Friday, March 29, 2019

Prayer Every Which Way

Picture Book: Every Which Way to Pray
Author: Joyce Meyer
Illustrator: Mary Sullivan
Summary: With a cast of characters at the Everyday Zoo, prayer is examined in a way that is both fun and very wise. Each book in this series begins with a map and a character list.

Hayley and Harley see an angel-like figure in the distance. They think the angel is closer to heaven because it is so high and wish they could fly. 
Pouch, a pelican, introduces himself and helps the children understand that being high in the air does not mean you are closer to God. "That's what prayer is for." 
But the hippos have thought of prayer as too hard, not something they can do. They've been reading The Rules of Prayer, a book that they happen to have handy. Other characters join in their discussion about prayer. 
The librarian assures them that prayer doesn't have to be "just right." And prayer can happen in places other than church. You can pray anytime, anywhere. You don't even have to be dressed up and you don't have to kneel and fold your hands. What a relief! Folding hands could be a problem! 
You can pray in all sorts of positions and while you are doing other things. For example, Bob and the bat gang pray upside down.
The book says you should pray in a soft voice, but Pounce demonstrates a powerful contrast. 
Prayer doesn't require any sound. See what the fireflies can do. 
Harley continues to read silly rules from the book about prayer. It says you should use "special holy words." But Pouch tells the zoo animals to simply talk to God like a friend. God even wants to hear the silly stuff. Pouch thinks God enjoys it and laughs at our silliness. You can talk as long as you want. A prayer may be no words or one simple, important word.  
Sarge comes along and offers more wisdom. He says: Prayer is simple. You talk. You listen. You praise. You thank. You ask advice. You stay in touch with your Maker.
Then Sarge explains something very important. Prayer has to come from your heart. That's it. 
Hanna’s Comments: I very much like the content and overall message of this book. It reminds me of the teachings on prayer of Anne Lamott, one of my favorite spiritual writers. However, these characters and setting won’t be so appealing to older elementary children and beyond. You might tell the story in a way that is less juvenile and therefore more appealing to older audiences. I would spend more time talking about what it means for prayer to "come from your heart." We hear this phrase often, but it is rarely explained. Talk about authenticity and vulnerability - two concepts important for spiritual formation. Use the fireflies page as an opportunity to talk more about nature and how it evokes and demonstrates prayer. Joyce Meyer is a prolific spiritual writer for adults. This is the first in her Everyday Zoo series and is based on her adult book The Power of Simple Prayer. There are several in the Everyday Zoo series including a Christmas book. Another I also liked is titled Wonderfully Made
Original Publisher & Date: Zonderkidz, 2012
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Keep your heart with all vigilance… (Proverbs 4:23); Call to me and I will answer you (Jeremiah 33:3); I will give you a new heart and a new spirit…I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh (Ezekiel 36:26); Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8); When you pray, go to your inner room… (Matthew 6:6); When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases… (Matthew 6:7);  … the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26); I urge that supplication, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people… (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of kindergartners who are learning that prayer is something they can do anytime and anywhere. OR Use the ideas in this book to create a lesson for a group of older individual.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Finger Prayers

Last week, I featured a stunning book about centering prayer. Today’s book about prayer couldn’t be more different. Where the former book was somewhat ethereal and cerebral, today’s book is practical and literally hands-on. Don’t let the look of this little board book keep you from using its contents as lesson inspiration for those beyond preschool age. These simple techniques can be tools for everyone.
Picture Book: Praying with My Fingers:                                                        An Easy Way to Talk with God
Inspired by: Pope Francis
Summary: With rhyming verse, 5 little prayers are explained while being paired with joyful illustrations. 
Each finger offers a category of prayer. 
The tall finger is a reminder to pray for our leaders. Be sure to encourage your audience to consider leaders in your church as well as political leaders at home and far away. 
The thumb prayer is a reminder to pray for those closest to you - your family members. Consider having them place their thumbs on their chests or hearts.
The pointer finger is a cue to pray for all those who show us the way (teachers at church & school). I would include prayers for those who teach them elsewhere, such as sports or scout leaders.
The ring finger is the weakest so it encourages us to pray for those who are vulnerable whether weak, sick, or small.  
The pinkie finger is a wiggler. It will remind your audience to pray for their own wiggly selves. Wiggling here can be about wiggling bodies and attention spans.  
The book ends with encouragement to start all over again. I think for the sake of practice and recall that is a good idea, but during authentic prayer, I would encourage that they move to prayers of thanksgiving. Here each finger could be a reminder to be thankful for those same categories of people or even situations. 
Hanna’s Comments: I'm not sure why this book starts with the middle finger. Feel free to adapt this method as you see fit. If teaching to older folks, you might even add a hand gesture and pair it with another type of prayer. For instance, the whole hand could remind you to pray for the entire Body of Christ. The back of the book says this prayer form is not new but has been lately connected to Pope Francis' time as Archbishop of Argentina. Regardless of its origin and size, this little book offers a powerful set of prayers that could be meaningful for anyone since it offers an accessible tool for 5 simple but important prayers.
Original Publisher & Date: Paraclete, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Call to me and I will answer you and will tell you great and hidden things (Jeremiah 33:3); When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases… (Matthew 6:7); Ask, and it will be given to you… (Luke 11:9); Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17); I urge that supplication, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people… (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of preschoolers and practice the prayers together. OR Adapt these prayers and hand gestures for a lesson to elementary-aged children and encourage them to come up with other body prayers. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Centering Prayer for Everyone

