Chicago, IL was the setting for the first workshop held in the U.S.: “ Teaching Christian Meditation to Teachers and Children.” Jeannie Battagin, author of A Child’s Way, How to Teach and Practice Christian Meditation with Children and Sister Cynthia Comiskey, of the Pittsburgh diocese, served as co-presenters. Attendees gathered from Vancouver, California, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan, and shared in the hospitable confines of the Cenacle Retreat House and Conference Center in Chicago’s Lincoln Park near the lakefront. One message above all that was emphasized during the workshop was that the work of meditation with children be “gradual, gentle, and collaborative.” In the words of one participant, “Our shared meditation periods, being together and open to the Spirit, prepared the ground for all of the participants to go forth and plant these vital seeds of silence, stillness and simplicity in our chaotic world.” The workshop was intended to provide a framework of support and materials to WCCM meditators who feel called to introduce teachers to the meditation practice. Following are reports on what those participants have done since the workshop:
Pittsburgh, PA: College counselors at a summer Peace Camp in Pittsburgh, Pa., were introduced to Christian Mediation in 2012 by Sister Cynthia Comiskey. The camp, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2001, is designed to teach children, youth and young adults to learn and practice non-violent principles in their homes, schools, and communities.
A total of 10 college counselors were introduced to Christian Meditation during their weeklong training session and continued the practice twice daily during the two-week Peace Camp under the direction of Sister Cynthia.
Counselors who participated in the Christian Meditation were overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Following are just a few of their comments:
“I realized that I rarely sit still and focus my mind regularly. Even when I spend time with God, my mind typically runs. I will definitely continue to set aside quiet time as I head back to school.”
“For me, I think meditation was a way to silence and calm my body. It allowed me to decompress. The stillness during meditation also allowed for greater focus on prayer and deep thoughts. I thought it was very beneficial.”
“Even though it was hard for me to concentrate in the beginning of meditation, I felt a sense of peace afterwards.”
“Camp came to be pretty hectic, so it was very relaxing.”
“The consistence of this practice allowed me to better prepare for our long days.”
In Pittsburgh, work on Meditation with Children began in 2008, with introductions and presentations that year to St. Benedict the Moor School and the diocesan principals. Fr. Laurence Freeman visited St. Benedict the Moor that year. Six in-service trainings to teachers in ten Catholic schools followed from August 2009 to August 2011. These schools implemented CM with Children in their classrooms. As a result of the students meditating at school, adult meditation groups began in two of the parishes, an example of children’s meditation teaching and influencing adults.
Chicago, IL Stephen Schubert works for United Stand Family Counseling Center which contracts out to inner city Catholic schools. He counsels children in three Chicago schools. “I often start off my sessions with children by doing 2 minutes of Christian Meditation. I have never received a complaint. Some of the children who are more hyperactive have enjoyed the meditation, and I have noticed that it has helped them calm down and focus more during the session.”
Houston, TX In May of 2011, Fr. Laurence Freeman visited one of Houston’s Catholic schools, meditated with four different groups of children of different ages, and listened to their comments on the experience of meditation. Fr. Laurence’s visit generated new interest and encouraged those who were already committed to CM with children. This small team made presentations to several Catholic schools’ administrators and faculty as well as to several groups of students at one of those schools. They also presented at a diocesan-wide gathering of Roman Catholic school educators (all grades). They are building and nurturing a network of information and mentorship over time. In March 2012, they made a team presentation at the WCCM-USA National Conference in Houston. Each presenter spoke their own stories about how they came to see CM for children. In May 2012, Judy Schubert and Susie Ohendalski returned from the Chicago workshop to make a wonderful presentation to the workgroup. There are plans to present to two principals of local elementary schools, an Episcopal parish school and a secular public school and they have been invited to present at the faculty in-service week for the Episcopal school. In another direction, a member of the group has made arrangements for an initial presentation at a local family YMCA. Finally, another group member with a professional background in mental health will be presenting a workshop in a therapeutic setting. It will be about using meditation of any kind to promote healing and anxiety management among child and adult victims of abuse and for the professionals who serve them. “Interestingly, many of these wonderful opportunities to speak and to share have come to us quietly; not all were actively sought. The Spirit is working among us.”
