Thoughts on Reverence, by Belinda Kenwood

From my head to my feet,
I am the image of God.
From my heart to my hands,
I feel the breath of God.
When I speak with my mouth,
I follow God’s will.
When I see God everywhere,
In Mother, Father, in all dear people,
In beast and flower, tree and stone,
Then nothing brings fear
But love to all that is around me.
                     –Rudolf Steiner
           Reverence. The honoring and respecting of the divine in all things. When we speak of reverence in our work with young children, it’s that we are recognizing the divine in each child and are “introducing him or her to earthly life through the sacred qualities of rhythm, beauty and love.” In the words of Rahima Baldwin Dancy (You are Your Child’s First Teacher), parents, childcare providers and early childhood teachers are like “caretakers of the divine.” Thus, in knowing that, we can begin to develop an attitude or a mood in being with young children that one would call “priestly.”  Reverence, as well as gratitude, is important to foster in early childhood. However, they cannot be taught to young children through doctrine or words. Rather, those attitudes must live within the adults who are caring for them. So, what does that mean? How can we strive to foster reverence in our living with young children?

           When caring for infants, as well as children up to six years old, I have come to understand the need to be personally centered. Getting enough sleep and having my own meditative practices help me to be as clear as possible when I’m with children. I need to be totally in the present moment, not thinking about other things-just there with and for the children. Thus, when I come to the center, I need to check my “baggage” at the door, and immerse myself in what needs to be done here. This is a big challenge for me, but when I am able to be in the present, it is such a gift to the children as well as to myself.

           When caring for infants, I strive to approach every deed with love and care. I try to be attentive and attuned to his or her needs. I do my best to create quiet, calm, peaceful surroundings, which are a big need for babies. During diaper changes, I try to talk gently and soothingly, perhaps humming quietly, while taking care to use gentle movements when removing clothing, etc. I need to be aware of the way I move, not rushing around or making sudden, quick movements. Swaddling can be a wonderful way to calm a baby, helping him feel warm and secure. Gently rocking a swaddled baby and softly singing a lullaby can be a wonderful thing to do before laying a baby down to sleep.

           When working with toddlers through six-year-olds, one of the most important things I can do to help foster reverence is to be worthy of imitation. Young children learn through imitation. They “drink us in,” the good and not-so-good, they absorb it all. I need to pay special attention to the quality of my movements and the tone of my voice. I need to bring love, warmth and a joyful attitude to the activities I’m doing, like sweeping, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, setting the table, etc. I need to be aware of my interactions with other adults (are they respectful, are kind manners being used?).

           I try to create a reverent mood at naptime by providing a calm, quiet, peaceful atmosphere where the children can drift off to sleep and gently awaken. We work to surround the children with beauty. Meal tables are set with tablecloths, real dishes and silverware, and centerpieces created from items of nature. Soft lighting, silks, and cotton cloths are used in various places. When we prepare a foot bath for the children by gently massaging their feet in a big bowl of warm water scented with lavender essential oil and gently drying their feet with a towel, we are planting the seeds of how we care for our bodies. The children also have the opportunity to be out in nature every day, experiencing the wonders of each season.

           The foundation of spiritual awakening is gratitude, and we can foster gratitude by cultivating an attitude of gratitude within ourselves, and hence in the child for all that the world gives us. Rudolf Steiner said, “If he sees that everyone who stands in some kind of relationship to him in the outer world shows gratitude for what he receives from this world; if, in confronting the outer world and wanting to imitate it, the child sees the kind of gestures that express gratitude, then a great deal is done towards establishing in him the right moral attititude. Gratitude belongs to the first seven years of life.” Simple ways of showing gratitude are through meal blessings and bedtime verses or prayers. In the preschool, we sing a blessing before we eat. After we eat, we bless the oats who gave of their grain to make our oatmeal, the grapes who dried in the sun to give us our raisins, the cow who gave of its milk that we may drink, the cool water, and good friends to share with. We sing, “Thank you for our food.” We show gratitude by thanking someone for a good deed done or for a gift. Showing compassion when a child is hurt or missing her parent is also a gift, and another way of planting seeds of kindness within her.

           When we are reverent, when we honor and respect the divine in all things by being generous, forgiving, full of wonder and awe, and providing simple, meaningful rituals, we are nourishing our children’s souls as well as our own. Rabbi Harold Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People) wrote:

           “It was said of the last quarter of the 20th century, and will likely be said of the first decade of the 21st, that it was a wonderful time to build computers, but a challenging time to write poetry. Our children will grow up comfortable with technology and mechanical things. The will probably grow up with a consumer mentality, thanks to all the advertising to which they are exposed. But they may grow up with an important part of their souls undeveloped.

            “It will take extra effort on our part to raise children fluent in the language of spirituality-children who will be comfortable praying when they are anxious or grateful, capable of forgiving when they have been hurt, generous in the face of need, aware of the beauty of nature and of poetry. We cannot depend on society to teach them those graces, but there are things we can do to nourish our children’s souls. The effort will be worth it. We can give our children no greater gift.”

                                                                              –In Service, Belinda

 

Belinda Kenwood wrote this article while a caregiver at Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center.  She now
teaches at Children’s Garden LifeWays program in Milwaukee.

If you live or work out of the LifeWays principles, we would love to have you as a guest writer on the LifeWays blog.  Please contact faith@joyfultoddlers.com for details.