Picture Book: Journey to the Heart:                                                              Centering Prayer for Children
Author: Frank X. Jelenek
Illustrator: Ann Boyajian
Summary: This beautiful book encourages all children of God to take a journey by simply sitting quietly and being with God. Even preschoolers can follow these simple steps. 

First the concept of soul (the deepest part of your heart - the home of God inside you) is introduced and explained as the destiny of this holy journey. This book is trinitarian: I am made in God's image and I'm like Jesus, too, and a part of me is filled with the Holy Spirit.

It is recommended that you choose a secret word or phrase for the Holy One you seek. It's like a key that opens the door to begin the journey. After sitting  silently, with eyes closed and feet on the floor, repeat your word like a whisper in your heart where only God can hear it and will whisper back "I love you." An introductory phrase is suggested (Welcome Holy Spirit, pray with us and in us today.)
The book addresses the inevitable distractions, the noises outside and inside of you. (...that's okay just say your secret word again, silently and slowly in your heart. Let your thoughts go... Let them float right out of your head.)
Six minutes of silence are suggested. It is important to know and trust that God will hear you. 
The directions are geared toward a small group experience, but praying in this way while alone twice a day is encouraged, such as part of a morning routine and before going to bed. The author is a member of Father Keating’s Contemplative Outreach, a highly respected organization dedicated to teaching centering prayer practices.
Hanna’s Comments: I think meditation is key to a balanced, meaningful life. Centering prayer is the church's purest form of it. Teaching this practice to your faith family would be a gift and a way to make them not only more resilient but also more godly. Unlike most PBT books, I do not recommend reading this entire book aloud. Glean from it wisdom for yourself and your audience. Use the words in a way that best serves them and your particular objectives. I used this book at a prayer station recently. The program was for adults, but centering prayer is so intimidating that I thought adults might respond to the picture book since it is so inviting. They did. Most importantly for this book, it gives you the conceptual grounding and language to help anyone access the beauty and benefits of the practice of centering prayer. This book comes from The Roman Catholic Church, so it recommends ending the practice with the Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer). This is optional, of course, but it would be a nice way to integrate Jesus' teaching about prayer into your lesson. 
Original Publisher & Date: Paraclete, 2007
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently… (Psalm 37:7); Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10); Call to me and I will answer you (Jeremiah 33:3); When you pray, go to your inner room… (Matthew 6:6); The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13); … the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Idea(s) for Application: Use parts of this book to help folks of all ages in your faith family learn more about the grounding spiritual experience of centering prayer. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

More Books for Lent & Easter

Today I’m adding to last Friday's post with lists of PBT books I've featured more recently. Like before, I'll give you hyperlinks via the book titles. Books for younger children are first in each list. Keep in mind that some books could be in several lists. 
Remember these books may not directly relate to the themes I've listed. Instead, many books are starting points. Your job will be to steer your audience to the themes you most want to explore. For more explanation of these particular liturgical events, read my previous post.

