A Mighty Fortress

It has been a stressful time for our family as my daughter has been in the hospital for the last month battling a severe infection. Thank God she seems finally to have gotten the better of the infection and we look forward to her gaining strength.  Almost to my surprise, my faith has been a pillar for me in this time of trial.

My husband ran across this wonderful poem in Religions of Asia, ed Donald Lopez, Princeton Readings in Religion and shared it with me.  Although it is by a Tibetan monk using the terms of Buddhism, it resonates with my religious understanding.  It reminds me of the ending of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:  “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they can-not win the day,  The kingdom’s ours forever!”

Rainbow over Lake Namtso, Tibet

Rainbow over Lake Namtso, Tibet

Song of Yogin Lorepa during his Retreat at Lake Namtso:

Song of the Six Encouragements to Practice Religion

This workable mind
Is like mist on white glacier mountains.
One never knows when the mist will disappear, so resort to practice!
It is certain that it will disappear, so resort to the holy dharma (teachings)!
This illusory body composed of the four elements
Is like a tree root rotting.
One never knows when the tree will fall, so resort to practice!
It is certain that it will fall, so resort to the holy dharma!
This property built up by competitive ancestors
Is like the illusion of a magician.
One never knows when the illusion will be destroyed, so resort to practice!
It is certain that it will be destroyed, so resort to the holy dharma!
These objects of wealth collected through avarice
Are like honey collected by bees.
One never knows who will enjoy the honey, so resort to practice!
It is certain that others will enjoy it, so resort to the holy dharma!
Agreeable and loving relatives
Are like travelers gathered in a marketplace.
One never knows when the travelers will disperse, so resort to practice!
It is certain that they will disperse, so resort to the holy dharma!
These sons of your own flesh
Are like hundred-year-old dotards.
One never knows if they will help you, so resort to practice!
It is certain they will not help you, so resort to the holy dharma!

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Godly Play for Old Knees

I love telling the stories in the Godly Play (GP) curriculum.  Ideally, the story teller tells the stories seated on the floor in order to be level with the children.  My 68 year old knees do not easily allow me to sit on the floor cross legged, so I have had to modify my presentation.  I set up a 22 inch tall, two foot by four foot table with children’s chairs surrounding it.  This is still accessible to the children but enables me to comfortably get up and down as I need to.


story-set for Creation on my table

I also have had to reshape of some of the story lines.  When the teller lays out the plaques in some stories, the strip can be six feet long!  Obviously this will not fit on a four foot table.

In the story of Creation I decided to set the seventh day apart from the first six days in order to make the strip fit.  I believe that there is a certain serendipity in this solution since it visually sets off the day of rest, the sabbath.  The more I live with this modification of the lay out, the happier I am.

GP is a living method of telling the great stories of Christianity to the next generation.  Its flexibility is one of the signs of its vitality.

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Tweaking Godly Play to fit Lutherans

I’m busy putting together the fall lessons for Godly Play (GP). In the process I do slight modifications to the original Episcopalian GP to align with Lutheran practice.

One of the lessons is on the Ten Best Ways otherwise known as the Ten Commandments.  I had to redo the plaques for this lesson since Lutherans divide the commandments up differently from the Episcopalians.  It is a minor change but these are the subtle differences of emphasis between our two denominations I’m trying to catch.


some of the “tablets” for the Ten Best Ways

Another subtle difference is our emphasis on the Bible.  This has lead me to have a big beautiful Bible in the room that I plan to refer to and show during every lesson.

b cover

The third slight difference was brought up by the other teachers on our GP team. During our first meeting they asked if there was any place for music in the lesson.  We decided we would add some singing at the beginning of each story and at the beginning of the feasts.


LCH children singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve

These are the details that make implementing this program challenging and exciting.

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Surrounded by the Trinity

This summer we are setting up a Godly Play room in our church.  The room is rather small but we are grateful and happy to have it.  Placing all the story-sets in the room has been a challenge but it is coming together.

One day when I was sitting in the room contemplating our set up (which is still not complete) I realized three of the walls were filled with stories in such a way that each wall featured one aspect of the trinity!

Let me explain.  The focal shelf and the two short shelves on each side of it have stories of Jesus’s life–birth, baptism, preaching and the Easter story.

photo 3

Story-sets about Jesus’ life.

The next wall has Old Testament stories–creation, Noah’s ark, and the wandering in the desert.  God the Father appears in these stories.

photo 2

Old Testament story-sets featuring God the Father.

Turning the corner, the last wall has stories of the Holy Spirit.  On the top shelf it has the Bible and stories about the beginning of the church including Pentecost.  On the second shelf there are small baskets with stories of special people who have heard God clearly such as Julian of Norwich or St. Patrick.  The Holy Spirit is God’s voice to the prophets and writers of the scriptures.


Story-sets about the holy spirit.


As I sat there I felt a special closeness to God and a new appreciation of the Trinity.  One of the things I love about Godly Play is how it allows a theological point to arise in a non-verbal way.  I can’t wait to start lessons.

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A Bible for Godly Play

One of the items needed for our Godly Play room was a lovely Bible.  I had in mind a Bible with beautiful illustrations that would, even without words, show the importance of the Bible in our Lutheran heritage.

b cover

As I searched and searched for just the correct Bible that would give a non-verbal cue to the children of how important the Word is for Lutherans, I had the good sense to talk (complain?) to my daughter.  She answered with an offer for me to borrow her big Bible since she never uses it.  Big Bible?  It turns out that 12 years ago I gave her a beautiful Bible with many illustrations from Renaissance manuscripts.  I had completely forgotten it but I realized that that was the Bible I had been looking for.

open bNow it sits in the Godly Play room full of wonderful stories, waiting for Sunday school to begin.


