Creating Portable Reminders to Pray

St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) is simultaneously necessary and difficult. It may be easy for us to read, nod our heads in agreement, and desire to work towards that end in our own life. But how hard it is to actually work out! And it is not any easier for our children, who face many struggles and distractions of their own. We thought perhaps it would be helpful to offer a few ideas of things that you can create which can be carried in a pocket or tucked into a lunchbox, purse, or backpack, or kept in a desk drawer or locker, where they can remind you (and/or your children) to pray. Perhaps one or more of them will help you to pray without ceasing.
The first idea is a printable handful of prayers which can be laminated and tucked into the car or a bag; or attached to a desk or locker with magnets.
The second idea is a pocket prayer corner. This can be made very simply with paper, contact paper, and adhesive hook and loop fastener. Or it could be created with fabric, clear vinyl, and sewable hook and loop fastener. Either way, the icons and prayer inside the pocket prayer corner can be customized according to the needs of the person who will be praying the prayers. When it’s opened up, the pocket prayer corner can help to turn any space into a prayerful place.
The third idea is a tiny diptych with an icon and a prayer (created from a recycled mints tin) which can be kept in a pocket, purse, or backpack; or by adding a magnet to the back, can be kept in a locker or on a fridge.
These items can be very helpful for our own life, but we could also help our students make one or more of them for their own spiritual growth.

Here are the details for creating each of these items, as well as a few related pages. May the Lord guide each of us and strengthen us as we continue to learn to pray without ceasing!

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Find a printable document featuring prayers which may be helpful for children to pray here. (You may wish to select and print other favorite prayers instead.) Print the prayers you want to carry with you, then cut them out and glue them to colorful paper or cardstock.

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Coat both sides with clear contact paper to seal them.

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Tuck the cards into your car, purse, or backpack. Add adhesive magnets to the back if you wish to display them to a filing cabinet or locker.

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68530641_10217668948747281_2051609532592816128_n   67890268_10217668950507325_4412182223432712192_n

Here are the directions for creating a paper pocket prayer corner:

 

  1. Print this pattern and cut it out.
  2. Trace the outside of the pattern on the plain side of a piece of decorative paper or cardstock. 67900294_10217668947667254_4456868038137872384_nRepeat on a second piece, cut them out, and glue the two together.
  3. Collect small paper copies of the three icons you wish to include in your pocket prayer corner.67699272_10217668947867259_771138807943659520_n
  4. Select a prayer to include. (Perhaps one of these would work.)
  5. Find a cross sticker or print a cross picture for the center of your pocket prayer corner.
  6. Glue an icon in the middle of the top section and in each side section of your pocket prayer corner.68241950_10217668948867284_6567055199456722944_n
  7. Glue the cross in the middle section of the pocket prayer corner.
  8. Glue the prayer on the bottom section of your pocket prayer corner, in the upper portion of it, near the middle section.
  9. If desired, cover the front and back of the pocket prayer corner with clear contact paper, and cut it out.
  10. Fold the sides and top of your pocket prayer corner towards the center, overlapping each other. 67696597_10217668949107290_4196027132289220608_n
  11. Fold the bottom of the pocket prayer corner up over all of these. Bend its extra length over the top, enclosing the whole pocket prayer corner.68530641_10217668948747281_2051609532592816128_n
  12. Use adhesive hook and loop fastener on this extra length to create a way to close your pocket prayer corner. 67890268_10217668950507325_4412182223432712192_n
  13. Carry your pocket prayer corner with you, taking it out and opening it when you are ready to pray!

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Here you can find directions for creating a fabric pocket prayer corner:

