Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thoughts on Reverence by Belinda Kenwood

From my head to my feet,
I am the image of God.
From my heart to my hands,
I feel the breath of God.
When I speak with my mouth,
I follow God’s will.
When I see God everywhere,
In Mother, Father, in all dear people,
In beast and flower, tree and stone,
Then nothing brings fear
But love to all that is around me.
--Rudolf Steiner

Reverence - The honoring and respecting of the divine in all things.  When we speak of reverence in our work with young children, it’s that we are recognizing the divine in each child and are “introducing him or her to earthly life through the sacred qualities of rhythm, beauty and love.”  In the words of Rahima Baldwin Dancy (You are Your Child’s First Teacher), parents, childcare providers and early childhood teachers are like “caretakers of the divine.”  Thus, in knowing that, we can begin to develop an attitude or a mood in being with young children that one would call “priestly.”  Reverence, as well as Gratitude, is important to foster in early childhood.  However, they cannot be taught to young children through doctrine or words.  Rather, those attitudes must live within the adults who are caring for them.

So, what does that look like?  How can we strive to foster reverence in our living with young children? 
At LifeWays, when caring for infants as well as children up to six years of age, I have come to understand the need to be personally centered.  Getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, fitting in some exercise, enjoying personal hobbies and interests and having my own meditative practice all help me to be as clear as possible when I’m with the children.  I strive to be totally in the present moment and not thinking about other things…just present with and for the children.  Thus, when I arrive at the center, I want to remember to “check my baggage” at the door and immerse myself in what needs to be done at the center.  This can be a huge challenge for me, some days more than others, but I have found that when I am able to be in the present, I become my authentic self which, can be such a gift to the children as well as to myself.
 When caring for infants and toddlers, I resonate with the teachings of Magda Gerber, founder of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), introduced to me in the LifeWays Training course.  Magda studied and worked with researcher and pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler, in Budapest, Hungary.  When she came to the United States, she introduced the revolutionary concept of respect for the infant as a complete, if immature, human being with a self-initiating agenda to discover the world (and us) with an almost scientific approach.  Thus, when caring for infants and toddlers, I strive to be attentive and attuned to his or her needs by taking a step back to observe.  Observation can help me understand his/her needs, discover her personality, abilities, likes and dislikes, etc.  I strive to create a peaceful, predictable environment that, helps babies adjust to their new lives outside the womb, prevents overstimulation and builds confidence.  During diaper changes, I practice talking gently and soothingly to the baby/toddler, perhaps humming quietly while taking care to use gentle movements when removing diapers, clothing, etc.  I practice awareness of the way I move, slowing down my movements vs. rushing around or making sudden, quick movements.  I strive to give the baby or toddler my undivided attention when feeding, diapering, and preparing him for sleep.   Also, I try to remember to either ask or tell the baby or toddler what I’m going to do with him/her before I do it.  For example, I either let them know that I’m going to pick them up to feed/diaper them, or I ask, “Are you ready for me to pick you up now to eat/diaper,” instead of swooping them up from their play or activity without any communication.
When working with the children, one of the most important things I can do to help foster reverence is to be a worthy model of imitation.  Young children learn through imitation.  They “drink us in” (we grown-ups) …the good and the not so good.  Children absorb it all.  I strive to pay special attention to the quality of my movements and the tone of my voice.  I strive to bring warmth and a joyful attitude to the activities I’m doing like sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, setting the table, etc.  I also strive to be aware of my interactions with the other adults in the environment…are they respectful, am I using kind manners and words? 
We strive to create a reverent mood at naptime by providing a calm, quiet, peaceful atmosphere where the children can drift off to sleep and gently awaken.  We work to surround the children with beauty.  Meal tables are set with real dishes and silverware and centerpieces are created with colorful cotton cloths and items from nature.  Soft lighting, silks, and cotton cloths are used in various places, and when we prepare a foot bath for the children by gently massaging their feet in a big bowl of warm water scented with lavender essential oil and then gently drying their feet with a towel, we are planting the seeds of how we care for our bodies.  The children also have the opportunity to be out in and with nature for extended periods of time each day, experiencing the wonders of each season. 
The foundation of spiritual awakening is gratitude, and we can foster gratitude by cultivating an attitude of gratitude within ourselves and hence in the child for all that the world gives us.  Rudolf Steiner said, “If he sees that everyone who stands in some kind of relationship to him in the outer world shows gratitude for what he receives from this world; if, in confronting the outer world and wanting to imitate it the child sees the kind of gestures that express gratitude, then a great deal is done towards establishing in him the right moral attitude.  Gratitude belongs to the first seven years of life.”
Simple ways of showing gratitude are through meal blessings and bedtime verses or prayers.  At LifeWays, we sing a blessing before the meal, and after the meal, we bless the good food that filled our bellies, we bless the hands that prepared our delicious meal, we are thankful for the cool water and milk, and we are grateful for our good friends to share it with.  We then sing, “Thank you for our meal…thank you for our meal.”  We show gratitude by acknowledging and thanking someone for a good deed done or when we receive a gift.  Offering a lap, a hug, a hand to hold, a tissue, or the time, space and quiet presence to allow a little one to cry because they miss their mommy or daddy or offering comfort, an apology and a Band-Aid or Boo-Boo Bunny when a child gets hurt are gifts and are ways of planting seeds of compassion and kindness within him/her.
When we are reverent, when we honor and respect the divine in all things by being generous, forgiving, full of wonder and awe, and providing simple, meaningful rituals, we are nourishing our children’s souls as well as our own.  Rabbi Harold Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People) wrote,
“It was said of the last quarter of the 20th century, and will likely be said of the first decade of the 21st, that it was a wonderful time to build computers, but a challenging time to write poetry.  Our children will grow up comfortable with technology and mechanical things.  They will probably grow up with a consumer mentality, thanks to all the advertising to which they are exposed.  But they may grow up with an important part of their souls undeveloped.
It will take extra effort on our part to raise children fluent in the language of spirituality-children who will be comfortable praying when they are anxious or grateful, capable of forgiving when they have been hurt, generous in the face of need, aware of the beauty of nature and of poetry.  We cannot depend on society to teach them those graces, but there are things we can do to nourish our children’s souls.  The effort will be worth it.  We can give our children no greater gift.”

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