Reflections on Religious Education: Peggy Gagne

Remarks from Peggy Gagne

Sunday, August 4, 2013

When Carol asked me to speak on the 1st source, and specifically on nurturing the experience of wonder through the RE program here at UUS:E, I was a little hesitant since I’m not really a public speaker and although working with the children is very special to me, I wasn’t sure I would be able to put it into words.    However, at almost the same time, I had what we call in my circle as a “Magickal Moment”.   A special song came on the radio.   I took it as a kick from the Goddess since she has spoken to me in this manner many times before, so here I am.  The song was –

– The Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston –

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.

Although I also really believe in the rest of that song, this verse has always caused an instant sense of pride, wonder and renewal of spirit in me.  It always seems to come on the radio when I need it the most.  Until I sat down to write this, I never really questioned why.  I realize now it is, at least in part, because the children I work with, here and in past youth groups, are so pure, uncorrupted and loving, that you don’t have to worry about what they will think about you.  If you are honest, you know they will accept you just as you are.

It wasn’t until I started coming here that I realized I had raised my boys in the UUS:E tradition without even knowing it.  As they grew up and asked me the tough “Why?” questions, I would answer them that some people believe this, and others believe that, with as many different faith systems as I understood.  I would end up explaining what my belief was, but always told them that they would have to decide for themselves what they believed when they were ready. I just wish so much that I had had our Religious Education program then to help me explain.  In the RE program the children are taught to respect all people and the world around them and to treat them with love equally, no matter what their belief system, or lack thereof, color, sex, or sexual orientation might be.  That all are truly equal and should be treated that way.  That things and choices are not always easy, but given enough thought, a loving way can be found to handle them.

The program I work with, the elementary school ages, normally begins with the children taking turns striking a singing bowl and all listen for the last tone, ”when it will be so quiet you can hear:”  a snowflake falling or a plant sprouting through the ground or something else nature related.  This not only brings the meeting to a start, but instills a sense of listening for the changes in nature.  The children choose which activity the wish to participate in which reinforces free choice and decision making.  During the activities, the volunteers who work with the them are encouraged to engage them in “thinking” type questions – getting them to discuss whatever the story of the week is and what questions & choices might be involved, but never telling them what to believe.  This not only encourages thinking about ethical questions, but also teaches them that questioning is a good thing.  These discussions can get very interesting and the children’s questions and answers can really get the adults thinking.

I think that nurturing the wonder that naturally occurs in children is extremely important.  As they get older they will come into contact with many who no longer see the magickal things in the world and will try to convince them that if they can’t see, touch or prove it, then the special light in people and the world doesn’t really exist.  Anything we can do to counteract that is helping to guide the future in the right direction.  Because, as the song says, “the children are our future”.   They are the ones who will shape the country and world of the future – they will be the teachers, the healers, the law makers, the scientists and the leaders.  I, for one, want those people to be able to see what the really important things are, what the real wonders are – other people, animals and the world we depend on – and make their decisions accordingly.  I want those people to be able to think for themselves and to stand up for they know is right and to pass that sense of wonder on to future generations.

And I can see the results of the Religious Education here.  When I have observed the teens who have gone through the program, whether they are working as a volunteer with the younger ones, or at the Talent Show, I see a definite difference from many others teens.  They have a real sense of self confidence and ability of expression that is rare with ones their age.  They still see the special wonders in the world and have learned to incorporate them as they have grown.  It shows in many ways, from their poems and songs to the way they treat the people they come in contact with.

As an adult not raised in this supportive community, it is very easy to become jaded and follow the thinking of the crowd.  It takes a little work, but adults can recapture that renewal of spirit and childlike openness.  First, you have to look for those little mysterious magical moments, the little coincidences in life that don’t really just happen without a reason.  As you look for them, you will find more of them happening in your life.  I know, because I’ve done it – and it’s really awesome how it happens.  The more you look – the more you find.  As you do, you will find your mind and heart opening and expanding and will begin to have a “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder”.  You start to feel and understand things coming from something you can’t even quite explain, but it is quite wonderful!

Adults have a need to believe in possibilities – even ones they have been told aren’t possible.  This is why Harry Potter, Disney World and The Wizard of Oz may be even more popular with adults than with the children!  It gives them permission to see the world through a child’s eyes again.  We all need to feel lighter, freer and more open to see the possibilities for change and acceptance in others and ourselves.  Let’s go back for a moment and find that inner child who sees the world with wonder.

Close your eyes for a moment.  Go back in your own mind, back to when you were a teenager struggling with the changes going on in and around you.  Now, go back before this point, before the world told you not to question things; that this just is the way it is.  To when you questioned everything and anything was possible.  To when you would sit and watch ants working together and wonder how they knew what to do.  To when you would lie on your back and see pictures in the clouds and then wonder where the clouds go to.  To when you would see a shooting star at night and wonder where it came from and where it went to.  To when you would see the bright, beautiful rainbow after the summer storm and really, really want to follow it to the end, just because you wondered what you would find.  Now, you can open your eyes if you wish, but remember, you can find your way back to this.

If you would like to recapture this feeling of wonder and help the future to continue to see it also, I would encourage you to volunteer with the Religious Education program here at UUS:E.  I can promise you a real feeling of renewal of spirit.  You can’t help but feel it when you see the world through the children’s eyes.