by Jeannie Babb
Where do you go when you need to pause, ground yourself, and reconnect with the Holy Spirit?
Sometimes I like to slip into an empty church and walk up the aisle, watching where the sun slants through the windows and lightly touching the wood of each pew until I find a place to kneel. I notice how the space feels sacred even when empty of the souls who have invested it with such meaning. A church is a people, not merely a building; yet I find holiness in this very space set aside for worship, as if the wood and stones are saturated with so many prayers from thousands and thousands of services.
Another place I find that sense of reverence is in the Godly Play space.
Like the church, the Godly Play room feels different on a weekday morning with no children queueing up in the hallway—different but no less holy. A band of light reaches through the window, highlighting a sacred story on the shelf or glinting off a gold parable box, depending on the season and the hour. This wide sunbeam honeys the floorboards. It warms the deep blue rug where come Sunday, a group of children I love will settle in an almost-perfect circle of folded legs and tucked elbows. I can almost see them—the way they’ll forget themselves entirely and lean in to the story. Between the storyteller’s syllables, the silence will be as perfect and expectant as it is right now, as I walk into the empty room and find a place to kneel or lie down or simply lift my hands and pause to remember that I am God’s.
I wonder what this place could really be? I wonder what makes it feel so holy, even if I’m standing outside looking in, with no one in the room at all? Like the nave of the church, it is a place where I have experienced the presence of God and the love of my community. But there is something else here, too. The Godly Play room, like the church, is a liturgical space.
Liturgical spaces are designed to help us come close to God and prepare us for God to come close to us. While the Godly Play room is designed for children (the shelves are low, the surfaces are smooth, safe, and non-toxic), it is beautiful and avoids either rigidity or silliness. Every item in the room contributes – or it may detract, if disorderly or inappropriate. The appearance of the room, as well as our actions and words within the room, signal our intentions and set the expectations of those who enter.
In the Godly Play room, our management of time, space, and relationships seeks to create an environment that is both “open” and “boundaried” (The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 1, page 53). Consider how the doorkeeper helps children cross the threshold from the busy communal space of the hallway into the more bounded space of the Godly Play room. The storyteller then invites the children into the circle – and that circle is circled by the stories themselves. The safety of the circle gives children the confidence to allow a story to break open their own circle of meaning. It offers them the freedom to wonder.
I hope you can join us for our second Member webinar, “The Godly Play Environment: Talking about the Godly Play Space with US Trainer Cynthia Hill” on Monday, February 27, 2017, at 2pm. (If you’re not a Member yet, you can join in time for this! There’s a February new member’s gift, too — two sets of our new “Children’s Guide to the Holy Eucharist for the Pew” cards.)
Below are some additional resources on the Godly Play environment:
- The Complete Guide to Godly Play Volumes 1-8 by Jerome Berryman (Church Publishing, 2006)
- Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman (Church Publishing, 1995)
- Tips from the Foundation for setting up a Godly Play space Starting a Godly Play Program
- Photographs of beautiful Godly Play spaces at All Saints’ Episcopal in Fort Worth, TX
- Because God Imaged Us – creating a space for Godly Play at Christ Church in Stratford, CT