  1. Print this pattern and cut it out. 68285307_10217668950347321_3822436596116881408_nTrace the outside of the pattern, adding an extra ½” all the way around for a seam allowance, on the wrong side of two pieces of fabric (or stack both pieces, right or wrong sides together). Cut the fabric.
  2. Collect small paper copies of the three icons you wish to include in your pocket prayer corner.
  3. Select a prayer to include. (Perhaps one of these would work.)
  4. Choose a cross pendant or fabric adhesive cross for the center of your pocket prayer corner. (If you use an iron-on adhesive, be sure to adhere it in place at this point! After this, ironing it will likely melt the vinyl and create a mess.) 67921985_10217668951627353_5445823990784327680_n
  5. Cut pieces of clear vinyl that are ¼” larger at the sides and bottom than each icon and the prayer. 67769097_10217668964067664_470299305459056640_n
  6. Sew the sides and bottom of each piece of vinyl to the interior piece of fabric, using a topstitch that is ⅛” from the edge of the vinyl.
  7. Sew one piece of the hook and loop fastener beneath the vinyl pocket for the prayer on the inside of the cross. 67769354_10217668951587352_983780791932682240_n
  8. Fold the sides and top of the outside of the cross down, towards the middle. Fold the long bottom side up to cover the folded-down top. Turn the cross over so that you can see where the extra fabric at the bottom will meet the back. Pin the other piece of hook and loop fastener here, where it will match with its mate when the two crosses are sewn together.
  9. Sew this piece of hook and loop fastener to the outside of the cross.
  10. Pin the right sides of your two pieces of fabric together. 67788046_10217668950427323_5534486937705906176_n
  11. Sew them together, using a ½” seam, and leaving a stretch of the bottom of the cross open so that you can turn it right-side-out.67789037_10217668950387322_6368491697357193216_n
  12. Clip the fabric off of the outer corners and make one cut toward each inner corner. With these clippings, be careful not to clip the seam at any point.
  13. Turn the cross right-side-out.68500949_10217668951867359_1194176181608382464_n
  14. Hand-sew (or topstitch) the opening at the bottom of the cross, to close it.
  15. Slip the icons into the vinyl pockets at the top and sides of your pocket prayer corner.
  16. Hand-sew the cross in place, in the middle (unless you are using an iron-on adhesive and have previously attached it).
  17. Slip the prayer into the bottom vinyl pocket.68682900_10217668951707355_3767189907802423296_n
  18. Fold the sides and top of your pocket prayer corner towards the center, overlapping each other.
  19. Fold the bottom of the pocket prayer corner up to cover all of these. Bend the extra length over the top, matching the hook and loop fasteners to close the pocket prayer corner.
  20. Carry your pocket prayer corner with you, taking it out and opening it when you are ready to pray!

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67771961_10217668965027688_3140909690938982400_nHere are directions to recycle a mints tin to make a diptych:

  1. Select a pretty paper or cardstock to cover the inside and outside of your tin.67756515_10217668963867659_7702159204034805760_n
  2. Trace the shape of your tin onto the paper and cut four pieces to that shape. 67791382_10217668963947661_1950138151380975616_n
  3. Use mod-podge glue to adhere the paper to the tin.
  4. Select a prayer and a paper icon (or two icons) for your tin. (Perhaps one of these would work.)67728779_10217668963787657_3912977680697393152_n
  5. Cut the prayer and/or icon(s) to size and use mod-podge to glue them into place on the insides of the tin.67738422_10217668963987662_3649369896787116032_n
  6. Coat the outside (and inside, if you wish) paper surfaces with an additional coat of mod-podge glue, to seal them.68371832_10217668965227693_8901369813163573248_n
  7. When the glue is dry, adhere magnets to the back of the diptych if you plan to keep it in a locker or filing cabinet.

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These icon flashcards are a nice size to fit in a pocket or locker, to remind you to pray and that you are not alone: https://www.monasterygreetings.com/product/Orthodox-Flash-Cards/Saints-Icons-and-Images
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Find additional children’s prayers (including ones for when one of your students or one of their friends is afraid) in this printable prayer booklet: http://www.saintkassianipress.com/PrayerBook.html

 

On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

 

In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents/teachers can be encouraged to emulate her: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:

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“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

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“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose

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“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon

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“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

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“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

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“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius

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” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich
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On the Gift of Story

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my family (and any guests we were hosting) around the table after dinner, and listening as the adults told stories and jokes. I have always loved stories, and this daily experience fed my hunger for them. Throughout my growing-up years, I remember begging my parents to tell me stories from their childhood. Sometimes they’d remember one, and tell it to me, and other times they couldn’t think of any story to tell. I remember adamantly thinking to myself that I was going to remember every single thing from my childhood, so that I would always be able to tell my own children stories when they asked for one. In my childhood mind, that was the best gift I could give to my future kids. (Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me as well as I intended, and therefore many times when my own children would ask for stories, I could not call any to mind! Now that my children are grown and no longer begging for stories, often something will jog a childhood memory, and at last I can think of stories to tell!)

