Children Need Nature. Nature Needs Children. (Rev. Carmen Retzlaff)
At New Life Lutheran in Dripping Springs, Texas, we worship in and with nature. God is so tangibly present when we are outdoors, and God’s cathedral is more beautiful than anything we humans can construct.
Children at New Life spend their Bible study time under a big live oak tree, in a circle, learning using a method based on the work and teachings of Maria Montessori. This innovative approach to children’s religious education is called Godly Play. It is a profoundly deep approach to the profoundly deep spirituality of children.
Doing this type of learning outdoors is particularly powerful. The stories are told using manipulatives, and at New Life’s outdoor classroom, on a flat piece of limestone. Children sit in a circle on smaller rocks. They hear birdsong along with the story, and the story of God’s people is set where so many of the Bible stories occur—out in nature, in fields, on hills, in deserts much like ours in Texas. After the story they choose a response: they can work with one of the stories, do artwork, or, at New Life, trim plants in our classroom areas, climb the nearby small persimmon tree, rake oak leaves, pick flowers, watch butterflies, or sort through baskets of rocks and shells.
Our prayer is that deep within them, they are integrating these experiences with these sacred stories, connecting their experience of God in nature with the language of our shared faith. They will need these tools and this deep understanding to make sense of their world and to try to begin to answer the existential questions of every generation for their unique time and place in creation.