Godly Play @ St. Paul
When my son Thomas and I were decorating our Christmas tree this year, I pulled out an ornament made from a transparent plastic ball with a couple of tablespoons of sand and some shiny glitter stars visible and flowing around loosely inside. I received this ornament at a Godly Play teacher training session that I attended a few years into my time as a Godly Play storyteller here at St. Paul. The ornament represents the Great Family. The sand and the stars signify all the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, their Great Family promised by God, “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17) When we tell this story in Godly Play, we recount the life journeys of Abraham and Sarah beginning at Ur, tracing a path in the sand of the desert box as we describe their various stops as they travel through many lands. We report the birth of their son Isaac, his marriage to Rebecca, and the birth of Isaac and Rebecca’s children. We say that this Family grew and grew, until our great grandparents were born, and they had children—our grandparents, who had our parents, who had us. We are all part of the Great Family.
My ornament also reminds me of my time as a Godly Play storyteller when St. Paul first started using Godly Play. We ran a pilot program during Children’s Church, mostly just telling stories, given the short time. For one of my first stories, I told the parable of the great banquet, in which a landowner sends his servants out into the lanes and byways to invite the marginalized to seats at his table, and his table still has room for more. After each parable, we wonder, “What could this really be?” The sense of wonder that Godly Play fosters in both children and adults drew me in, and ever since, I have always listened to a parable as a gift that contains a deeper meaning buried somewhere inside. Sometimes, the parable remains a closed puzzle, but that’s okay.
Many stories of God fill the shelves in each Godly Play classroom, and we tell those stories and wonder about them. We may ask, “What part of this story is about you?” But more than that, each room is also filled with symbols and is arranged in subtle ways that have meanings that often remain unspoken. Part of the Godly Play experience is an immersion in a space that evokes the mysterious presence of God, the sense that God is hidden in plain sight. While spending time in a Godly Play classroom, the symbols and meanings seep into us, so that we carry them within us as we journey, like Abraham and Sarah, through our lives. Sometimes they break through to a more conscious awareness, as when I picked up the ornament filled with sand and glitter stars reminding me that all of us at St. Paul belong to the Great Family.
Godly Play also teaches us a lot about transitions, how frequently they occur on our journeys and how difficult they can be, even the good ones. The Godly Play greeter asks the children if they are ready to go into the classroom, a transition into a special place to be with God. But we also learn that getting ready is a constant process, not just done at a threshold into another room. Getting ready is a part of every transition: before the story, sometimes during the story, before response time, before the feast, for the dismissal. In our lives outside the classroom, we also have many transitions, small ones every day, and larger ones, as loved ones come and go in our lives, as we move, change jobs, and reflect on our lives, just as Abraham and Sarah experienced changes in their lives.
My Great Family ornament was just one of many gifts I received from Godly Play. Remembering that transitions are inevitable on our journeys, that even small transitions and good changes can be hard, and that God is somehow present, even if I can’t figure out how or where, are also gifts that have remained with me from my time as a Godly Play storyteller. I am glad that Godly Play continues to thrive at St. Paul.