It wasn’t until I was teaching frst grade in a private Christian school that I began to appreciate the gift (and power!) of story. My favorite class to teach in those years was Bible class. One day, I realized why I loved teaching Bible class so much (besides the obvious fact that it was a lesson from the Scriptures). You see, it was in Bible class that I could teach in a way that engrossed my students: through story. Years later, after we had children of our own and I was no longer teaching in a classroom, our family began sharing other cultures with children and their families through educational gatherings which always included folktales. I am confident that the children (and adults) who attended may not remember any of the facts or activities from those gatherings. But if I were to ask them something about the folktale that we told, even years after the event, a light would go on in their mind, and a smile would cross their lips, as they remembered it. Stories are a gift, because they are memorable, and even children can understand them.

What is it about stories that entices children? And is it just a childhood thing, this longing for stories? I have noticed in my adult life that I am much better able to digest concepts if they are embedded in a story than if I am just presented with the idea. I retain much more from walking through a living history exhibit and speaking with its re-enactors than I do from visiting a glass-encased-artifact museum. As our family journeyed toward Orthodoxy, it was Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story of a year in their mission parish, her book Facing East, which made the Faith real to me, not a straightforward theological discourse. Story speaks to the adult me, just as much as it did to the child. I suspect that I am not alone. Given our whole culture’s renewed interest in storytelling (even businesses are utilizing storytelling for increased success!), it seems that stories are for everyone, not just children.

Perhaps this is why, throughout the history of mankind, storytelling was utilized as a means for communicating culture, history, and morals. That’s a tall order! But it was effective. Unfortunately, in the last centuries, we have begun to step away from the gift of story. As we rely more on technology for learning and less on sitting together around the dinner table (or campfire) and talking to each other, the experienced people in our midst are not as readily able to share their wisdom through their stories. This has reduced the organic transfer of culture, history, and morals. The recent “rebirth” of interest in storytelling in our culture is a step (back) in the right direction. Now it is up to us to move beyond interest in storytelling, and begin to actually practice it.

Stories are a gift, because they are a memorable (and fun!) way for life lessons to be beautifully conveyed. Our Lord Himself offered us this gift when He told stories. Remember all the parables that He shared? Many of them were great stories but they also incited discussion because they housed deeper meaning. Christ modeled for us the use of story for teaching.

We should be taking advantage of this gift! As we do, perhaps the stories that we share will come from our personal experience. As a child, I craved stories from my parents’ growing-up years. But even now, as an adult, I continue to savor the stories that they tell me from years gone by. We should not underestimate the value of personal stories. Retelling our personal history allows our listeners to hear what life was like when we were younger. The stories are engaging because they’re real, they’re about someone the hearer actually knows, and they bring the past to life. They can also teach a lesson, especially if we are humble enough to even tell the stories of our mistakes. As we share our stories, let us be careful not to gloss over those mistakes. Rather, let us allow our listeners to learn from them. God gives us opportunities to suffer and stumble and get back up again, not just for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of those around us who can learn from our choices (and even from our mistakes!).

Another way to share the gift of story is through reading books together. They may be Orthodox books and/or books that directly teach an important concept or lesson. At other times, we may share a story from a book that is not Orthodox, and maybe does not even directly teach a concept or virtue, but it opens up a way to speak together about one. Perhaps the main characters in the story actually make the wrong choice. Rather than throwing out the story altogether because of that wrong choice, we can allow such a story to become a launching point, a way to safely talk together about the Faith and our choices and to learn through the characters’ mistakes. This can save us from having to make the mistake ourselves. (Of course, each class is different, and is thus differently able to process the stories that they hear. Because of this, we teachers need to decide which stories are appropriate to share with our students. This requires preparation through careful thought and pre-reading before sharing, but in the long run, it is very worthwhile.)

Modern schedules may no longer allow for the daily extended mealtimes that I experienced when I was a child. This makes it more difficult for storytelling to happen naturally. However, this gift is so valuable that it is worth investing the time and energy required to make it happen. Let us find a way to give the gift of story, and value it when we receive it in return!

Note: We are not all professional storytellers. That’s okay. The personal touch, the time that is offered in order to tell a story, and the beloved voice of the teller is what makes each story valuable and approachable to the listeners, whether or not the storyteller is a pro.

 

Here are some ideas and additional information that may be helpful as you begin to share the gift of story with your class:

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For inspiration of Orthodox books to share with your Sunday Church school students, check out the “books” tag at our blog site: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/category/books/ Occasionally we share a book there that’s for your own personal growth, so that you can be a better teacher. But more often than not, the books that we share are books you can read to/with your students. We also offer ideas of ways to incorporate those books into a Sunday Church school lesson!

