Category Archives: Wonder

Gleanings From a Book: “Sacred Sky and How to Locate 24 Constellations” by Lois Clymer

I am mesmerized by the sky. Day, night, cloudy, sunny, it matters not: I could watch it for hours, if I allowed myself the time. As a child, I loved to lie in the grass and watch the clouds or stare at the stars. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t give myself much time to do that. (Where I live, it is difficult to see the stars at night. This is a big change from my childhood home, where the Milky Way was easily visible.) But even as a “busy adult,” I still notice the sky. There are moments when it absolutely takes my breath away. I find myself gasping, and exclaiming to whoever is nearby, “Wow! Just LOOK at the sky!”

Orthodox Christian author Lois Clymer’s book, Sacred Sky, offers older children (and sky-loving adults) the opportunity to study the sky, learn a bit of history, and see how, even from ancient times, people from all over the world have seen the stars as telling about a divine human who comes to save the world.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of the sky. The first chapter is the most detailed. It introduces 24 different constellations and many of their named stars, and teaches the reader how to find them in the sky. The chapter also offers further information about many of the constellations, including the meanings of some of the stars’ names. Many of the meanings remind us of Christ, the conqueror, who came to crush the serpent’s head!

Chapter 2 is focused on the sun, moon, planets, and eclipses. The chapter contains very nice explanations of the solar system, planetary orbits, moon phases, and eclipses. It also offers suggestions of how to find the other planets in our solar system in the night sky.

Chapter 3 explains galaxies and explores our own galaxy, the Milky Way. (If you have never been in a place where you can see the Milky Way, try to do so with your children. It is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Pictures of the Milky Way are beautiful, but they do not do it justice!)

Chapter 4 discusses auroras, more commonly called “northern lights” in the northern hemisphere, and “southern lights” in the southern hemisphere. It offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how and why these lights appear in the sky.

The afterword sheds additional light on the parallels between the night sky and the predictions that a conqueror/redeemer would be born of a virgin in order to defeat Satan. It concludes with, “we now know that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this prediction. May we honor Him!” (p. 21)

This book would be an interesting study for an older Sunday Church School class, perhaps in a series of “creation appreciation” lessons or just for something different from the usual lesson. It is written at a level that will be difficult for younger students to understand. However, teachers of younger students could use the book as a resource, sharing some of the pictures along with a paraphrased explanation of some of the information, at the class’ level. Students who enjoy learning about the natural world will benefit from studying this book!

Let us not just notice the sky; let us take the time to really look at it, and to marvel at God’s greatness, which is so clearly exhibited there, and let us encourage our students to do the same! Sacred Sky will help us help our students to be better able to ponder how the sky has helped people, even from ancient times, to learn about Christ. The book will help us to find some of the constellations that pointed to Him, and wonder at the fact that “the heavens declare the Glory of God,” for they have helped people to learn about Him for millenia. As we take the time to be still beneath the sky and look, it can point us to Christ, as well.

Learn more about author Lois Clymer and order her book from her website: http://www.locateconstellations.com/

Here are a few links that can also help you learn more about the sky. Some of these are found in the book Sacred Sky.
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Sunday Church School teachers who share “Sacred Sky” with their older students in a lesson on the wonder of God’s creation in the sky may want to help their students create their own star wheel. The students can then see where the stars are in the sky at any given day/time. Find a printable one at http://www.aosny.org/Starwheel.pdf
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This website may be a good resource for additional material to teach older students about the sky. Although it is not Orthodox-created, we can learn a lot from what is found here, and then share it with our students. Learn more at http://classicalastronomy.com/
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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School students who would like to use a few of the ideas from “Sacred Sky” to help their students appreciate this part of God’s creation may find suggestions of fun activities to do with your students at http://www.mykidsadventures.com/discover-astronomy-for-kids/. The page suggests additional books to read, a snack to make, and other activities that can help the students to learn more about the sky and stars.
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If your students particularly enjoy learning about constellations, you may want to recommend one or both of these books by H. A. Rey:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them (https://www.amazon.com/Stars-New-Way-See-Them/dp/0544763440/)
and/or
Find the Constellations (https://www.amazon.com/Find-Constellations-H-Rey/dp/0544763424/)
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After sharing “Sacred Sky” with your older students, invite them to respond with this simple activity: ask which of the constellations they liked learning about the most? Offer black paper, star stickers, and a piece of chalk, and invite them to draw that constellation. Then ask them to share (verbally or in writing) what they liked about the constellation, and how it points them to Christ.
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The book “Sacred Sky” can help us to better appreciate that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. 18:1) Create a classroom art display with that theme. Post the verse on a wall in your classroom. Surround it with pictures of the sky (that you’ve taken or found in magazines), or with sky-themed artwork that your students create. Here are a few suggestions of ways to artistically represent the sky: https://www.adventure-in-a-box.com/painting-space-watercolours-kids/; https://buggyandbuddy.com/starry-night-sky-art/; or http://homeschoolingtoday.com/article/nebula-chalk-art-tutorial/

 

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On the Beauty of Nature: Noticing God’s Handiwork

Summertime offers us plenty of opportunities to spend time out of doors with our Sunday Church School students or other children. While we are outside, whether with children or alone, let us be careful to take time to look at the world around us. Let us not just see God’s workmanship, but let us take time to actually notice it! Let us marvel at the beauty, wonder at the intricacies, and find God in His handiwork. As a rule, our busy society has removed “time to smell the roses” from our schedules. The change in schedule that summer offers grants us the opportunity to actually take back that time, and to teach the children in our care to do the same.

