I’m currently in the process of writing The Book about our foster care years. I’ve tried to tread carefully with every tap of my fingers across the keyboard. It’s so easy to say too much. Words that would pierce instead of heal.
In addition, I’ve gotten sidetracked with another project as well…but they essentially compliment one another. I’ve been re-reading some gems over the past few days before attempting to write a curriculum for my boys for next year. I finished Dr. Boojamra’s book, Foundations for Christian Education, yesterday afternoon and started Sophie Koulomzin’s book, Our Church and Our Children, last night.
For whatever reason, I had skipped the intro of her book the last time I read it. Maybe it was for the best – because of the impact it had on me as I read it last night. In the introduction is a letter Sophie wrote to her mother in France while she was studying abroad in the United States. (Sophie was born in Russia and escaped as a young girl. She wrote a memoir of her life – which I hope to read soon!)
I read this letter she wrote below to her mother and two things happened – I felt like she somehow wrote my EXACT thoughts in her book and at the same moment everything clicked. Everything came together and made sense. There is no way I could write the curriculum I’m about to write without having gone through EVERYTHING I’ve gone through. It’s brought me right to this moment in time.
Sophie’s letter to her mother:
May 17, 1927
…You know, you can live year after year and then come up against something and suddenly feel that this is the thing, this is the thing you have been looking for all your life, this is what you have been thinking about, this is where all the different circumstances of your life were leading you. I guess what I mean is that I have discovered my vocation, just as a painter or a musician might. Even if for the rest of my life I have to pound away at typewriters in fifteen different offices, I know that I will always work with children and for children. Children are my vocation, I suppose. My head is bursting with ideas of all I want to do, and even of the books, or at least a book I want to write, a book on church worship for children. After all, this is not that impossible.
I have also another feeling or idea about my future work. I think I can never approach a job with a worked-out plan of all I want to do, however good it seems to me. I have first to learn to understand what is already being done, of how it is being done, of what the people who are already working feel and want to do. I have to become one of them, part of their work, and only when this becomes our common experience, when some of my conceited ideas have been knocked off, and I have learned to understand their ideas, only then can something new start growing.
The more I have learned here, the more I have to learn when I come back.
The entire reason why I started this curriculum project was for my children. What was I doing right as I taught them about God, but wrong as I attempted to teach them everything else? Why was one so effortless while the other was an everyday battle? I had to step back and think about how I approached both situations because obviously my methodology was not the same.
I realized that everything I taught them about God was essentially innate to me. There’s some thought that goes into it but for the most part it was like breathing to me – I just did it.
“You can teach only that which you have made your own…” – Sophie Koulomzin
After re-reading these two books, it was as if all the puzzle pieces were laid out in front of me and then before my very eyes they moved in slow motion and all fit together showing the entire picture. It was an aha moment of immense proportions. I can’t seem to fill my notebook fast enough with my ideas and side notes.
I started comparing myself (and siblings) with how my parents taught us about God and how I have taught Niki and the boys about God. There was not a lot of formal, informational education from my parents about God – we just lived it. We went to church every Sunday and I mean every Sunday, unless you were genuinely sick. We fasted. We prayed before every meal and before bed every night. We went to all the Lenten services. We helped the needy. It’s not to say my parents never talked about our faith but that was definitely not the primary form of education.
Dr. Boojamra explains that, “non-verbal or relational learning is infinitely more significant in Christian education than is verbal or school learning”. The traditional educational approach of the Early Church was formational instead of informational. This means that the medium for education was the church services, fasting, praying, almsgiving – it was not opening a book and learning facts. This did not become the case until the 1600’s. The Church’s educational approach was a process. The children watched. They watched as they attended Liturgy, watched as the meals changed with the seasons, watched as their family prayed, watched as their family helped the needy and their parish community. As they grew older and were capable, the children started to participate with their family. They sang and recited the prayers during the services. They ate the food placed in front of them. They prayed with their family. They worked along side their family as they helped give money to the poor, bring food to the hungry, and upkeep their church. As they matured more, they started to learn the “whys” of what they were doing. The process was never ending – even into adulthood. Now we see religious education as primarily a lesson once a week directed directly at children of school age and then stop. We’re left with an infantile understanding of God as adults because we lost the essential learning model of the Church. We threw out living our faith in place of a token one hour lesson. As adults, we don’t even know how to teach our children anything about our faith anymore because we, ourselves, do not understand after we threw out our educational model.
THIS is why my kids learn so effortlessly about God. For all the steps my boys have missed…for all the stages of life they went through out of order…this is the one area they have gone through the stages IN ORDER. When we got them, I purposely did not teach them anything about Orthodoxy. They watched. They watched as we said prayers before every single meal. Zach was 3 years old when we got him. In 7 weeks (I was writing extensively about our daily life at this point), he had memorized our meal prayer and began saying it himself. I have never formally taught any of my kids our meal prayer. They watched as we said our bedtime prayers. Now they beg to have bedtimes prayers – even when I’m too worn out and think about skipping them. They watched as we received Holy Communion. They watched for two years. They had a countdown to their baptism. They wanted Holy Communion. The moment after Zach received Holy Communion for the very first time, he turned around and looked directly at me in the pew and said, “I just got Communion!!!” with the hugest smile on his face. I was literally choked with tears.
The beauty of this model is that as long as you go through the stages, regardless of your age, you learn the faith. This is why my boys have flourished. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have them at birth. I had them watch and then they started to participate as they were old enough. Now we’ve begun to talk about some of the whys as I know they’re ready for them.
This is why my fifteen year old daughter shoveled our LONG driveway one February afternoon because I told her we were not going to that evening’s Lenten service because my back could not handle shoveling the driveway. (This is my child who mysteriously disappears when it’s chore time and I have to hunt her down.)
This is the actual photo of that afternoon. I took a picture with my phone and sent it to Les after walking by the window and realizing she was shoveling the driveway. I was so deeply touched by her desire to go to church that evening.
This is why last Sunday when Les and I had convinced each other that we were going back to bed to sleep instead of going to Agape Vespers, we were humbled by our children as we realized all four of them were dressed in their church clothes and waiting on us.
When you introduce your children to this model of religious education, it takes root in their hearts. It takes such a deep root, that they motivate and carry you when you’re worn out and tired. It’s a symbiotic relationship in the family. It’s a group effort. It’s not to say I don’t teach my children anymore, it just shows how God lovingly helps you when you are temporarily weak and need that little extra support.
I wanted to share my excitement before returning to my glider and reading some more this afternoon. Please say a prayer for me that I may be guided along this journey and do God’s Will and not my own.