performing in certain imaginary “events”, using their bodies and actions to show their strength: jumping into and out of a tall tree, picking up a car (!!!), and completing a sprinting race. Next, we asked them to imagine that they hadn’t eaten in two days (apparently one day wasn’t long enough), and to repeat the “events”, this time pretending to be weak from hunger and exhaustion. We had some pretty good acting going on. This is starting to be my favourite part of the lessons, and I suspect it’s becoming theirs as well. Finally, we had them repeat the events after having an imaginary rest and hearty meal, once again showing their strength. Afterwards, we played a game of “I Spy” (to my surprise—that’s what they came up with), and, to our great delight, we were able to close with prayers that were just as reverent as the opening prayers.

Having worked with earlier versions of the Ruhi curriculum in the past, I really appreciate the way the lessons of Grade 2 are organized, especially the fact that we start off our year with a set of lessons on prayer. I feel as though the focus on prayers is helping the children to get a sense of the importance of that part of our daily routine, by allowing us to discuss it openly with them and explain why we pray. The fact that the children are sitting down for prayers and are showing disciplined reverence indicates that they are getting it, to varying degrees. And they help each other get it, too. One of the children has had a history of being a little scattered and hard to keep engaged in the class, which I always chalked up to the class taking place at her home. She also seemed disinterested in committing quotes to memory and reading prayers. But when one of her schoolmates joined the class and told her that she had put the prayer that we’re learning on her fridge so she could read it every day, it seemed to have an effect on her, as if she was surprised her friend was working on memorization at home. We had a talk with her right afterwards, and she confided that she often felt shy to memorize quotes and prayers because there were too many big, complicated words in them, and she had trouble remembering them all the way through. So we encouraged her to try little bits at a time, and assured her that a prayer is still a prayer even if you only read a few words. Since then, she’s been much more involved in memorizing, and has even offered to read prayers during class. So heartening! It gives me joy just to think about it.

On a related note, most of you probably remember that we’ve identified the need for a junior youth group in the neighbourhood, and we took action to make that happen this week. Quynh, my co-teacher (also my wife), decided to volunteer to animate a junior youth group, bringing them through the book Glimmerings of Hope. Why Glimmerings? Many of the families we’re dealing were living in refugee camps for many years before arriving in Canada, having escaped violent conflict in their native country. Some of the older children and junior youth have witnessed the horrors of this conflict first-hand, and are old enough to remember. Glimmerings follows the story of Kibomi, a 12-year-old boy whose parents are killed in an ethnic conflict, and of the choices he makes as he struggles to make sense of what has happened and meets new friends who show him new possibilities. Suffice to say that it’s a powerful book that speaks to those who have lived through conflict and felt its consequences, and from our conversations with the junior youth, we think it may provide not only a much needed outlet for their questions, but a constructive place for them to exercise positive choices in their lives and the life of their community. Hmmm… we may just have to open up a new blog soon.

virtue trees

quote treeOne of the nifty suggestions shared at yesterday’s teacher gathering was to make a Virtue Tree out of craft paper, in which the leaves are inscribed with the spiritual qualities covered in Grade 1 of Ruhi Book 3. Throughout the year, the children can look at the leaves to recall past lessons, and the teacher can use this for review. I’ve seen this idea in a couple of places; homeschooling blogger mom Kami uses it as a permanent home decoration after a successful Ayyam-i-Há launch, and the Enable Me To Grow blog has a few easy instructions on how to make your own virtue tree.

We’ve actually done this before, except with the actual quotes from each lesson instead of just the qualities. It became a “quote tree” that the kids could go back to to review what they had learned. The nicest thing, though, was that it was set up on the wall of the public space we used for our class, so everyone who used the same space afterwards could take a look and see what the children were learning. It got a great response and prompted a lot of curious questions!

to give and be generous

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 2)

Today’s lesson: prayer, a loving conversation with god.

September 5, 2012: Week 2 of this lesson! Our first weekday evening class, and it seems to have gone off brilliantly, all told. We’re starting to get a better sense of the needs in the neighbourhood—and the evidence points to the need for a junior youth group to complement the children’s class. We had more older children than last time; out of eight children attending, five were 11 years and older. Some of the older girls said they intended to invite friends and siblings who were of their age. The two teachers present today discussed the situation and agreed that a junior youth group was needed urgently; the question, of course, is always about resources—who will teach it? Fortunately, there’s currently a big push in our city for Baha’is to complete Ruhi Book 5, which should provide a number of able-bodied animators who may be able to help out. We’ll see how things go, and in the meantime we’ll do our best to provide the junior youth with a program that adapts more to their needs, as well as meeting the needs of the younger children.

