Inner Life

Children are natural meditators, says UK visitor

By Roland Ashby

August 2 2017Children love meditation and find it easy and natural says Charles Posnett, a retired computer executive who has been part of a team that has introduced Christian meditation into 200 schools in the UK. He visited Melbourne in May, including St Mary’s RC Primary School in Thornbury, where the children have been meditating in the Christian tradition since 2008 as part of the school curriculum.

During the meditation periods the children are asked to silently repeat and give their total attention to a prayer word or mantra, usually the New Testament word Maranatha, an Aramaic word meaning ‘Come, Lord’.

“It’s a sounding of the word in the heart,” explains Charles, “and for that reason is sometimes called a ‘prayer of the heart’. It’s prayer which invites God into the silence, and focuses the mind, which can otherwise be driven by distraction and ego.

“The Benedictine monk John Main discovered that silently repeating a prayer word or mantra was part of the Christian tradition when he read St John Cassian’s Conferences written in the fifth century, and it was under John Main’s inspiration that the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) was formed in 1991.”

Accompanied by Dorothy Hughes, Children and Family Ministry Co-ordinator for the Diocese of Melbourne, and Mirella Pace, the WCCM’s Australian co-ordinator for meditation with children and young people, Charles met and meditated with several classes at St Mary’s, before joining a school assembly in which the whole school meditated together. Christian meditation has now been introduced into over 150 primary and secondary

schools in Victoria, including one Anglican School – Overnewton Anglican Community College (see article below).

A Benedictine Oblate who has been meditating for 25 years, Charles studied natural sciences at Cambridge University and began his career selling computers to blue-chip companies. He says his experience of teaching children to meditate has confirmed the view that children are born to be contemplative. “The underlying belief of Sister Madeline Simon’s book Born Contemplative is that children are born close to God, so they find contemplation very natural; but all we do in our current civilisation is persuade them to move further away from that fundamental belief.”

He says it has been “a real joy” to introduce meditation to children, partly because it has been part of offering service as an Oblate, and also because “children take to it very easily, much to the surprise of the teachers, and when they are asked to sit silently and invite God into their hearts, they do so willingly”.

“They find that they enjoy the experience and they want to do more of it,” he explains, “because they find it brings them peace and happiness.”

Meditation also increases the children’s powers of attention and concentration, he says, which leads to better academic results, but a key benefit is that it helps to increase the Christian ethos within the school.

“You can put up mission and vision statements all-round the school and come up with some rather highfaluting language that says what the school’s aims and expectations are, but I think the acid test is how the children treat each other and treat the teachers, and how the teachers treat the children, for that matter. The effect of meditation is not only on the children but also the staff because they too find they are more considerate, more relaxed, and more able to cope with difficult situations in the classroom, which there will always be.

“So hopefully the overall impact is that the school becomes a better place for the whole community and the children grow up in an atmosphere of Christian love.

“Meditation tends to create a sense of community – children meditating together will demonstrate that and become closer as a unit, and more tolerant of their fellow human beings.

“I remember a little child called George, who when asked about meditation said, ‘sometimes if I ask someone to do something before I meditate they won’t do it. But usually after meditation they will.’ I think that personified for me the degree to which God’s love percolates into their lives through meditation.”

He said he is very inspired by what he has seen in Melbourne, and also Townsville, which he visited in April, and where meditation has been introduced into all the Catholic schools. “It’s quite tangible the improvements that have been made, the general feeling within the schools, and the progress that is being made as a result of meditation being part of the curriculum. They are even planning to set up a contemplative school, which is a very exciting development.”

Silence and 'Prayer for the Heart' bearing fruit at Overnewton 

By Amanda Clifford                                                             

Overnewton Anglican Community College in Victoria provides a Christian Meditation program for all students from Prep to Year 12, called Prayer of the Heart.

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. – Mother Theresa

While attending a Christian Meditation Professional Development workshop run by Father Laurence Freeman, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, I was made aware that this was an ancient practice now spreading its wings throughout the world, thanks to the work of Father John Main. Father Laurence presented a pilot program that was occurring in some Catholic Primary Schools in Queensland. Needless to say I was excited, and the seed was planted. I myself have been practising meditation everyday since I was a child and know first-hand the benefits of quietening the mind and inviting a silent dialogue with the divine.

In 2006 we created a subject for Year 10 students called Spirituality and Meditation, where students studied meditation in the five main religions. We received positive feedback from both students and their parents about improved behaviour and ability to focus.

In 2013, we implemented Prayer of the Heart – a Christian Meditation program throughout the school. Every student participates in five to fifteen minutes of meditation each week, using a Christian Mantra.

Many teachers and students see benefits after the first few sessions, and as a result this soon moves to two or three sessions per week. Students are spiritual beings and we have an obligation to see a student as a complete entity – body, mind and soul.

As teachers at an Anglican school, we are also religious educators; through Bible studies, the study of World Religion, Ethics, Chapel, and prayer, we awaken and support the spiritual growth of a child and allow them to find their place in the world and in their own being.

It is difficult to measure the outcome of faith development within our students, but we can approach our teaching, and provide opportunities to the students to maximise learning outcomes.

The main purpose of silent payer or the contemplative aspect of our Religious Studies program is not only to impart knowledge about God, but to provide first-hand experience of God’s love through the experiential process of ‘doing’ meditation and prayer.                                                    

You cannot tell by observation when the Kingdom of God comes. There will be no saying ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ for in fact, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

 

Some comments from Students after experiencing Prayer of the Heart

“Meditating makes me feel warm inside”

“When we pray inside our heads, I can hear God”

“Since meditating every day I have found that I can focus more on my studies”

“Now that I am used to it, I can close my eyes for a long time”

“I taught my mum to do Prayer of the Heart, and now we all do it at home too”

“I feel happy when I meditate”

“I am amazed that we can all be quiet for 10 minutes, but it is a good thing and I feel refreshed after”

Roland Ashby is the editor of The Melbourne Anglican

Amanda Clifford is Head of Religious Studies, Overnewton Anglican Community College.