Christian Meditation with Children – Meditatio Forums
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Dr. Cathy Day and Ernie Christie of Townesville, Australia completed their tour of the United States and Canada on Oct 5, 2013, presenting in several locations across the U.S. on their experience of teaching meditation to children. A period of meditation is practiced in all classrooms throughout the whole Diocese. The presenters gave a convincing story of the power of teaching meditation to children in schools. Their eight years of experience has born great fruit in the spiritual lives of over 13,000 children ages 3 to 18. According to Dr. Day, the classroom time set aside for meditation is repaid ten-fold as it actually creates more time by increasing the children’s focus and attention skills. The children enjoy meditation and ask for it, especially before exams and major sporting events. What follows are reports from each U.S. event location:
St. Paul, MN: The first presentation was held at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul Minnesota on Friday, September 20. The full-day workshop was co-sponsored by Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality. About 55 people were in attendance, mostly Catholic and some Lutherans, primarily educators and parish representatives. Although most attendees were from nearby, some traveled from northern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin.
Some of the feedback was: “It is very helpful because I had never thought about meditation. It could play such an important role in teaching.” “I never knew that meditation could affect children’s minds and behavior so profoundly.” “I want to try this for myself and then encourage my students to learn the beauty of silent prayer.” “It inspired me to try it with peers on staff and children in our church.” Wisdom Ways is following-up with a program in March 2014, training teachers to meditate with children in schools. They are gathering data to determine what other types of programing they should provide on the topic of meditation with children.
Houston: Sunday, September 22, Ernie and Cathy presented to a group of about 30 at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land, TX. The 2 hour presentation was attended by parents, teachers, and catechists. The next day was the workshop from 8am to 3pm at the University of St. Thomas. This was co-sponsored by the Center for Faith and Culture, UST. There were many Houston area schools represented. The attendance was 120 educators, parents, and meditators from a variety of faith traditions. The WCCM group in Houston plans to respond to all requests for follow-up to offer help and support as needed.
San Francisco: Sr. Celeste Arbuckle, Director of Religious Education and Youth Ministry for the San Francisco Diocese, reports that “the meditation workshop was a great experience for our Pastoral Catechetical Leadership, including our Directors/Coordinators of Religious Education and Youth Ministers. They were engaged and very thankful for this opportunity. It was the first time for many of being engaged in the process of meditation. It was a gift for them and will be passed on to their classes.”
Dr. Cathy Day and Ernie Christie presented to three separate groups over two days. The In-Service workshops were sponsored by the WCCM Meditatio and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Office of Religious Education and Youth Ministry and held at St. Mary Cathedral.
Christian Meditation with Children was presented to primarily catechists at the Tuesday sessions and to Catholic school administrators on Wednesday. There were approximately 80 persons in attendance. Following the workshop, the Confirmation Director at St. Dominic’s parish has already introduced meditation to the confirmation class. This parish has the benefit of a local Christian Meditation group available for support and advice. Sr. Celeste plans to form a committee with representatives from each deanery which will be the contact for sharing information and for training of catechists. The plan is to “put this practice into action in the classes”, beginning in January. In May they will do an evaluation and plan for the following school year.
Phoenix, Arizona: The Cornerstone Center co-sponsored with Meditatio at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The event was held September 27, from 9am to 5pm. There were 120 attendees: four local parishes were represented, including teachers, principals, religious education directors and Cornerstone helpers. In addition to Dr. Day and Mr. Christie, Dr. Gabrielle Lawrence, a psychologist, presented on the effects of meditation on the brain. “If there is anything that can change our world it is teaching children to meditate,” says Dr. Lawrence, and “it was a gift to be a part of the day.”
Feedback from the participants was appreciation that so much information was packed into one day. They appreciated the presentations, and the DVDs shown, especially of the teacher and student testimonials. Some mentioned that the experience of meditation was an important part of the day. Everyone left with a packet of resources and support materials for moving forward. According to Joann Rapp, “Overall the message seemed to get through that something new is happening in the schools, around the world.”
Following the forum, a teacher from St. Francis Xavier grammar school sent emails home to parents about their new prayer initiative with third graders. Following is an excerpt: “Recently, we have been meditating in class. We first did it for about a minute and slowly we are increasing the time. (student’s name) has truly taken to this practice. Today, during meditation, I noticed he was really relaxed, focused on his breathing, and focused on his time with our Lord. This practice allows for our students to push away any distractions and connect with God. (This student) was asking for more minutes at the end of our time! I look forward to seeing him grow throughout the year.” On Oct. 26, The Cornerstone Center offered a workshop, “How the Practice of Christian Meditation in the Classroom Deepens Faith and Love”, presented by Joann Rapp. Joann also presented at the In-Service Day for Teachers in the Diocese of Tucson, on Children and Meditation.
Los Angeles, CA: LA was not on the schedule for the forum tour, so a large contingent traveled to the Phoenix presentation. Participants included the Chancellor for Catholic schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Sr. Mary Elizabeth, BVM, who after the forum indicated that “we must move forward with this.” Representatives from Catholic grammar and high schools left the forum with the “tools” to begin teaching children. One teacher reports: “I have been having some very rudimentary, but none-the-less lovely, experiences with our teens, and fourth and fifth grade religious education kids in meditation. Particularly the RE kids, a large bunch that is highly charged and loud, gave me a pleasant surprise. God is full of pleasant surprises.”
Jacksonville, FL: Dr. Day and Mr. Christie presented on September 30 from 8 am to 3:30 pm. The workshop was co-sponsored by Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Healthcare professionals including nurses and doctors, parents, teachers, school administrators (from Catholic, other parochial and public schools) as well as psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors attended for a total of 81 participants. It was held at the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership. Dr. Michael De La Hunt, MD, Child Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Pediatric Mental Health Services at WCH was an additional speaker. Dr. De La Hunt has been offering meditation daily to the Wolfson Behavioral Health Unit. Gene Bebeau, MD, also presented in an afternoon breakout session to allow participants a choice to attend either the 1) How to set up a children’s meditation group with Dr. Day or Mr. Christie or 2) How to begin an individual meditation practice with Gene Bebeau. Follow-up forms were given to each participant as well as a packet of information that included the Meditation and Education booklet developed by Charles and Patricia Posnett in the UK, a WCCM brochure and a bookmark. The evaluations were quite favorable with 6-8 participants re-rquesting follow-up. A weekly Meditation with Children group has been set up at Wolfson Children’s Hospital by a chaplain.
One of the participants, Jeanne Minchew, has been meditating with her third graders for 2 years. Following the workshop, Jeanne reports the following: “My boss is on board with the fact that we have incorporated our meditation practice into our daily schedule. Today the pastor joined us in our classroom for our mid-day Christian Meditation practice. He actually sat on the floor with us and experienced what this personal time with God means to us. He complimented the children on their stillness and their willingness to share how meditation helps them to listen to God and to feel the warmth of His love. He was impressed that the children took ownership and ran their own practice. He liked the way that the children sang their song, led the prayer and showed devotion to their practice. It’s great to know that our pastor is on board!”
Dr. Cathy Day and Mr. Ernie Christie also travelled on to Canada for presentations, and a number of US Meditators from northern states traveled to Canada to participate in those.