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A Room of Their Own

Part of getting ready for the new Sunday school curriculum at LCH was installing new shelves in the Godly Play room.  My husband was willing to do the work and our grandchildren were eager to help.  Nothing like people having fun to attract a crowd!  Soon my husband was overseeing a band of young workpeople clambering for a turn to put in a screw.


As we finish this room I realize that we are giving the children of LCH a place that is theirs.  For years we’ve had a high school room and a nursery room for the tiny ones, but no special room dedicated to the elementary school children.  The Godly Play Room is their place.  Every Sunday they stop by to see what has been added.  One of them said that he wished Sunday school was starting now.  Making room for all children is part of being a welcoming church.  And their helping to prepare it is even better!

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What is Godly Play?

We are changing to a different Sunday school curriculum at LCH in September called Godly Play. I wrote this article for the church newsletter to begin explaining what it is about.  This is a very exciting time for our Christian Education!

Godly Play is a time tested Sunday school curriculum. It was developed by an Episcopal minister and has been used for 30 years by many congregations all over the world. The hour of Sunday school is divided into 20-minute segments. The storyteller presents a story, the children have time for an artistic response, and finally everyone gathers for a “feast” that includes prayer and fellowship.

Godly Play is a sacred space. In the Godly Play program the church sets up a room where the children are literally surrounded by objects that tell the sacred stories of the bible and stories of liturgical actions that are part of church worship. The children learn that this space is for them and their spiritual development.

Godly Play is beautiful. Stories are told with handmade objects of natural materials and copies of great works of art. The room is welcoming and enticing. It is a place where the children wish to linger and explore, going deeper into what is interesting them.


The Good Shepherd and his flock

Godly Play is fun! The students are encouraged to make their own artistic response to the story in drawing or clay, or to look at a book, or to do a puzzle, or retell a story using the objects on the shelves. With scripted storytelling and artistic activities, teachers and the students discover the joy and wonder of our Christian heritage.

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Why Should Children be Polite?

I’ve always felt that one of the things a grandmother does is ask her grandchildren to be polite.  So ever since they started speaking I’ve expected my grandchildren to respond to a question such as, “Do you want an ice cream cone?” with “Yes please, Nana.”  Recently I’ve noticed that the response is often “Sure.”

I was bemoaning the change from yes-please-Nana to sure when my 5 year old granddaughter asked why she had to say it ‘that way.’  Her question, which was motivated by genuine curiosity, took me aback.  Why did they have to be polite?  Why are some ways of speaking more pleasing?  Why do I care how my grandchildren respond to me?

I’ve been mulling over her question and I’ve decided that politeness is important because one of the things we help our children develop is a capacity for gratitude.   If the child says, “Sure.”,  there is a feeling of entitlement.  The child is saying: “I’ll let you do this for me.”  There is no gratitude involved.  When a child responds, “Yes please, Nana,” she has a feeling of gratitude.  Life is better when lived in gratitude rather than entitlement. Try saying both phrases and see how you feel. Even as an adult, being grateful is more satisfying than feeling entitled.

Gratitude, like any emotion, needs to be practiced to get strong.  Every time children answer politely they are exercising their capacity for gratitude, making it healthier and more robust.

My daughter, at her wedding, took time to thank her grandmother.

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The Word

How do you chose a bible for childen?  Believe me it is not easy!  There are hundreds of different versions and a lot of them are not very engaging.  In fact they tend to be silly and too simple or watered down and bland.  That’s a shame since  the stories are wonderful and putting the Word into our children’s hands is one of our duties as a Christian community.

This Sunday LCH will be giving out bibles to those students who have finished second grade.  A few years ago we decided to give them The Children’s Illustrated Bible, stories retold by Selina Hastings.  It is an absolutely delightful book that retells the major stories of the bible in clear and interesting prose.  Each story is spread over two pages and is accompanied by lovely illustrations and fascinating sidebars.

The Word should feel like the treasure it is and we hope this book will give our children that rush of joy we all remember feeling when opening a particularly wonderful new book.  If you see one of our kids with a new book, ask to see it.  We have shared with them, now let them share with us.

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Mother’s Day

I just had a lovely Mother’s Day dinner at my daughter’s house.  It got me thinking about the difference between child-centered child rearing which gives up everything for the child and balanced love.  Except when they are infants, I don’t believe that your children should rule your life, but I do believe in balanced love.  The difference is nicely illustrated in the two books, The Giving Tree and The Knitting of Elizabeth Amelia.

In The Giving Tree, the tree, over time, gives everything she has to the “boy.”  The “boy” grows old but never grows out of taking from the tree.  That image does not feel healthy to me and I never felt comfortable having the book in my house.  Balanced love does not mean endless giving without thought!  Isn’t part of parenting guiding our children on the path that will help them grow into loving and giving adults themselves? Don’t we need to teach our children to give as well as receive?


Then several years ago I found The Knitting of Elizabeth Amelia, by Patricia Lee Gauch.  The heroine of this book is a knitted baby who, as she is growing up, is loved by all because she is soft and fun and loves to dance.  She marries and when she wants children, or needs things for the children, she knits them out of yarn unravelled from herself.  She finally is only a pillow and can no longer dance.  At this point, and this is the charm of the book for me, her family comes to her and brings to her yarn they find all over the house for her to use to reknit herself.  Their compassion and love teaches Elizabeth Amelia that she should receive as well as give.  She does reknit herself and is able to dance again.

As all children’s books do, this sounds stranger in the retelling than in the book with illustrations and a storytelling pace.  My point is that endless giving may not develop compassionate human beings.  Our modeling receiving with love, as well as giving  with love, develops compassionate human beings.

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