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A while ago we wrote a series about telling Bible stories, complete with suggested props for some stories. Check out two of our posts about it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/bible-story-grab-bags-new-testament/

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We offered ideas of ways to tell the stories of saints to your students in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/saints-of-recent-decades-ideas-for-biographical-storytelling/

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Want to read more about the value of telling your students stories from your own personal life or from the history of your parish? Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/?utm_source=atlfb

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Many folk tales offer the opportunity for character-building discussions. Check your public library’s 398.2 (nonfiction) section in the children’s department to find a multitude of such books (but, as always, read the stories yourself before reading them to your students. This will give you the opportunity to verify that the book will work for what you’re trying to learn together). There are other character-building stories available, as well. For example, these: http://www.momentsaday.com/storybooks-that-build-character-printable-activity-pages/
While these books and the folktales are not “Christian” books, many of them offer you the opportunity to talk about virtues and other Christian concepts, within the context of a story.

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Here is a list of picture books that may be helpful to your class, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your students.) https://thecharactercorner.com/15-books-to-teach-character-to-kids/

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Here are some suggested chapter books that may encourage discussions on character building. While you may not have time to read these books to your students, if you have read them, you can reference them in your lessons, or recommend them to your students if you feel that they are particularly helpful.

https://www.notconsumed.com/chapter-books-teach-moral-lessons/

https://thecharactercorner.com/character-building-books/

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If you want to read more about encouraging character-building through stories, you may find these books to be a helpful resource: https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-childs-heart-fourth-edition/gladys-hunt/9780310242468/pd/42463?event=ESRCN|M and https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-a-teenagers-heart/gladys-hunt/9780310242604/pd/42606?event=ESRCN|M

 

On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

Some of our students are already experiencing mindfulness training in their school. Some teachers are finding it to be a helpful tool in their classroom. (In fact, it was one teacher’s suggestion of keeping a jar of quotes on hand to help students focus that inspired the idea for the “Godfulness Jar”.)

While affirming our own selves is not what we’re about as Orthodox Christians, the practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers. It is important that we teach our Sunday Church school students to do the same.

If anyone in your class struggles to focus, especially during class time, consider making this simple tool which may be helpful to that end. The “tool” is a “Godfulness” jar, a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing the reader’s thoughts by pointing them to God. Keep the jar in your Sunday Church school classroom, accessible to students who need to take a minute to regroup or focus. They can pull a quote (or picture: see idea for “not-yet-readers” below) to read and think about when they feel a need to calm their mind and focus back on God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

 

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Sunday Church school classes with “not-yet-readers” may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these items in an age-appropriate (plastic or glass) “Godfulness Jar”.

Be sure to keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As you do so, over time you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. Your jar can help your students fill their thoughts with God and His peace. If you think it would help them, perhaps you will want to lead your students in each creating their own jar to take home!

 

Find a starter set of Godfulness Jar quotes here.

 

Here are a few “Godfulness jar” quotes from the starter set:

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Gleanings from a Book: “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky, Illustrated by S. Violette Palumbo

Author’s note: Most Sundays, a young friend from church comes to sit with me during coffee hour. He wants to tell about his week, what dinosaurs he learned about, what he and his brothers built with Legos, what games they invented, etc. A few months ago, when he discovered that I have Ms. Mishriky’s “Philo” books loaded into my phone, he (and sometimes a brother or two) began to also ask for a story. I happily comply whenever I can. Imagine my joy when I learned that a new “Philo” book was coming out! I looked forward to reading it myself, but I especially looked forward to reading it to my young friend! On Sunday I finally had a chance to read it to him, and we both enjoyed the story and were challenged to faithfulness through it. I was glad to share this book with him, and now I get to share it with you as well!

“Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky is an enjoyable story, just as I anticipated that it would be. But it is more than just a nice picture book. As she did in the other books in the “Philo” series, Ms. Mishriky braces her story with underlying truth, which she presents in a child-friendly and clearly understandable package: that is, in the story of a young Coptic Orthodox boy trying to learn how to juggle his Faith and his daily life.

Philo is an ordinary modern-day boy who meets common modern-day struggles head-on, and learns how to face them in a godly way, with the help of the “SuperHolies” (the fruit of the Spirit, each embodied as a superhero). In “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, Philo finds himself at boy scout camp for the first time. He struggles to live out the Faith while in such close proximity to other boys who are not Orthodox Christians. The Faithfulness SuperHoly helps Philo choose to continue to live the Faith, even in a tent with other boys.

