Meditation - Termoncanice Primary School
Karen Mc Closkey
Quite by chance, or probably led by the Spirit, Termoncanice Primary School came to be involved with Christian Meditation in the last academic year.
Having been introduced to scripture meditation and being aware of how much children enjoy the contemplative prayers and guided meditations in the Alive-O Programme, a few of us in school were immediately interested when we became aware of a course on 'Christian Meditation in a Catholic Context' which was being held in Belfast last December by 'Meditato' (outreach of the world community for Christian Meditation). Supported by our principal, Mr. Seamus Coyle three of us attended the course. We were joined by our Diocesan Lay Advisor, Therese Ferry.
At this course we were introduced to silent meditation, something which was certainly a new experience for us. Fr. Laurence Freeman introduced us to silent meditation using a mantra, a key word or phrase to be repeated over and over again during the period of meditation. We were addressed by teachers from the Diocese of Townsville in Australia where, since 2006 all school children, both primary and post primary regularly take part in Christian Meditation. We watched videos of children and young people meditating in complete silence. The words of the desiderata came to mind, "Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace may be found in silence."
The day gave much food for thought. Would it work for us? Why is teaching children to meditate worthwhile?
In December 1984 Pope John Paul ll advocated the teaching of silent meditation with the words, "Help your students not to suffocate but rather to nourish their innate amazement in the face of creation and to reflect on it in order to grasp its perfection. To educate to this attitude, it is indispensable that the child be led to a real and profound interior silence which is the first requisite for listening." Pope Benedict XV1 speaking to Bishops in Switzerland in 2006 encourages us to 'learn prayer in all its dimensions: as silent listening to God, as a listening that penetrates his word, penetrates his silence.'
We live in a very busy and noisy world. Our children are subjected to noise for most or all of their day. We live in a world dominated by technology, we have TV's, C.D's, ipods, ipads, P.C's, D.S's, Wii's, Xboxes, Playstations, the list is endless. Many teenagers can't even walk home from school nowadays with an ipod to keep them company and where in the midst of all this can God speak to our children? (And indeed to us as adults) !
In teaching children the traditional prayers of the church, we give children a precious gift. This has always been considered very important in Termoncanice, with classes praying a decade of the Rosary daily as well praying at all significant times of the day. For 125 years the teachers of Termoncanice having been passing on the language of prayer to the children of the parish. But in today's world, is it enough? It seems that we may also have to teach our children, not just to be quiet, but to be still in the presence of God.' Be still and know that I am God'. (Psalm 46:10)
The experience of the prophet Elijah in the book of Kings, Chapter 19, reinforces in us the need for silence. Elijah, in his search for God, looked for Him in the furious wind, in the earthquake and in the fire, but the Lord was not in any of these things. 'After the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice,' and it was in this soft whisper that Elijah found God. In teaching our children to meditate we are teaching them to listen for the soft whisper of Jesus as he speaks to them in the stillness of their hearts.
In Termoncanice we agreed that our mantra for silent meditation would simply be 'Jesus.' Other phrases like Maranatha or 'Come Lord Jesus' could be used. To begin, get the children to put everything away. I find it best to meditate with children at the beginning of a session, first thing in the morning, after break or dinner. Explain that we are going to pray in a different way, perhaps replace your normal prayer time with a meditation session. Get the children to move chairs out from the desks if necessary so they can sit with their feet flat on the floor with their hands on their knees. If you want to, light a candle or have a picture or Sacred Space as a focal point. Get the children to close their eyes or focus on the candle or picture or a certain part of the wall. Get the children to focus on their breathing, in and out gently as the air brings life to their body. When children are ready, ask them to start repeating the mantra. I broke the name of Jesus into two syllables and asked the children to breathe in while saying the first syllable and out while saying the second. Tell the children they are inviting Jesus in to their hearts to bring them life.
It is recommended that children meditate for one minute per year of their age, but start with just one or two minutes and gradually build it up. After six months my P.4 class were meditating regularly for five to six minutes. When the time is up, quietly make the children aware of their breathing again and ask them to open their eyes when they are ready. I usually end by getting them to stretch their arms and say together 'Glory be to the Father' or some other short prayer.
I really believe that in teaching children to meditate we are helping them to develop a living, personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship where they can have a conversation with Jesus, where they can listen as well as they can talk. My lively P.4 class last year (16 boys and 11 girls), loved it and often someone would ask "can we meditate today?" Very soon any fidgeting or giggling stopped and the children seemed able to block out any outside noise in the school outside our classroom. As a class, meditation became something they were proud of. The children saw it as a challenge and asked to try meditating for longer periods. They reported feeling peaceful or quiet during sessions and I found them more settled and ready for work after meditation. My colleagues in P.4, as well other year groups reported similar experiences.
Termoncanice is now part of a pilot scheme being run in the Derry Diocese and our Lay Advisor has been to school to give all staff some initial training in Meditation. It is hoped that in the next school year all classes will be introduced to silent Meditation using a mantra as well as guided meditation using scripture passages. Perhaps meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross or any prayers as they are learned can help our children to appreciate their meaning.
In Termoncanice our journey with meditation is only beginning, God knows where it will lead. Please God, the Spirit will continue to be with us as he was with the apostles and Our Lady at Pentecost.
"Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in." (Apoc 3:20).