SINGAPORE – "A child is a born contemplative, with a natural capacity to know God," said Father Laurence Freeman OSB at a seminar attended by more than 70 catechists, teachers and parents. "Even young children can be taught to meditate and they like to meditate," Father Laurence advised the participants, several of whom belong to Christian Meditation groups in their parishes.The seminar titled "Teaching Christian Meditation to Children" was held at Church of the Holy Family on Jan 26.
Father Laurence described how Christian Meditation is taught to children from pre-school level to Year 12, in Catholic schools in Townsville, Australia. The programme started in 12 schools in 2006, with the support of Bishop Michael Putney, and has since been extended to more than 11,000 children in 31 schools throughout the diocese. Other Australian dioceses are also now taking it up. He screened a video showing children from these schools meditating in simplicity, openness and joy with their teachers.
In recent years our understanding of children has changed and we now recognize the inherent contemplative nature of children, and their capacity for the experience of God, said Father Laurence. Although this tends to be obscured as they grow older, "the task of contemplation is to restore to health the eye of the heart, by which God can be seen", he said.
Father Laurence added that teenagers too have a great openness to God’s presence in their lives and they take well to meditation because their minds are less cluttered than those of adults.
This seminar, a first to be held in Singapore, was organized by the World Community for Christian Meditation Singapore. It attracted considerable interest from those concerned with the religious education of children. Father Johnson Fernandez, Director of the Catechetical Commission Office, arranged for 13 catechists from his parish of Holy Trinity to attend the seminar. He wants catechists to be able to introduce to children this aspect of the church’s rich tradition of prayer, Father Johnson explained.
Father Laurence pointed out that to teach children to meditate, adults have to meditate with the children and they would find it deeply enriching. "When we teach a child to meditate, it is a spiritual experience for us. We see ourselves in the light of the true self shining through the child ... and the child will teach you."
The real teacher of meditation is Jesus, who prays with us and in us, he added.
Theresa Lee from Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who has worked with young people as catechist and in RCIY had hoped the seminar would provide more guidance on how to introduce Christian Meditation into Singapore, in the context of existing catechism lessons. She found useful help in the resource book "Coming Home". "With this book, we hope we will be more confident to introduce the subject to our parish priest, the liturgists, parents, and others involved so that we can get the green light to go ahead with teaching meditation to children."
Gary Ng, a catechist at Church of St. Mary of the Angels, said he would like to introduce Christian Meditation to five or six-year-old pre-schoolers. Gary felt that Father Laurence’s description of children’s spirituality could enrich and encourage catechists like him, in their task of nurturing the growth of the Spirit in children.
Father Laurence recommended that children begin by meditating one minute for each year of their age.
Sister Maria Lau, Provincial of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus, said, "Living in a fast-paced and competitive society, children today need to find a haven where they can experience silence and stillness. I believe the silent quality time will help improve their learning and emotional wellness and they will grow in calmness, clarity, serenity and develop an inner strength to cope with difficult situations." She wants to share the idea of teaching meditation to children, with the principals of the various IJ Primary schools.
More information can be found atwww.meditationwithchildren.com
Meditation resource books for children
"Coming Home", a book and DVD set by Ernie Christie, opens new approaches to the religious and spiritual education of children. Based on an extended pilot project in Townsville, Australia, it offers practical steps to introduce children to meditation in classroom and daily life.
"My Happy Heart", another book and CD set by Gregory Ryan, also introduces children to Christian meditation. Its companion CD "My Happy Heart Sings" charms children with simple and easy-to-remember songs.
The resources are on sale at Carlo Catholic Bookshop, Church of Sts. Peter and Paul and Church of St. Bernadette.