Violette Palumbo’s illustrations visually bring Philo to life for the young reader. They are appropriately detailed without overwhelming the eyes. Previous friends of Philo will recognize him right away and anticipate “meeting” another of the SuperHolies, “up close up and personal”. Palumbo adds appropriate touches of humor to the story, as well (i.e.: have a look at Philo’s dad’s face as he helps Philo pack; or the illustration of Philo imagining himself as an old man, telling his grandchildren of his experience). The illustrations add to the story, strengthening it.

Children who read “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” will find themselves mirrored in Philo in some way or another. They will understand his hesitancy to pray and read scripture in the presence of others who do not believe what they believe. They will be challenged to make the sign of the cross to activate the SuperHolies in their own life when they run into such difficulties. God willing, they will also begin to listen to the Spirit whispering in their ear as He tells them what is right to do, just as Philo “hears” the SuperHolies; and hopefully they will act accordingly. And if the adults in the room are truly listening to the story, they will find themselves beginning to be mindful of these things, as well.

I hope my young friend wants to hear “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” again. Chances are, he will. And when he asks, I’ll gladly read it to him, not just for the story: but also for the Faithfulness it will inspire in each of us.
The AODCE thanks author Mireille Mishriky for allowing us to see an advanced electronic copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” so that we could write this review.

To purchase your own copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky (or any of the previous Philo books, some of which are available in French and Spanish), you will find it here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/shop

Here are a few gleanings from “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, as well as a few related resources that can help you and your students grow in faithfulness:

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“‘Always remember to activate your SuperHolies, Philo, not only when you are scared, but also when you can’t make a decision. Always let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially during your camping trip next week,’ advised grandpa.” (p. 7, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“‘I won’t need my Bible, Daddy. I won’t have time to read it at night…’ said Philo.
‘There is always time to pray and read your Bible, Philo. Jesus comes first. Everything else comes second,’ said Philo’s father as he placed the Bible inside the bag.” (p. 10, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Philo felt sad. He remembered what his mother often told him. ‘Not everyone loves Jesus, but Jesus loves everyone. Not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, but never stop speaking about His love. You might change someone’s heart without knowing it.’” (p. 13, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Before going to sleep, Philo hesitated. He wanted to pray and read his Bible but he was embarrassed and worried that Tom and the other boys would make fun of him. The tent frame looked like a cross, reminding Philo to activate his SuperHolies.” (p.18, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

***

“…the Faithfulness SuperHoly was chosen to help Philo, and she started whispering into Philo’s heart. ‘…You are an example to your friends. Your love for Jesus might make your friends curious about Him. You could be the reason your friends decide to visit a Church or learn more about our Lord.’” (pp. 20-21, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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Before sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, consider setting up your classroom with a “campfire” for storytelling. Import some rocks for the rock ring, stack a handful of wood pieces for the “fire”, stuff a few yellow/orange/red tissue paper “flames” amidst the wood, and insert a flickering light source (perhaps several battery-operated candles?) in the midst of it all, for atmosphere. When the class enters the room, encourage them to sit around the campfire so that you can share stories. Begin with “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly.” Ask the students some questions about the story, to check their understanding and learning. Be sure to include questions like, “How did Philo’s actions earlier in the evening influence Tom?”; “Have you ever seen your faithfulness to God, demonstrated by your actions, affecting others? How?”; “How would you have handled Philo’s dilemma in the tent?”; and “Have you ever experienced something like Philo’s situation?”

This book is perfect for storytelling, so, while you’re still around the “campfire”, invite them to share their own stories. They can tell a Bible story they know that exhibits faithfulness (besides Daniel and the Lion’s Den, since that one is already taken, in the book!). They can tell of a time when they were able to exhibit faithfulness to God, whether or not it had a happy result like Philo’s. They can tell the story of a saint that they admire for their faithfulness. Each student can choose which type of story to share: but, if possible, they should all share a story, or at least have the opportunity to share one.

If you’d like, you could end the class by having them draw or write about their favorite story of faithfulness.

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If you have not yet “met” Philo and the SuperHolies, we introduced them (with a few other resources that had just become available) here:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/a-handful-of-resources-summer-2018/

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Learn more about the virtue of faithfulness, including quotes from the scriptures and from the Church fathers, here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/
Perhaps some of the insights into this virtue will be helpful as you approach reading “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school students.

