I wonder if you have ever had an experience of something beyond yourself while you were spending time in nature? For me a strong memory comes not from when I was a child but when I was in my early twenties. I was walking to work in my job as a Lollypop lady (or a Schools Crossing Patroller as I was more properly known!) very early in the morning to meet the children and help them safely across the road as they made their way to school. As I was walking along the road there wasn’t a singe other person about, just the call of the birds to each other as the sun rose and for me, this incredible sense of peace.
I felt like I was stepping into the rhythm of the world, the undercurrent of life that goes on quietly, imperceptibly, that I had failed to notice while I rushed around on the surface of my life. I felt absorbed into something vast, something universal and so much bigger than myself. I felt like I was stumbling into a mystery, into a truth about the world that I was being allowed to glimpse for just a minute before it was gone from my sight again. It was an extraordinary thing but it was not a surprise to me. I felt like this reality had been there all along, and I had known it, I had just never really seen it before.
Many people report these kinds of experiences and many people report them from childhood. Perhaps it is that in childhood we have that time to simply be, to be immersed in the moment and lose ourselves in it. Perhaps that means that we experience all it contains rather than what we are simply trying to take from it. Perhaps we are especially open when we are children, particularly willing to see beyond what is obvious or into things that are unknown. I don’t know, but there it is. Many people report similar experiences and so, many researchers and spiritual traditions agree, childhood is an especially rich time.
Talking about it
What can be difficult, of course, is talking about these experiences. As children we may not even have the words to describe what we have experienced until much later on. And there is always the fearful possibility that our observations will not be taken seriously, that they will be dismissed as a childish thing. But if you as a parent want to give your child the gift of space to talk about those experiences of the world that is so much bigger than themselves and to give them opportunities to explore their place in it, well what can you do?
Resources – the Storytelling cards
I’ve been using a really fab resource that has been hugely beneficial in this area in recent months and have come up with a cheap homemade version that you might like to try. It is based on seven story cards which I painted onto wooden postcards that I picked up online for about 50p each. I painted the designs you can see below on to them using some dusty old acrylic paints that I had in a drawer but you can pick up a little sample set of acrylics for a few pounds that would do the job perfectly.
The cards tell the story of creation from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Long gone are the days of needing to interpret this story literally. It is a magnificent poem, a reflection on the origins of life that echoes what we now know about the origins of the word through scientific exploration. It offers a framework for thinking about the world and for exploring our connection to the origin of all life, by whatever name you call it.
You can find the script for the story in the book Stories of God at Home by Jerome Berryman and you can also see a video of me telling the story very soon. It contains such delicious lines as ‘In the beginning there was…well there wasn’t very much, except perhaps an enormous smile’ and leads children into wondering through questions like ‘Now I wonder if anyone noticed the light this morning when you opened your eyes? I wonder what it was like? I wonder what your favourite kind of light might be?’
I’ve had such a great time using these cards with children and hearing their reflections about the world. When I set out all the Godly Play kits these are always a favourite that the children gravitate too so I think they would be a lovely addition to the home that children would return to again and again.
More to come when I share the video of this story but I do hope you find this useful for exploring the gift of nature and our big wide world with the children in your life.