Monday, March 9, 2009

Communicating with God

A few hours from now it will be erev Purim. It's my day to stay late and I find myself juxtaposing two experiences I had today: this morning's Purim Assembly at our lower school, and my afternoon 5th grade Judaics classes.
This morning the entire lower school gathered in the gym for a Purim Assembly (davka NOT a Megillah reading). One of the great blessings of The Davis Academy is that we often have the opportunity to welcome (i.e. utilize) rabbis from the community. Several of my rabbinic colleagues had agreed to dress up and participate in a Purim skit. A good time was had by all and there are pictures!
Purim is a holiday of contradictions. I find it to be intermittently profound and mundane, deadly serious and uncontrollably silly. The Purim story invites us inter alia to consider if/how/where/why God is present even as God's name does not appear in the Megillah. I don't want to attempt to answer that question here...
This afternoon I introduced what promises to be a rich and intense unit of study with my 5th grade students. Initially I thought the unit would center on prayer fluency and the basic concepts of Jewish prayer. As I contemplated a set induction I knew that I wanted to give the students an assignment that was vague, open to interpretation, and also personal. The assignment I came up with was: "Communicate with God." I tried to offer as little instruction as possible. Being a beautiful day I thought it would be good to go outside.
After giving the students time to think, write, explore, or do what they would with the assignment we gathered as a class to discuss. Let me say only that it took very little prompting for students to share and listen to one another with the utmost respect. For some the assignment was a breeze, for others it was paralyzingly difficult. A number of comments were made. Here's a selection:

"This was easy because communicating with God isn't something I need to be taught. I already have everything I need to know inside of me."

"If God created all of us, then when we communicate with one another, we are, in a sense, communicating with God."

"I am always communicating with God, God is everywhere. In all that I do I communicate with God."

"I drew a picture of Moses kneeling upon a rock and praying, God is depicted as a hand reaching down from a cloud."

"I communicate with God by finding a quiet place to sit and relax. I like to look around and see what comes into my mind."

"I told God about my day, about my plans for Purim and Spring Break. It doesn't have to be a big special thing to talk to God."

As I reflect on these, and the many other responses that were shared during these conversations, I realize now that the juxtaposition of this "assignment" and the rapidly approaching holiday of Purim needn't be random at all, but actually quite purposeful. Purim is a holiday that invites us to speculate about God's role in human affairs or imagine a world without God. By opening a dialogue about God with my students I found myself presented with a variety of options for negotiating these often abstract and/or dogmatically rigid questions.

Chag Purim Sameach.

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