One of the foremost values of the Baha'i Faith is being of service to our communities. Right now, I am able to do this by heping to teach a spiritual development class for young children as part of an after-school program once a week. We have been using the Ruhi materials, but I noticed that a lot of what we've been trying to teach the children has been bouncing right back off of their exterior shells instead of being deeply absorbed and understood in their hearts and being. For several weeks, I have spent a lot of time wondering why. Gradually I came to see that these sweet children did not have a sense of themselves as spiritual beings. When we talked about prayers being food for their souls, they were sitting there wondering what on earth a soul was. I also saw that these children have been through a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot: two of them have lost parents in the last year, one of them has suffered sexual abuse. If there is one thing we could show them, I thought it should be how precious, noble and beautiful the soul of a human being is. How this is their true and eternal reality.
This class is also very challenging as it ranges in age from four to almost eight, and there are a lot of behavioural and (how should I put this?) energy issues. We have been doing the Ruhi Children's Classes for Grade One, but this week we are stepping back a bit and doing a pre-Ruhi background and foundation laying class or two. At least, that is what I'm calling it. The Ruhi classes assume, I think, that the children already have a sense of themselves as spiritual beings, and I have found that for our class, we really need to stop and spell this out. I don't know if anyone else has had similar experiences, but I thought I would share this on the off chance that anyone else finds it helpful. I would also love to hear what others have learned or can add.
Today's class was on the five kingdoms of God. These kingdoms are divided into mineral, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual.
"I knew my love for thee; therefore I created thee and engraved on thee Mine image." (Baha'u'llah)
We discussed how God made us because He loves us. That we are made out of love. The children were so excited by this! They kept calling out one another's names, and then their siblings and teachers saying, "God made so and so because He knew that the world would be so much better with them in it and He loves them!" Very quickly they were saying, "God made all of us, and He loves all of us!"
Then we talked about what it means when something is engraved. I showed them how the images engraved on the silver tube were part of it. They couldn't erase them, even if they wanted to! So we have an image of God engraved inside of us, and one way to think about this image is as that part of us that is spiritual, our soul. I think this is a bit harder to understand, and I didn;t expect all of them to fully grasp it, but I think they did relate to the fact that there is something special and beautiful inside each of them that can't be taken away.
I then pointed out that God has made a lot of things, but human beings are really different and special. This led into the discussion of the five kingdoms.
First, I handed each child a felt square and said "This is for the mineral kingdom." I let each child choose a stone and a "jewel" from the treasure chest. We briefly discussed what the attributes of the mineral kingdom are as they arranged things on their squares (they simply are, they provide nourishment and building blocks for everything else like in minerals and the soil).
I gave each child another square and said "This is for the vegetable kingdom." I placed some wooden trees and mushrooms inside a bag and let each child pull some out in turn. We discussed that plants are alive, and that they can grow and have fruit, etc.
Their next square was for animals. Again, I placed some animal figures inside the bag and let them choose two each. We talked about how animals can run and move, and how they have senses.
For the human kingdom, I let each child draw out a peg figure, and we talked about how human beings can think, can feel, can know and love God. We can learn about Him and manifest all of His qualities and attributes (through justice, service to others, study, prayer, etc). We talked about how funny it would be to see a bear saying his prayers, etc. What makes us so different and special is our souls.
Finally, we talked about the spiritual kingdom. This kingdom is no longer bound by physical reality, and is the kingdom where the manifestations of God, such as Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Baha'u'llah belong. I set up a pretty silk cloth in the middle of the tabe and we arranged a rainbow on it as a reminder that God always sends us these teachers and gives us hope and light as a sign of HIs love for us.
The material kingdoms, the minerals and vegetables and animals, can all die and fade away. Our bodies, which are part of these kingdoms, die too. But our souls, which are spiritual in nature, do not die, but remain pure and bright in the spiritual reality.
Then we packed it all away, and I sang the children this song about the five kingdoms:
I'll sing you a rock, can it grow, can it walk
Can it do anything but be?
No it can't grow or walk `cause it's
Only a rock in the sand by the side of the sea.
It's in the Mineral Kingdom, the Mineral
Kingdom, the Mineral Kingdom of God. (2x)
I'll sing you a tree can it walk, can it see,
Can it grow and bear fruit and be green?
Yes, it surely can grow,
No it can't move or know
Though it be the best tree you've ever seen
It's in the Vegetable Kingdom, the Vegetable
Kingdom, the Vegetable Kingdom of God. (2x)
I'll sing you a frog, and a cat, and a dog,
And I'll sing you an elephant, too.
They can grow, the can be, they can walk
They can see,
But they are not quite as special as you.
They're in the Animal Kingdom, the Animal
Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom of God. (2x)
I'll sing you a boy with his heart full of joy
And I'll sing you a happy girl too,
They can run, they can grow, they can think
They can know
They can learn about God just like you.
They're in the Human Kingdom of God, the Human
Kingdom, the Human Kingdom of God. (2x)
I'll sing you song that will help you along,
So you'll always remember God's love
He wants us to know Him and love Him and so
He sends teachers of truth from above.
They're in the Spiritual Kingdom, the Spiritual
Kingdom, the Spiritual Kingdom of God. (2x)
They acted out each verse as I sang it, and shouted the kingdom name during the chorus. There was lots of leaping about waving play silks and dancing and shouting, which is only to be expected. In fact, they enjoyed it so much, I let them carry on with their play-acting for the rest of class.
Next class, I hope to have each child draw a self portait that shows them as a spiritual being who is able to express all the attributes of the kingdoms below it, as well as receive the bounties of the spiritual kingdom.
I've done a more extended and intensive version of this with my own children, and I hope that this has helped our class to deepen their self-awareness and add a bit of a new perspective. Unfortunately, we won't have class next week due to Thanksgiving, but I am hoping that when we meet again we can continue to explore who we truly are.