West Lafayette, IN The three workshop attendees presented to their church immediately following the workshop weekend. Lois Schmidt has started silent prayer with her Sunday school children. She reports that all children have responded positively, and it has been a big help to her. Bill and Nola DeWitt went on a private retreat to teach their great-nephew, Joshua, 14, how to meditate. “We were all amazed, really. Everything we learned about meditation with children was validated. We started with seven minutes, then ten minutes, and finally with 14 minutes. Bill had to discard several teachings on “dealing with distractions” because they were not needed. Joshua really responded well and quite naturally. After our first meditation, his first words were “can we do it again”?
Rockford, IL JeanMarie McCormack, the principal of a Christian school, returned to her school after the workshop and introduced meditation to her fourth through eighth grades. “We spent a minute just being still with God. This is prep for next year. Just opened the door a crack.”
Vancouver, Canada Colleen Donald reported to The Canadian Christian Meditation Community immediately following the workshop. “In the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Archbishop Miller has become a supporter of meditation with children. Working with the Religious Department for the Catholic Schools, I’ll have the opportunity to present a session to the heads of the Religious Department from our Catholic elementary schools in September. I’ve worked this past year with a Grade 3 teacher who is meditating with her class and her classroom experience will be useful for her colleagues.”
Jacksonville, FL Drew Brennan reports that he and Barb have spoken to St. Paul by the Sea Episcopal school and Providence elementary school. There are plans to approach the local Catholic schools in the future. The WCCM-USA Christian Meditation Center in Neptune Beach, FL has held monthly times of meditation for children since January of 2012. Mary McGibany reports that prior to 5 minutes of meditation, “we discuss how to meditate and introduce a short teaching through a story book or play the Open Our Hearts CD which begins and ends with a prayer song. After the meditation we offer a light snack and some of the children choose to do some art while socializing.”
San Antonio, TX Joan Johnson attended a 2-week Common Venture service project , where she lived in the residence of a Franciscan nun. The four residents meditated twice daily. “My service work was at a women’s center for underserved minority women, where I acted as day camp counselor to 21 junior high girls. On the last day of my service work, I asked to lead a meditation. The leaders expressed doubt that the girls would cooperate, but indeed they did! We sat in dim light, in stillness and silence, for 6 minutes at the start of the day. The girls begged for additional meditation periods. I hope they have continued. There was zero negative response.”
Western Springs, IL Joan Binder met with the pastor, school principal, and Youth Catechesis director of St. John of the Cross Parish. Beginning this fall, all teachers and YC volunteers are invited to meditate every school day at 7am in the chapel at the school. The group prayer sessions will be led by volunteer meditators. Our hope is that as the teachers become meditators, they will eventually teach the children. On September 8, Joan will be presenting “How to Meditate with Your Children” at the “Morning of Meditation”.
Phoenix, AZ Meditators in Phoenix are engaged in outreach to those who are in positions to encourage or participate in CM with Children. By August, they will have presented to 6 principals. They have also sent informational letters and copies of Madeline Simon’s book, Born Contemplative, and WCCM publications, Coming Home and the Meditatio Journal, to a group of principals, religious education directors and teachers.
Oakland, CA Jeannie Battagin documented her journey of meditating with the same classroom of children over eight years in her book, A Child’s Way, How To Teach and Practice Christian Meditation with Children. She followed this experience by presenting to the diocese of Oakland a plan for introducing CM to teachers who would bring the practice to their schools. She appealed to the Bishop in 2008 and the result was an initial training of teachers chosen from Oakland diocesan schools and 2 follow-up training sessions. The program has been in place for 2 school years now. Jeannie is currently exploring the possibility of presenting CM at a local Catholic high school, hoping that Fr. Laurence can come to speak there when he’s in Oakland in September 2012.
Jeannie’s book is available from Contemplative Life Bookstore.