Here at the office we have a Quaker book club. About 8 of us meet to discuss newer Quaker books. At our last meeting we came up with the idea of creating a list of core titles for Quaker young peoples' spiritual formation. We would include books that serve as foundational literature for children ages 3 and up which help them learn about Quaker life and consider spiritual questions. I'm hoping that several folks with expertise in religious education will help me develop such a list, but in the meantime I couldn't resist considering what titles I would choose. Here are my first picks. Stay tuned for a more complete list of titles compiled with the help of a few Friends.
My son Simon, who is two and a half, loves books of poetry and rhyme. He is constantly making up new songs like "Hippo got a Rock" and reciting bits and pieces of the rhymes he's heard. He frequently does recitations of Mother Goose and sometimes when I ask him a yes or no question, he'll respond with "Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full." I want to reinforce his love for poetry and at the same time introduce ideas about God and the spiritual realm. IN EVERY TINY GRAIN OF SAND: A CHILD'S BOOK OF PRAYERS AND PRAISE, edited by Reeve Lindbergh, is the perfect book. It is divided into 4 sections and beautifully illustrated by 4 artists. The range of verse is compatible with Quaker faith and includes many Bible passages. Also included are poems and phrases from Julian of Norwich to Lao-Tzu, from the Muslim tradition to the Native American tradition. Several poems feature the theme of light or 'light within' such as this verse from Mohammed "O God, give me, I pray Thee, light on my right hand and light on my left hand and light above me and light beneath me, O Lord, increase light within me and give me light and illuminate me." Though it will be hard for Simon to grasp some of the poems until he's older, I know we'll spend hours reading this together and that it will spark lively conversation and deep reflection, too.
Working with FGC's Religious Education Committee Mary Snyder has written about and advocated an approach to spiritual education that melds well with Quaker theology. She has studied and adapted for Quaker use Jerome Berryman's 'Godly Play.' The center of Mary's approach is a story and response to a story that draws on the experiences of the participants. Mary has written quite a bit on Quaker religious education (Jesus, Who was He?, Opening Doors to Quaker Religious Education), but she tells the most Quaker stories in her curriculum QUAKERS I AND II. Here she presents what she considers some of the foundational stories of Quaker faith and life. She tells stories of early Friends (George Fox, Mary Fisher, John Woolman are a few) which exemplify the testimonies. She also includes 2 Bible stories - the Christmas story and the story of the Shepherd and the Sheep - because Quakerism is a biblically based religion. This book is a practical and inexpensive resource for parents and First Day School teachers to learn the stories with thoughtful tips for presentation. I've used these stories in my inter-generational storytelling and they are rich and well written. Quakers I and II is highly recommended for an inter-generational religious education program for small meetings.
An introduction to the stories in the Bible seem very important for any young Quaker's religious education. We carry two children's Bibles that I think are are excellent adaptations - THE PILGRIM BOOK OF BIBLE STORIES and THE CHILDREN'S ILLUSTRATED BIBLE are fine Bibles for young readers ages 9-12. I love the insights that come from re-telling Bible stories and one of the most beautiful re-tellings of the Christmas story is "Everyman Heart Lay Down" by Lorenz Graham. Graham was the son of an African-Methodist Episcopal preacher and was a missionary in Monrovia, Liberia. He wrote down the re-tellings of Bible stories he heard there transformed into the idiom of West Africa. "Every Man Heart Lay Down" is the story of Jesus' birth told from the perspective of God's child in heaven - "God's one small boy," -- who entreats God not to destroy humanity and to send him down as a teacher. The sweetness of the child is depicted so genuinely in this re-telling - "And the pican go down softly softly and hold God's foot. So God look on Him small boy and Him heart be soft again." When I heard this version for the first time it made me weep for the simple generous love of God and of the small baby. "Every Man Heart Lay Down" is included in a collection of Lorenz Graham's retellings of Bible stories illuatrated by Ashley Bryan -- HOW GOD FIX JONAH -- and as picture book, EVERY MAN HEART LAY DOWN, illustrated by Colleen Browning. QuakerBooks carries both versions.
Teaching about the wonders and importance of listening is a challenge and I believe essential when trying to convey the power of meeting for worship or the apprehension of the inner guide. One of the best books to begin the conversation about this with children ages 4-10 is Byrd Baylor's THE OTHER WAY TO LISTEN , illustrated by Peter Parnall. The book features a young person who tells about learning to listen to nature from an older man who can hear "wildflower seeds burst open, beginning to grow underground." The narrator tells of practicing this kind of listening and of the gradual awakening she experiences in moments of hearing the earth singing "the oldest sound in the world." In this book Byrd Baylor offers up a spare and accessible portrait of deep listening and an excellent tool for talking about what kind of inner experiences one can have in the silence of worship.
LIVES THAT SPEAK: STORIES OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY QUAKERS was developed for young Friends (ages 10-16) and for intergenerational use in a meeting. Fifteen Quakers and one Quaker couple are profiled with mini-biographies of Quakers who have won Nobel peace prizes. Each story tries to answer how this person's Quaker faith informed their witness as well as how this life speaks to contemporary Friends. The introduction suggests reinforcing the concept of a life speaking through hearing the life stories of members of your meeting. A possible intergenerational application of the book would be a book group in which each week a different person from the book is studied. After the discussion of the person featured in Lives that Speak one person in the meeting - with a similar witness - would be invited to talk about his or her life. There are queries at the end of each chapter and suggested related activities. The Friends included in the book worked as peacemakers, scientists and journalists; Steve Angell, Bayard Rustin, Signe Wilkinson and Elise Boulding are among those whose lives and witness is described. Lives that Speak is an inspiring and thoughtful examination of how one person can live out his or her faith and change the world in the process.
May your December and January be filled with light and warmth.
Lucy Duncan, QuakerBooks of FGC