Let us teach children to love creation.Love all creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand within it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.~ Starets Zosima, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. To some degree this comes naturally to children. After all, they are usually the ones bringing a crumpled flower (or bug!) in their fist and proclaiming, “Look what I found!” Perhaps what we really need here is to allow children time and space to be in creation. Or maybe what we need is for them to (re)teach us to love creation!?!

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Let us urge children to nurture their sense of wonder. St Silouan urges us to ‘love every created thing; and emphasizes the beauty of nature. From my childhood days I loved the world and its beauty. I loved the woods and green gardens, I loved the fields and all the beauty of God’s creation. I liked to watch the shining clouds scurrying across the blue sky.’ If we lose our sense of wonder before the beauty of nature, so he believed, this suggests that we have at the same time lost our sense of God’s grace. ~ Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware). Read more at http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html. I don’t know about you, but my very being sighs in delight as I wander (and wonder) in a woods. God’s creation is filled with wonder. We must not miss it; and it is imperative that we nurture it in the children’s lives!

Let us encourage the children in our care to treat all living things with compassion. “The compassionate love of St Silouan extends beyond animals to plants: ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees’ (Revelation 7:3). On one occasion when the two of them were walking together, Fr Sophrony struck out with his stick at a clump of tall wild grass. The Starets said nothing, but he shook his head doubtfully; and at once Fr Sophrony was ashamed. In his own writings St Silouan says: ‘That green leaf on the tree which you needlessly plucked – it was not wrong, only rather a pity for the little leaf. The heart that has learned to love feels sorry for every created thing.Nurturing care for even the smallest of God’s creatures will help children to be more compassionate and better people! Respect for others and for God’s creation go hand in hand, and should be taught together.

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Let us learn from the lessons that God has for us in nature. “When you walk in a forest, garden, or meadow, and see the young shoots of the plants, the fruits on the trees, and the variety of the flowers of the field, learn a lesson from God’s plants–namely, the lesson that every tree each summer unfailingly puts forth at least one shoot of considerable size, and unfailingly grows in height and dimensions. It seems as though every tree endeavors each year to advance by the strength that God has given it; therefore, say to yourself, I, too, must each day, each year, absolutely grow higher and higher morally, better and better, more and more perfect; must advance on the road to the Kingdom of Heaven, or to the Father which is in Heaven, through the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit dwelling and working within me. As the field is adorned by a multitude of flowers, so should the field of my own soul be adorned by all the flowers of virtue; as the trees bring forth flowers and afterwards fruit, so must my soul bring forth the fruits of faith and good works. ~ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/february-6-2013-prayerfulness-sight-nature. Teaching children to notice how determined plants grow amongst rocks; how hard an ant works; how stubbornly birds insist on flying in a biting wind; each lesson can strengthen their faith. Each part of nature gives us the chance to teach the children (and be taught, ourselves) about the greatness of God and how we should respond to it!

By “taking time to smell the roses” and actually seeing what God has placed right before our eyes in nature, and by teaching our the children in our care to do the same, we can grow together towards God. Nature offers us the opportunity to perceive the divine mystery in things, to have a better sense of God’s grace, and to have compassion on all living things. The lessons we learn from nature can make us more virtuous and result in stronger faith and good works coming forth from our lives. So, let’s go! Let’s get outside! Let’s see what God has made, and marvel at His goodness!

And let’s take the children with us…

Here are more quotes on the beauty of nature and how it points us to God. Read them for your own encouragement, or discuss them with your students.

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“Now in the springtime, when nature is wearing its most beautiful apparel, one feels inexpressible joy when this natural beauty is accompanied by a sublime spiritual state. Truly, our holy God has made all things in wisdom!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“The soul cannot get enough of beholding the beauty of nature. Oh, if man would only lift his mind above this earthly realm to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the inconceivable beauty of paradise where the finite, earthly mind ceases to operate… There every saved soul will live in an ocean of love, sweetness, joy, amazement, and wonder!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“Do not forget your goal, my child. Look into heaven and see the beauty that awaits us. What are the present, earthly things? Aren’t they but ashes and dust and a dream? Don’t we see that everything here is subject to decay? Whereas things above are everlasting, the kingdom of God is endless, and blessed is he who will dwell in it, for he will behold the glory of His divine face!” (http://lightofdesert.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-salvation-and-paradise-elder-ephraim.html)

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“ O Lord, how good it is for us to be Thy guests! How fine it is for us in Thy world. The fields are fragrant, the mountains rise high up into the sky, and the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water. All nature mysteriously speaks about Thee, all is filled with Thy mercy and all carries the seal of Thy love. Blessed be the earth which, with her short-lasting beauty, awakens the yearning for the eternal homeland in Thy kingdom, where in everlasting beauty resounds the song: Alleluia!” Kontakion 2, “Akathist of Thanksgiving” http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.html

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“Thou broughtest me into this life as if into a wonderful garden. I see the sky deep and blue, the birds as they chirp in flight; I listen to the soothing rustle of trees and the sonorous sound of waters; my mouth is enjoying fragrant and succulent fruits. How wonderful it is in Thy world and how joyous it is to be Thy guest!

Glory to Thee for the feast of life!

Glory to Thee for the scents of lilies of the valley and roses.

Glory to Thee for the abundance and multiplicity of earthly fruits.

Glory to Thee for the glistening of morning dew.

Glory to Thee for the joyous smile of dawn / with which Thou dost waken me.

Glory to Thee for eternal life / and the kingdom of heaven.

Glory to Thee, O God, in ages!” Ikos 2, “Akathist of Thanksgiving” http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.html

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Read Fr. George Morelli’s take on the relationship between beauty and the Divine in this article: “Beauty, the Divine Connection: Psychospiritual Reflections,” at http://www.antiochian.org/node/23896

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