07 July 2015

Lessons Learned from Godly Play: The Creation Story

Last month, I started the training to do Godly Play. Our church is planning to start a program, and I'm one of the people who are going to be heading it up. I was excited about the whole "teach kids about this thing we call religion but through play and encouraging them to form their own ideas" but more than a little apprehensive about how I might feel about the stories themselves. I am extremely ambivalent about the Bible these days, and many traditional Bible stories come with a great deal of baggage for me. I wondered how on earth I was going to teach this version of Sunday school, when I can't, in all honesty, be enthusiastic about many of the Old Testament stories (or their traditional interpretations, which is another post). 

Godly Play is a method for teaching kids about God that was inspired by Montessori education methods. The basic format involves telling a story accompanied by visual materials, followed by encouraging the kids to wonder about the story, to form their own ideas about it, and to come up with their own answers to the questions about the story. They then get to do individual work on art projects, which can include painting or drawing, writing, or a variety of other things (like playing with the story materials to tell it in their own way). The work can be their response to the story or not, depending on what the child wants to do.

Each story in Godly Play tells a story from the Bible or a story about church traditions, but they're not exactly your typical renditions of the story. And this is one of the reasons why I appreciate this method.

During the workshop series, each participant gets the opportunity to tell one of the stories. On the first day, I surprised myself and volunteered to do the Creation story--the very first one. I struggle with the Creation myth, not because it's not an interesting story, but because of the way literal interpretations of it have negatively affected the Church. Because of all the baggage I associate with the story, I have a hard time listening to it and experiencing it simply as story. Telling it felt strange until I hit the wondering questions at the end. One of them asks whether we could leave things out and still have a good story. Another asks whether we can rearrange the days and still have it work.

As I told the story, I rediscovered that sense of wonder in the legend, a joy in it that I lost a long time ago with all the arguments about creationism vs. evolution. I rolled out the felt that symbolized the darkness before creation, and tumbled headlong into the story. I saw the light emerge in the chaotic darkness, and the butterflies and birds arrive on the scene. It wasn't only a source of deep conflict anymore. It was a good story, a myth about how our world came to be. It tells us that our world came into existence through exciting and mysterious processes. We can tell it in other ways, and it's still a good story.

And with that, the creation story in the Bible was given back to me as something beautiful.