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After sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, if it seems that your class needs to continue to grow in faithfulness, check out the lesson ideas suggested here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/

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Gleanings from a Book: “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich

Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…

What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.

But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.

This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.

In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.

Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.

Purchase your own copy here: https://paracletepress.com/products/prayer-spa

(Note: although this book may not be applicable for use with your Sunday church school students, its effect on their teacher will certainly impact their lives for the good! And perhaps it will stir in you ideas for growing prayer in your students’ lives.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“train your mind to pierce

through the roar of voices

undistracted, to a single focus.

this recalls the stillness of the desert

where our monastic fathers and mothers

honed their communion with a personal God…

 

…massage your attention span

to align and extend its reach.

memorize prayers, scriptures, and psalms

to lift mind and soul

wrap them in together in white cloth.” (p. 15, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“prayer is a way toward theosis—union with God

sharing in His divine nature, through grace.

this is a long, narrow pathway

which must be sought after with great humility and perseverance.

 

yet spiritual refreshment is available to any person

who wishes to partake in the tangible beauty

of a life seeking the Holy in this grace-infused world.” (pp. 28- 29, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“at the beginning, you must force yourself to pray

but soon, prayer becomes essential to a day well lived.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“…by carrying God’s presence deep in the center of your heart

you may one day become, through grace

a person who has been turned into prayer.” (p. 47, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“father anthony bloom taught a method

for gathering the crumbs of wasted time

and transforming them into something holy.

 

the secret of this contemplative exercise is to find joy

simply being with God

as you listen for His voiceless presence  within your heart.” (p. 48, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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“a fourth-century aid to contemplative prayer

the christian prayer rope is a way to offer time

kairos time, in the moment … not chronos time, by the clock

 

traditionally it is tied with knots made of nine crosses

one cross representing each order of the angels

 

to use the prayer rope, simply repeat the Jesus Prayer

while moving from knot to knot with the thumb and forefinger…” (p. 56, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“as creatures contained in time, we can sanctify our days

savor the remembrance of God

by praying “the hours.”

 

the “major hours” consist of morning and evening prayers.

 

you may choose to expand your offering to include

the seven “divine services” throughout the day

spoken on their designated hour, or adjusted to fit your schedule.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“if you have children, let them catch you praying.

share these short remembrances of God with them.

let them discover your own yearning for prayer

as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.

remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

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On Using Games for Summer Fun With Your Students

It is summertime in the northern hemisphere, and many of our Sunday Church schools are taking a break from meeting for classes. If your parish is continuing on with Church school without taking a break, this blog post is for you, as you may find some game(s) here that can be incorporated into a class! If your parish does not have Church school over the summer, but you would like to re-connect with your students (and/or meet upcoming students), perhaps you could use some of these game ideas to create a fun night (or fun Sunday afternoon) for them. If your parish does not have Church school over summer, and you do not plan to host such an event, tuck some of these game ideas into your back pocket for use during the Sunday Church school year.

We have gathered a handful of links to game ideas for a variety of ages and class sizes. Some of these games are just for fun; others can be used in the learning process; and still others could help build community in your classroom. You know your students and what will or will not work in your setting. Glean whatever you deem useful and don’t bother with the rest!

May God bless your summer!

 

Here are the ideas that we have gathered. What game ideas do you have to share with the community? Please share them in a comment!

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Find the rules to eight outdoor games that do not require any sort of prop (no ball or anything) here: https://ladyandtheblog.com/15-games-play-city-cement-games-child-love/

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Here is a collection of indoor games and activities that could be used (or adapted for use) in a Church school class: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/fun-indoor-games-for-kids/

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Here are a handful of group games for outdoor play: https://christiancamppro.com/include-everyone-with-these-5-large-group-games/

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Here’s a collection of rules for more than 60 group games. http://www.group-games.com/index-of-all-group-games

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These ideas require cooperation, so they are fun team building activities for people of all ages: https://spongekids.com/team-building-activities-for-adults-and-kids/

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There are so many fun activities and games here, and they all encourage cooperation between participants! These would work with children, adults, or a mixed group. https://www.momjunction.com/articles/team-building-activities-will-keep-kids-busy-summer_0074763/

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The team-building ideas here are fun and involve the entire group: https://literacyandlattes.com/2016/08/17/team-builders-for-the-classroom/

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Here are 26 fun team-builders for kids: https://www.weareteachers.com/team-building-games-and-activities/

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Each of these games requires at least one beach ball: https://www.birthdaypartyideas4kids.com/beach-ball-games.html

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