Monday, April 29, 2013

YCW: John's Vision of the Kingdom of God

Young Children and Worship is another Montessori-based form of religious education developed by Dr. Sonja Stewart under the tutelage of Godly Play creator, Jerome Berryman. While I do not feel that YCW has the depth of Godly Play, I do use it occasionally to introduce new stories to my own children. I do wish there were more New Testament stories in the Godly Play curriculum. Though there is a wonderful story about the life of Paul, and both the Pentecost and Last Supper stories touch on the lives of the apostles, there are no other GP stories that deal directly with the Book of Acts. 

This past Sunday, I told my own children a story called "John, Follower of Jesus, Teaches throughout the World". It is one of three stories about John's post-Pentecost ministry found in "Following Jesus", and recounts John's exile on the isle of Patmos and letters to the churches that he wrote there.

John travels far from Jerusalem to tell other about Jesus and show the ways of God's Kingdom. The people begin meeting in groups called churches. In Ephesus some people do not like what John is saying and arrest him. He is exiled to the island of Patmos.

This scene shows John's travels and his exile on Patmos.
John wants to write to his friends in the churches, but it isn't safe. He begins to write in a secret code that only his friends can understand. He writes to them about his vision of the Kingdom of God.

The yellow circle represents the spread of the kingdom of God and the scroll
contains a verse from the book of Revelation.
This scroll contains part of the "secret" message, found in the Revelation 21: 1-4:

"I saw a new heaven and new earth . . . and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with people. God will live with them, and they shall be God's people. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no death, there shall be no sadness, or crying, or pain anymore. The old way is gone . . . God is making everything new."

While the above description isn't the exact text due to copyright laws, it's pretty close. One of the problems in doing YCW with older children is that the stories tend to be a little too short, especially if the kids are used to Godly Play. (This can, of course, also be an advantage when working with 2-5 year-olds.) As soon as I finished the story and began the Wondering, my daughter (age 7) complained that the story had been too short. However, the Wondering proved to be quite deep, so maybe the length of the story wasn't so bad after all. It seems to have forced them to stop and take a closer look at the scripture.

I asked the following Wondering questions (the first one I made up and the second and third are from the book):
- What was your favorite part of John's secret message to his friends?
- What do you think his friend wrote back to him?
- What do you think they would have drawn in response to John's vision of the Kingdom of God?

My son hastily answered that his favorite part of John's message was that there would be no sadness. But then he thought for a moment longer and said that he didn't know how things would be without death and pain. 

"Maybe it would be good to not have death, but there has to be pain. Otherwise there would be no stories like 'Star Wars'," he said. 

I realized what an important thought that was. Pain is such a constant companion in this world that it really is difficult to imagine it being completely eradicated. It is so engrained in us as human beings that every good story has a conflict. We simply can not comprehend what existence without it will mean. My wondering about that continued long after we were through.: )

That whole conversation led to my daughter wondering what the new heaven and new earth will be like. Will they be real places? When it says that God will live with us, does that mean that we will be able to see him and talk to him face-to-face?

By the time we got to question three, both kids were pretty tired of thinking so hard, so they erupted in giggles and silly answers - their reward for so much deep theologizing. (If only all theological conversations led to laughter . . . !)

There is a companion story to this one called "A New Heaven, a New Earth, and a New Jerusalem". The text is exactly the same except the "secret message" (Revelation 21:22-26) and the Wondering questions that deal with the theme of God being our light in the new creation. I am not sure if I will try it, but I may make a scroll of the text and use it in an evening devotional.

Has anyone else out there tried this story? What have your experiences with it been?

A Note on Geography: Older children may want to know where to find this part of the world on the map. I would definitely explain to them that Patmos is enlarged for the story. In reality, Patmos is so tiny in comparison to modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) that you can hardly see it.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now


  1. Hi Sheila: Great to see your post on this. Something from Revelation just came up the other night in our conversations, so this would be a great entry point to explaining it. Thanks!

    1. So glad that it's helpful, Jenni!

  2. Ooohhh, I love it. We're teaching Revelation in a few months, I'll have to come back to this.

    1. Thanks, Ticia! I'm glad this post is relevant for what you're going to be teaching.

  3. My son would have liked that part too, only without pain - in the stories he makes up everything goes well and nothing bad happens)) Also would be fun to tell him something he doesn't already know - we never read Revelation. I love how you let kids be kids, Sheila - I sometimes try to stick to the plan way too much.
    The material is beautiful - did you make it? Makes me want to make it)))

    1. Asmic, It's been a long journey for me learning to "hold back" and not try to lead kids to the answer that I am looking for. But in slowly learning more how to do that, I've gained so many more insights from the Holy Spirit through the kids. And I used to get inwardly angry when they would act silly or get fidgety. Now, I know that these are signs that I just need to end the Wondering, because they've done all that they can do for that day. . . . I did make the material. The pattern for the underlay is in "Following Jesus", the sequel to "Young Children and Worship". I didn't have the means to enlarge the pattern, so I drew the map freehand using their pattern as a suggestion. And since I don't sew very well, I simply glued the blue and green felt together.: )