I think evening hours are more challenging for us as teachers, to be sure. Not having a car, and working 9 to 5 at a fair distance from the neighbourhood, I’m dependent on public transit to get to the class on time, and today it really failed to deliver. There are new schedules for the fall season that just came into effect, so I guess I should have taken that into account and left work earlier so that I could manage the delays in connecting between stops. Not having a car is a wonderful choice financially and ecologically, but it really seems to limit your ability to work through the logistics of a children’s class. We started late, but my co-teacher was able to spend some leisure time with the children and JYs; most of the parents were still coming home from work at that point.

Briefly, we started with prayers, and continued memorizing the quote we had started learning last time, this time reading through it in its entirety: “Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men.” We wrote it out onto a sheet of bristol board so that we could practice it together and explain difficult words, and then we tried a new strategy: using pictures to help represent words. For example, the word “intone” was represented by a picture of a person reading out loud from a book, “melody” by musical notes, and so on. We gave everyone cards with pictures printed onto them, explaining what each one represented, and asked them to glue the picture onto the bristol board.

piecing togetherOnce this was done, we read the quote again, reading the associated words whenever one of the pictures came up. Afterwards, we went through the dramatic exercises given with the original lesson in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2: first working out and stretching inside our invisible boxes, acting out certain movements, and then pretending we were plants in a dry field praying for rain. They really seemed to enjoy this, drooping sadly when we asked them to express the desperation of plants praying for rain, waving their arms broadly and energetically as they expressed the joy of a watered plant with their bodies.

At the end of the class—which ended up lasting about an hour, by which time the sun had already started to set—we joined our friends outside, set a time for the next class (next Wednesday at 6:00) and spent time together, playing games and talking to their parents, who had arrived home by then. One of our goals this year was to get to know the families in the neighbourhood better, so that we can build stronger bonds of friendship. The time we spend with them before and after the class, and during home visits on the side, should help us move forward with this goal, and help us gain a better understanding on how a strong neighbourhood based on ties of universal love and fellowship is built.

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 1)

Today’s lesson: prayer, a loving conversation with god.

September 1, 2012: Week 1 of this lesson at our neighbourhood children’s class. As is often the case when starting new classes, we had a wide range of ages, from 5 to 12 (!). All the children present were cousins living in the same apartment building. To start off, we explained that we would be starting the class with prayers, and engaged the children in a brief conversation about why we pray. As often happens, the older children (in this case, junior youth—11 and 12 years old) answered more readily.

Prayer is when we talk to God, they offered. Sometimes we ask Him for help when we have trouble or when we need something. We talked about the love of God, and how it motivates us to pray, just like we feel motivated to talk to a person we love, to tell them how much we love them. Since we were talking about God, we spoke a little about His nature. Some of the children began to volunteer descriptions of Him, for example, as a man with a long beard, “just like Santa Claus.” Another added, “I think he has green skin. Like an alien.” We explained that although we can converse with God through prayer, His essence is unknowable to us. For that reason, we should try not to make images of God in our minds, thinking of him as a man, alien or otherwise.

One of the older children then asked: Why is it that some people don’t believe in God? After all, we had just finished talking about how God loves us dearly. Why would people turn away from that love and reject God? We replied by noting that when we make images of God in our mind, these are merely the product of our imagination, and they will always fall short of describing Him. For instance, one person might think of God as an old, bearded man—but how could a mere man hear everyone’s prayers, all the time? Perhaps, then, it is this confusion that turns people away.

After prayers, we presented the quote, concentrating on the first part: “Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee”, and explaining some of the heavy words. Most of the children speak English as a second language, so we’ll be trying to work slowly but steadily on this. We played a game to help us memorize the quote—each child memorized a couple of words and would stand up each time he heard those words, sitting down when the next words were read. For example, one child would stand up at “Intone”; he would sit down and the next child would sit up at “O My servant”; and so on. We did this faster and faster, changing places in our circle, and then even lining up in a row. We’ll be playing similar active games in the next few weeks to help us along.

We continued by reading the story of Ruhu’lláh, which is a beautiful story showing how the devotion he showed in praying touched the heart of an official who was threatening his father. I feel like I was a little out of practice in telling stories, so I didn’t tell it as well as I could, but we can try again next time. After the story was over, we adjourned outside and played a lively game of extreme hopscotch—hopscotch with disconnected numbers all over the place.

The funny thing about this lesson was that since it was about prayer, we could start discussing the lesson before we even started with prayers, and it actually helped to set the tone when we said our opening prayer, enhancing the reverent atmosphere. We’ll be trying to focus on keeping this going and encouraging the children to make a habit of praying each day.