Sunday, November 1, 2015

Spirit Play: Labyrinths and Mandalas

We're well into our religious education (RE) year at our Unitarian Universalist church, where we're teaching the Spirit Play curriculum.  It's a kind of Montessori, learner-centered approach to RE the privileges storytelling and hands-on activities.  It's just our first year using Spirit Play and we only watched some videos and studied the manual; so let's call it Spirit-Play-light, since we don't have lots of felt manipulatives, pure retelling of the stories, and "I wonder" questions.  Still, we let the kids work their way through our theme using a few carefully designed and selected activities (though probably a little too much information and explaining; it's an extra challenge because our age range is 5 to 13.)

A few weeks ago, following another teacher's lesson on Sacred Spaces, I led a class on labyrinths.  I read a story entitled Ladybug's Labyrinth, which dealt with a little lost bug who follows a labyrinth and is able to calm down and not feel so lost, and we talked a little about personal sacred spaces (vs. communal ones) and meditation.  Then the kiddos had their choice of work:  making tape labyrinths on the floor, learning to draw a labyrinth, and using two of the labyrinths I brought (one finger, one ball maze.)  The eldest student worked on the two handheld labyrinths while my kids and the younger ones all worked on the large tape labyrinth on the floor (using the how-to-draw directions.)  Then they took turns racing around it like a race track.  We adults went through, too, much more slowly, but the little ones were more intent on the dizzy buzz they got running through it.  And that's okay.  (They did each try it the slow way, a least partly.) They all finished the class by drawing their own labyrinth on a white paper plate, thereby making their own finger labyrinth.  I wish the story had been stronger, but the kids had a good time, even if the whole idea of internal, personal, meditative space (or even labyrinths as metaphor for life's journey) got a little lost.  But experiencing the shape itself was very compelling for all of them.

Today, I built upon the meditative practice of labyrinths by leading a class on mandalas.  We talked about mandalas as a (radially-symetrical) circle made by many religious traditions to aid in prayer, particularly Tibetan monks who make intricate ones out of sand, only to blow them away instead of keep them.  Impermanence.  It's also the time of death and dying--waning light, fall leaves, and Samhain, Day of the Dead, All Souls/Saints, and, of course, Halloween--when so many people feel more connection to those who have gone before us.  And we read Grandad's Prayers of the Earth, which tells of one grandfather explaining prayer to his grandson, who only really understands once his grandfather has died.  Prayer in this book as divined, briefly, as anything that connects one to the larger beauty of life, be it stillness, movement, laughter, song, or words spoken by grandparents . . . .


And so we walked through our church's "backyard," stopping for a moment of silence by the stones of the Memorial Garden, where congregants' ashes are sprinkled.  We also picked up materials to make our own nature mandalas.  The kids worked separately and so diligently . . . and with the wind, we all experienced the impermanence of our art form.  And perhaps the older ones understood the metaphor.  At least the mandalas lasted long enough to show parents and take photos (because you know us humans, always trying to stop the impermanence.)

We called these gorgeous things "mandala leaves" for the layers of color.  No idea what tree they're from.

I'm not sure what I'll do at my next class in two weeks.  Maybe something on gratitude.

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