Our journey into silence has begun. Last week as a school, we began to cultivate silence in our Morning Prayer service.
When I read this message from the principal of a local church school, I was admittedly intrigued. That someone would be seeking to foster silence in fidgety young charges seemed a noble undertaking, if not a challenge.
After all, don’t we as a culture deal with the high energy levels of the young by trying to channel them into activity, preferably the sound-inducing kind? Isn’t that why we have roving mascots, big screens, and music and cheers blasting from speakers at family-friendly sporting events? In homes, schools, restaurants, and even libraries, aren’t we supposed to keep kids busy and engaged with sound, animated images, or anything that will occupy them?
In the classrooms of St. Boniface School in the small rural community of Oak Harbor, Ohio, there is plenty going on to absorb young minds, but principal Millie Greggila also knows that her students require periods of peace. So, while they are learning to tally sums, read and spell words, and master the fundamentals of music or science, they are acquiring the ability to calm themselves and remain quiet.
As part of their religious education, the students at St. Boniface meet in the parish church adjoining their school for prayer each morning. But during the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, both of which are times of reflection, Greggila incorporates brief periods of silence. Advent, she says, is an especially good time for this because, with Christmas in the air, the children’s thoughts are everywhere. “It’s Christmas and they’re excited.” Yet, Advent is seen as a time of waiting and during it, Greggila tries to create an atmosphere in which the students can learn to be quiet and find some peace.
A need for peace might strike us as unnecessary in little ones whose angelic faces seem to betray no anxiety, but Greggila knows they have concerns that are as important to them as those shouldered by their parents and teachers. When she asks them to pray out loud for specific needs, for example, she hears their worries about what matters most to them – often their angst about a dog or cat, friends who are absent from school, tests, or parents and grandparents. “I can always tell which ones listen to the news, because they pray for whatever calamity has befallen the world, especially those things that frighten them the most.”
Greggila’s hope is that she can show her students how to still themselves and place their worries in the hands of God.
“We talk about how we have the power to slow ourselves down,” she said, adding that it’s easy to forget children don’t necessarily come by this naturally and need to be taught. She tells the students, for instance, that sometimes it is not necessary to talk so that they know to enter and leave the church in silence, and once inside, to remain quiet.
When it is time to pray, Greggila begins by leading the students in several spoken prayers, followed by a reading from the Bible. She then asks them to close their eyes, slow down, and breathe, reflecting in silence on what they’ve heard and thinking about those who might be helped by their prayers. Or, she might suggest that they think about ways they should love or a way in which they have not shown love. She also urges them to mentally place anything that is bothering them on the altar to be given to God. And then she allows the silence to seep in, the quiet to take over.
Because St. Boniface is a grammar school and the children are young, Greggila keeps the periods of silence short, but she sees them as a beginning. “Especially now, kids just don’t get ‘quiet time’ – unless they’re in trouble. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could find some peace on their own? It’s really a matter of showing them how.”