Thinking about the story time on Sunday made me think again about the importance of story for children’s spiritual development. Many fiction stories, fairy tales and myths provide abundant material for developing children’s spiritual awareness.

As a Church we also have Scripture which, of course, is one of the most important sources we have for encountering God. One form of of Ignatian prayer encourages imaginative engagement with Scripture. St Ignatius said he was most interested in what happened when a soul encountered Scripture. This form of prayer is very useful for children, who often make sense of their world through play and imagination.

This is a form of prayer which, in our household, hasn’t been used for a while. On Sunday I mused that maybe now was a time to return to it as a family. There are useful resources to start with. The book I used to help me when we first did this was Jane Reehorst’s “Guided Meditiatons for Children.”

The invitation to children (and their parents!) here is to enter into the story in an active way. A good way to do this is to prayed imaginatively with a story yourself. There is a good description of this on a post on “A Jesuit’s journey” blog. From this and my own experience here are some ideas to get going.

• If you have prayed with the story before hand what did you notice that might be helpful to mention?
• Allow time for children to settle and quieten down first, maybe with prayers or singing or a time of settling and silence.
• If you are doing this with more than one child you might need to remind them that others might go more slowly than they do. That is fine. If you have to ‘wait’ take time to look at the scene you are in again. Maybe you will notice something new that is important.
• Allow time for children to do the things you ask of them. For example if you have asked them to look at the place the story takes place, to see the sky above them or to notice people allow them the space to do this. Rushing on might cut across some of the child’s own meditation. Sometimes it is useful just to ask, quietly if they are ready to go on.
• Quietly and slowly describe any action in the story. Take time to notice where they are. Are they in the middle of the action? A main character? An observer? What do they notice from where they are? Sometimes this aspect can say a lot.
• Again allow time, if you have asked them to talk to someone in the story or consider how they feel give them time to finish.
• Ask them to share only what they want to. Sometimes what people experience in this type of prayer is personal or needs time to be prayed over a bit more. Invite them to think about the experience first. What did they notice? What struck them most strongly? Did they learn something new? Were they reminded of something important? Then ask ‘Do you want to share anything?’ Any comments made need to be listened to silently, without comments from other people. Remember this is a gift from God not something to be investigated, poked and taken to bits. The respect for the process an individual goes through needs to be encouraged and respected for what it is. Don’t pry and teach children to give space to each other.

Finally, sometimes our children are our greatest teachers. Remember when praying we step on to Holy Ground and God can reach us through the insights he gives to our children. Pay attention to what is going on spiritually for you. What is God offering to you through this chance to pray with your children?

Thinking this through has reminded me of the power of this kind of prayer and I hope that re-introducing it into our family prayer time on occasions will deepen our walk with God as a family. I wonder how it will go.