Something to chew over...

What I learned from cows...

Growing up on a dairy farm, I loved nothing better than lying in bed at night and listening to the herd of cows in the paddock next door. There was something strangely comforting about hearing them chomping away on their grass. I find cows rather peaceful creatures.

Strange I know.

Memory verses are important. I still remember verses I learned as a child. Teaching children memory verses is an investment in their future, planting the seed of God's love and concern that can spring into life during the difficult times they may face in adulthood.

But memorisation alone is not enough. We know that Jewish children were required to memorise large chunks of scripture. But the Bible also places emphasis, not simply on rote learning, but on wrestling with the text. Meditation. Meditation can be a rather difficult word for Christians to feel comfortable with, given its links to other religious practices. But meditation is thoroughly biblical. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were to repeatedly recall and wrestle with scripture. In Joshua we read, 


'Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 
meditate on it day and night...'  Josh 1:6-9

Which leads me to cows. Cows have this delightfully disgusting habit called chewing their cud. That means they chew the same grass over and over and over, extracting from it the nutrients they need and breaking it down so they can digest it with their four stomachs. In fact, they chew the same grass around 30 000 times a day!

This is a helpful (if rather gross) picture of what meditation involves. We take a verse or a phrase or a paragraph and process it over and over. We look at it from different angles, reading it slowly and thoughtfully, praying with it, playing with it. Over and over and over to gather all the nutrients we need from it.

What does this mean for memory verses? Well, meditating on a verse requires a different approach. Gone is the emphasis on learning the verse, often in weird and wonderful ways. Instead we explore the verse by reflecting on it over and over. We draw out the nutrients of the verse, so to speak. And this is so important for our children. It brings the words of that verse from our heads to our heart, and it gives our children the opportunity to hear what God is saying to them. 

I took this approach during a children's programme I ran this summer. I decided to emphasise reflecting on the verse, rather than memorising it, and it was very meaningful for me and the children. Let me give you one example of what I did. 

Our memory verse for the week was Luke 1:78-79: 

This verse talks of light and darkness, and God's love shining on us, so this was an appropriate verse to use candles for. I sat the children around in a circle. In the middle of the circle I placed the memory verse, written out in large letters on a large piece of paper. 

This is something of what I said: "Let's listen together to what God has to say to us. I am going to read the verse we have on our paper in the middle here. I will read it slowly. I want you to listen carefully to the words."  

Read the verse through slowly, then give out a battery powered candle to each child.

"In your hand you have a candle. You can turn your candle on. Hold it in your hand and look at the light it gives (pause). I am going to read our verse again. As I read it slowly, I want you to listen. Sometimes when we listen, a word jumps out. It might be a word you like (pause). It might be a word you think is important (pause). Maybe you think it is word that God wants you to notice (pause). Is God saying something to you? When I have finished reading the verse we are going to sit silently. When you are ready you can get up and place your candle on the word you have chosen. You don't need to hurry. Take your time to listen carefully."

Read through the verse slowly again and give them time to place their candle on their word. Have your leaders placed near children who might have difficulty reading the words. Ask them quietly which word they have chosen and help them to find it. You may like to ask the children to tell you why they chose their word. But, this isn't necessary. We don't always have to talk about these things, and we can allow this to be between the child and God. 
 


M
y group of children (aged 4 years - 12 years old) engaged well with the task and were very thoughtful about their choice of word.You could use any object for this exercise; a rock, a plastic jewel, a flower or leaf. Choose an object that relates to your verse. We chose other ways of reflecting on the verse during the week; creating an image out of stones and driftwood, putting actions and images with it. One verse, chewed over and over. I didn't ask them to memorise it, but as a result of our daily reflection, they learned it anyway. 

 

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