Thursday, August 4, 2011

On the Language of Silence in Godly Play

In June I wrote a post on the various genres in Godly Play.  My fellow blogger, Storyteller, reminded me in the conversation that ensued that there is actually a fourth genre called the "Language of Silence" that is very important to the holistic concept of Godly Play.  I replied to her that I might have subconsciously left it out, because this area is a week spot in my ministry with the children.  Sometimes I don't allow enough time for this language to come through in telling the stories, because I struggle with impatience. Also, because we are often in either small spaces (like my kitchen) or wide open spaces (like the park), the children banter with one another rather than being fully engrossed in their own work.  I haven't yet found the key to helping them solely concentrate on their own individual work.  

I was then rather surprised a couple of weeks ago to find a kind and encouraging e-mail from Jerome Berryman, whom I have never met, in my inbox about this particular post.  (You never know who is reading your blog!)  He had this to say about the language of silence, and with his permission I would like to pass it on to you:

"The genre of contemplative silence is very important.  It appears between the words as the lesson is spoken in a measured, energy-filled, and mindful presentation.  It is in the movements of the materials.  It is when the children are concentrating.  It is in the room, woven among the materials, which do not speak.  It is in the children who can speak but choose not to.  It is in the awareness, even when speaking, that there is more about God's presence than can be said.  There is even a lesson, "The Greatest Parable," which has a movement that involves only shapes, colors and movements.  (The words come later.)  This kind of silence is fullness rather than absence."

The world we live in often overcrowded with words and ideas.  So many things compete for our attention and the attention of our children. Making room to just "be" and hear God's "still, small voice" is an art and an invaluable, necessary thing to learn. Many times we think of silence as being passive, but as Jerome Berryman points out, it is indeed active.  It is choosing not to speak and knowing when to listen. It is acknowledging that we have a greater need beyond our own words and thoughts. 

I am reminded of Brother Lawrence, the 17th century French monk, who wrote Practicing the Presence of God, a book about this sort of stillness. He uses the term "practice", because we don't usually get it right the first time. I, for one, know that I need a lot more practice learning and teaching the language of silence. 

If you have any thoughts on how you cultivate the language of silence in your own life or in your Godly Play practice, please share them!


  1. What a kind and helpful e-mail from Jerome Berryman! You say, "the children banter with one another" - my trainer pointed out that our adult group of trainees was VERY quiet during our work time, and that this would *not* be the case in a classroom of children, which says to me that we do not need to worry about children chatting together, as long as they are not disturbing others who want to work independently.

    Something I do try to work on, although I often forget, is to include moments of silence in our session. One I would like to do is to return materials to the shelf in silence.

  2. Good insight, Storyteller. Thanks! One specific problem is when the children start comparing each other's artwork and are negatively critical (especially the older ones of the younger kids). I always gently remind them to go back to their work, but they seem to keep returning to the negativity. Any suggestions?

  3. Hi, perhaps talk with them about what they are saying. Have them repeat it,( away from the child they are critisizing.) and ask them if that they are helpful and encouraging words. Have to hand some scripture references which talk about the tongue. James perhaps. Verses which speak of kindness etc.
    What do you think?

  4. Thanks,Helen! That sounds like great advice. I will try it next time and let you know how it went.