We encourage children to be ready for bed prior to beginning so this can be the last activity of the day.
We hope there will be children participating in these devotions, so frequently include practices that involve visual awareness: drawing, focusing on an object, praying with an image, etc. These are intended to keep especially young minds and hearts engaged without too much emphasis on total silence, stillness or eyes-closed time.
Since interior reflection is essential to so many of these practices, though, we hope adults will model and encourage an eyes-closed posture whenever appropriate. Younger participants will soon catch on to this “norm” and will, in time, learn to love exploring their interior reality.
Inviting pre-readers to lead by helping to light the candle and blow it out, pass out materials, and share their drawings and reflections prepares them for larger roles as they gain skills and confidence.
Sharing reading leadership with young readers helps them feel ownership of the ritual. As soon as children are able and interested, we hope they will be offered opportunities to read Text Summaries, Readings and eventually Contemplative Practice guides.
LIGHTING A CANDLE
Kids love flame. Candles invoke a sense of quiet awe, are simultaneously solemn and celebratory, and hold deep and powerful symbolism in most world religions. They capture the comfort and warmth of domesticated flame as well as the thrill and danger of untamed fires - both of which are attributes of the Divine Mystery, in whose Presence we gather.
We believe that every moment of life is sacred and that we are always standing on holy ground. To mark this particular time and space as sacred, you are invited, every night, to light a special candle. This can be set in the middle of your gathering space, if you are able to gather in a circle, or on a night stand or headboard of a child’s bed.
While a live flame is desirable for the reasons mentioned above, if that feels too unsafe in your context, a special electric light of some kind can be substituted. We encourage you to ritualize the turning on and off of this light as suggested in the practices, just as you would a candle to Create a Sacred Time and Space.
CHOOSING A SPACE
We encourage meeting in a more intimate space than the public living room or kitchen. A bedroom, a special study or quiet reading space: something that is associated with a less frenetic part of family life will be more conducive to a calmer energy throughout the group.
We assume these practices will be shared in a child’s bedroom and include a “turning out the lights” Final Blessing to accommodate adult departure from that space. If meeting in a child’s room is impractical, or if you have multiple children sleeping in different bedrooms, we suggest completing the previous parts of the practice in your chosen venue, then gently and quietly moving children into their own beds and sharing the Final Blessing with each child once they are safely ensconced in their own beds.
Whatever space you use should be as devoid of clutter as possible: distractions are distractions (kids will invariably fidget with anything left out and adults will spend their time wishing they hadn’t left things out!).
Children’s rooms not used for the ritual should be ready to receive their children so that transition can be smooth.
Our assumption is that this will be the final activity of the day. We ritualize the closure of this time as a way to help children move from contemplative practice into sleep. This may have a very positive impact on everyone’s sleep habits!
SETTING ASIDE SACRED TIME
Each practice is built for about 20 minutes, beginning to end.
Carving out any time on just about any day of the week is challenging. This is why this is called a “discipline” (see DEFINITIONS for more on that word). It may at first feel very challenging to create the time and space for these practices, but we are confident your family will reap great rewards.
If your family is able to take more time, that’s amazing and wonderful and go for it! Every practice can be lengthened by reading the Supplemental Reading or simply taking more time for silence whenever the Spirit moves you.
To shorten a practice, we suggest eliminating one or two elements. Every family will resonate with different elements, so we’ll leave the decision of what’s expendable to you.
ESTABLISHING A SPACE
As mentioned in Create a Covenant, electronic devices should be off and left outside the space.
If possible, gather in a child’s bedroom so this can be the last activity of the day.
If gathering in a kitchen or other family space, let it be as decluttered as possible (we know this is a challenge!).
Let a candle become a focal point: set it either in the center of your gathered circle of family or on a bed stand or headboard where it can be viewed by all.
Let other lights be minimal: enough for readers to see by, but nothing too bright, blue, or fluorescent, if at all possible.
The Leader should have a way to track time readily visible.
Research is shedding a lot of light on the physiological pluses of quiet meditation times such as these. There are numerous benefits ranging from emotional fortitude, intellectual capacities, resilience, and even physical benefits to the heart and immune systems.
Posture is proving to contribute to these benefits: sitting upright, with head balanced between the shoulders, chin slightly tucked, shoulders drawn up-back-and-down (opening the solar plexus), hands resting in the lap (either palm-within-palm, or both palms facing upward), knees straight out from hips, feet beneath the knees (think of all the sitting joints settled into 90 degree angles) - this allows the blood to move most freely and efficiently through the body, maximizing oxygen to vital organs, especially the brain. Deep breathing while seated in this posture has incredible physiological benefits.
Lying prone (“Reclined Mountain” or Supta Tadasana for those who know their yoga poses) has comparable positive effects.
Add the spiritual component of intentionally resting in the Ground of All Being, and the whole body-mind-spirit is nourished through prayer.
Breathing is a key aspect of any contemplative practice. Those familiar with meditation and the focus on the breath will see direct parallels here. Learning to pay attention to the rhythm of the breath, the space between in the inhale and exhale, and/or the physical sensations, including: minute muscle movements; the expansion and contraction of the lungs, ribs and chest cavity; the cool of the breath moving through the nostrils and throat and the warmth of the exhale as it leaves the body; etc. - all of these help us settle what our Buddhist friends call, “the monkey mind” (more on that, below).
Additionally, Christians believe that we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Our breath reminds us that the Divine is as near to us as our own breath. Our breath is a powerful symbol of God’s incarnation within our own bodies.
Especially for pre- or post-readers, the ability to focus on the breath allows for full participation without having to hear or understand all the words.
Let noticing the breath be a basic practice for all: it can always be a go-to if other prompts are too overwhelming or don’t feel like they fit the family’s interests or needs on any given day.
CLOSING OUR EYES
Generally, contemplative practices focus on the Divine within and/or around ourselves. Closing our eyes is an important way to turn our attention, allowing external distractions and the constant stimulation they provide to subside.
While we hope that every family is able to create a safe space where all will feel comfortable with this practice (and hope that every family one day lives in a place where this practice is, indeed, safe), some people find closing their eyes in the confines of an intimate group intimidating. These participants can be encouraged to close their eyes only half-way, allowing the comfort of peripheral vision, or they can be invited to use the candle as a focal point.