Ash Wednesday and Lent in General
On this day, we remember Jesus' time in the wilderness being tempted by evil. Lent in general is a time of being inspired by Jesus' devotion and humility. Prayer and repentance are other important themes. These books will help you talk about these difficult subjects:

These books could lead to a conversation about refraining from distractions or waiting with hope for Easter:

These are books about prayer:
Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a celebration of the hope that Jesus brings and abounds with praise that he deserves. In this list are books about both of these concepts:     
About Hope:
God's Dream                                      
Psalms for Young Children                         
The Upper Room (Maundy Thursday)
Here we have the first communion ritual (bread, wine, and a call to remember) and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (a call to service).
These books connect with at least one of these themes: 
Connect these picture books with the story of Jesus on the cross because they are either about the concepts of sacrifice, forgiveness, death or grief:
The Rainbow Fish
The pivotal event of the Christian faith is a celebration of joy, beauty, divine power, possibility, and transformation. At least one of these themes are connected to these picture books:                                     

Friday, March 1, 2019

Favorite Posts #8 - Books for Lent & Easter

As we approach Lent and Easter, I thought seeing this post would be particularly helpful. In my next post, I’ll add to these lists of PBT books, giving you links to more PBT books about Lent and Easter that I’ve featured more recently. 
For those of us who are liturgical Christians, Ash Wednesday is upon us. This solemn day begins the season of Lent, a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) that symbolically represents Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. This season guides us through Holy Week in preparation for Easter. 
At PBT, I’ve offered many picture books that you might want to choose to read during this season to help children connect in new ways to the concepts we consider and the events we remember during Lent and Easter. I’ve listed them below with a guiding connection that will help you tie the Biblical concepts/stories to the content of the picture book. 
These books are not meant to be perfect reflections of the Biblical concepts/stories. Instead they are offered as tools to encourage conversation, exploration, and application. For each, enjoy the secular story then let it lead you to more meaningful consideration of theological or spiritual possibilities. I’ve listed the book titles which serve as links to the PBT post. Books for the youngest audiences are listed first.
Lent (in general)
Lent is a time for remembering that Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Therefore, during Lent we focus on intentional prayer, fasting, and service. Fasting is viewed generally as refraining from something (not just food) that distracts you from God. With a sense of repentance (returning to God), we re-focus our lives to be more like Jesus.
Make connections with these stories and the concept of refraining from distractions or temptations in order to live more generously, like Jesus:
Strega Nona                                             
A Chair for My Mother                          
Extra Yarn                                                
My Mouth is a Volcano                         

These are great books about prayer:
Does God Hear My Prayer?                 

Ash Wednesday
In an Ash Wednesday worship service, the sign of the cross is made with ashes in order to recognize our mortality so that we may humbly begin Lent committed to make changes and determined to be more like Jesus.

These stories connect well with the concept of humility:
Bear Has a Story to Tell                        
The Three Questions                               
Those Shoes                                              

Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is a celebration of the hope that Jesus brings and an offering of the praise that he deserves. Here I’m offering books about both of these concepts: hope and praise.
Tie these concepts to the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
    About Hope:
Hope is an Open Heart                          
If You Want to See a Whale                  
And Then It’s Spring                              
A Child’s Garden                                     
We Shall Overcome                                
Hope Springs                                           
About Praise:
I Will Rejoice                                            
Let’s Make a Joyful Noise                   
All God’s Critters                                     
The Hallelujah Flight                             

Jesus’s Anger at the Money Changers
Children need clarification when it comes to how to deal with their anger. When Jesus sees the money changers whose greed is spoiling the purposes of the Temple, he gets violently angry.
Here’s the best story I know for children about anger:
When Sophie Gets Angry…                     

The Upper Room (Maundy Thursday)
The story of Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples is a foundational story in the Christian faith. You have the first communion (the elements and a call to remember) and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (a call to service).
Delve into the components of the Upper Room story with these books: 
Hands Say Love                                        
Bread Comes to Life                                 
The Memory String                                  
Washing the Willow Loon                       

The Garden of Gethsemane
The focus on this event is usually Jesus’ prayer, but here I offer a book about what Jesus’ disciples did not do for him in the garden.
This is the best book I know about being with friends when they are suffering and doing what they need you to do:
A Sick Day for Amos McGee                   

Peter Denies Knowing Jesus
This story is about Peter’s deceit and shame.
Here I offer a delightful picture book about being shamed and lying about who you are:

Connect these picture books with the story of Jesus on the cross.
These books are either about the concepts of sacrifice, giving, forgiveness or death:
One Winter’s Day                                      
The Friend                                                   
Stone Soup                                                   
Badger’s Parting Gifts                              
The Grudge Keeper                                    
Our Tree Named Steve                              
The Goodbye Boat                                      
The Giving Tree                                          

The pivotal event of the Christian faith is a celebration of joy, beauty, and possibility.
These wonderful feelings can easily be connected to these picture books:
AnnaHibiscus Song                                  
MorningHas Broken                                
WinterMoon Song                                     
Waitingfor Wings                                      
Whata Wonderful World