This week I am re-sharing a blog post written by Joanna Levy and published last spring when most folks in schools were at the busiest time of the year. I really like her suggestions for helpful classroom practices, and I think they could work well at any age.
Cultivating a Spirit of Worship in the Classroom
This post originally appeared on the CDL blog May 17, 2022.
One of the principles of Christian Deeper Learning is that all members of the community are invited to see their identity as God’s beautiful handiwork, made in his likeness. As image-bearers of God, we are created to worship. We are made to worship God, to find joy, meaning, faith, peace, and love in relationship with the Trinity. Learning deepens when the process, the content, and the application of all we learn are guided by our call to worship in spirit and truth.
When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
How can we invite our students to love God not just with their minds, but also with all their hearts? Christian schools can tend to focus on correct doctrine, but we also need to foster that heart relationship. Since most Christian schools I’ve encountered are only able to do chapel once a week, or less, classroom devotions become the prime opportunity for daily practices to deepen students’ heart relationship with God and to cultivate a spirit of worship.
Here are some classroom practices that can deepen classroom devotions.
Praying in Color
Praying in color is a meditative kind of prayer that involves drawing or doodling around a central prayer theme. Themes could include intercession, gratitude, despair, or spending time with God. (See illustration.) The room should be quiet except for wordless worship music. Students need white paper and markers, colored pencils, or crayons. No art expertise is needed; there is no wrong or right way to do it. Students of all ages find this a peaceful time that allows them to experience the presence of God and pray in an artistic way.
This can be done with students of all ages. Usually, I would give them 15 or 20 minutes and then ask if anyone would like to share theirs with the class.
Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is a contemplative way of reading the Bible that dates back to the early centuries of the Christian Church. It is a way of praying the scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. We slow down and read the same passage multiple times, each time seeking what God is saying to us for our life through that particular scripture. In this activity, the goal isn’t intellectual knowledge in terms of seeking information, but a conversation with God that results in spiritual formation.
In a classroom setting, some students may prefer to write in a spiritual journal rather than share aloud. Short passages from the Gospels or the Psalms are best to use. Or, if the class is studying a certain book of the Bible, this practice could be used in addition to the more intellectual study.
Don’t hesitate to use this with younger children; they are often the most receptive and open!
Here are the steps for doing lectio divina:
Pray at the beginning to ask for the Holy Spirit to speak to each one what they need to hear that day.
Listen to the first person read the chosen Scripture passage aloud. Reflect on the passage in silence. What word or phrase speaks to your heart? Speak that word or phrase aloud.
Listen to the passage again, keeping in mind the word or phrase that first spoke to you. Reflect on what God might be saying to you through this word or phrase. Share.
Listen to the passage again. How might God be calling you to act through the word or phrase that spoke to you? Share how you feel God may be calling you to respond.
Pray at the end that each would be able to carry out any action or response prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Apologies and Appreciations
This provides a protocol for students to ask forgiveness of their classmates and express gratitude for help or kindness they’ve received from one another. When done regularly, perhaps once a week, it helps the students experience repentance, keep short accounts with one another, and learn to be thankful.
The procedure is simple. We would make a circle of our desks or chairs, light a candle in the middle (if possible), have an object in the middle such as a cross or a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and have ready some kind of “talking piece” to make sure there is no cross conversation and that everyone has a chance to speak. The talking piece could be a stone or a feather – anything that can be passed from one person to another. Only the one holding the talking piece may speak.
The teacher prays for the Holy Spirit to speak to each one and reveal if there is something they need to ask forgiveness for or someone they need to thank. The thanks should be specific and addressed to one person, speaking directly to them. For example, “Mary, I want to thank you for helping me with my math yesterday.” I often would ask forgiveness of a student for things like being impatient, not returning their work when I had said I would, etc. I knew that if I went first seeking forgiveness, the students were more likely to follow suit. I would pass the talking piece to the person next to me and if they were ready, they would speak. There is no conversation or cross talk. This is a sacred time. The only responses allowed are “I forgive you,” or “You’re welcome” when being thanked.
Students can pass if they have nothing to say, but the talking piece should go around the circle two or three times to give people a chance to think if they need to share or not. Close with prayer, thanking the Holy Spirit for being present and active among you.
A Study on the Names of God
As we prayed aloud in class, I began to see a pattern emerge in how the students addressed God. They generally began their prayers, “Dear God.” While there is nothing wrong with that, it did seem a bit like the beginning of a formal business letter, and not an appeal to a loving Father. To counter this, we took up a study of some of the names of God. We looked at where in the Bible the name is first given and what it means. For example, when we studied Christ as the Good Shepherd, we took a deep dive into Psalm 23 and what it is a shepherd actually does to care for his sheep. For the name “Father” we made a list of all the things our fathers do for us and then envisioned God as the perfect Father. We talked about the nature of light and what it means that Jesus is the Light of the World.
Some of the names we studied:
Light of the World
Bread of Life
Prince of Peace
The names we studied were displayed in the classroom on a beautiful poster, and when it was time to pray, I encouraged the students to address God according to the name that most fit their needs. It invited them to think more deeply about who God is and what they were praying about, and so resulted in more worshipful prayer.
As we develop practices that foster worship, every class becomes a sacred space.
New books for kids by authors who are Christian school teachers!
In the last two weeks, I have become aware of two children's books that have been published by friends, and I want to bring them to your attention. Jill Van Soelen and Lori DeJong have released "Beloved" - a picture book to help children understand how they are a part of God's Story. You can purchase the book here as well as access teacher resources.
Johnny Tiersma and Ron Van Der Pol have teamed up to create "If I Were the Teacher" - a read-aloud that helps to create a safe and trusting classroom community. More info is available here.
Congrats to Jill, Lori, Johnny, and Ron on these creative endeavors! If you know of someone else who has recently published a book that would benefit the Christian education community, please let me know.