The New Testament and Spiritual Work with Children
“A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell along the road and was trampled down, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Some fell on rock and came up, but withered because there was no moisture. Some fell down among thorns, and thorns grew and choked the plants. But other seed fell on good soil, and when it came up, it yielded a hundredfold harvest” (Luke 8:5-8).
Jesus Christ told this parable to His disciples and explained it by revealing the profound meaning of the images of the seed, the sower, and the soil. “The seed is the word of God; the seed that fell along the road is about those people to whom the devil comes afterwards and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not come to believe and be saved; the seed that fell on the rock is about those who listen to the word and accept it with joy, but have no root, and believe for a while, but in the time of temptation fall away; the seed that fell among thorns is about those who listen to the word but then go away and get choked by worries, riches, and pleasures of this world, and bring no fruit; and the seed that fell on good soil is about those who, having heard the word, kept it in the kind and pure heart and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15).
What will be the future life of children with whom we have contacts? Will they be able to choose with benefit for themselves the truth in the flow of information and events around them?
If good soil was prepared, if in childhood one received rich versatile information about the world, if the foundation of ethics was laid, then one’s spiritual Path will be less winding. And if the adults are sincerely interested in the happy future life of the children — not in the sense of financial success but in the sense of the surest progress on the spiritual Path predetermined by God — then they have to build relationships with their children according to the Divine rules which were given to humankind through Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Babaji, Sathya Sai Baba, and other Divine Messengers [8,10-12].
Work with children in the groups of psychic self-regulation described in the articles of E.B.Ragimova, T.Matyatkova, and M.K.Khaschanskaya can be enriched with the themes from the New Testament. This approach also conforms to the principles set forth in the article of Dr.Antonov The Basic Principles of Teaching Psychic Self-Regulation to Children and Adolescents.
In the very life of Jesus Christ, in His deeds, speeches, and parables — there are answers to many questions which may arise in one’s life. Many aspects of man’s relationships with the material world, with other people, and with God are reflected in the Gospels. It is important that the instructor be able to determine what is most needed to the child at the present moment and — taking into account the child’s age and other circumstances — impart the appropriate information in the most suitable form.
Using the example of the life of Jesus Christ, one can realize the principle mentioned in the article of Dr.Antonov: “Dedicated ethical work… must lay the foundation of ethics in students”.
One more principle mentioned in the same article: “The emphasis in this work has to be put… on the expansion of students’ horizons, on informing the students in order to help them to choose their way of life when they grow up”.
With the use of the Gospels, the instructor can diversify the information given to children.
The information has to be presented in the form that corresponds to the children’s age and, if possible, taking into account the individual peculiarities of each child — for the sake of the most intensive and harmonious development of them on all three main directions: intellectual, ethical, and psychoenergetical [3,6-10,13-16,24-28,41].
In work with children of any age, it is necessary to present the information unobtrusively. If children do not comprehend what was presented to them, then one should try to understand the reason: maybe the information was given in a too complicated form, or the relationships between the children and the instructor do not allow communicating on that level of openness which is needed for imparting this information, etc.
A failure in work with children has to be interpreted as an indication that the instructor has to work more on self-development to bring into harmony its ethical, intellectual, and psychoenergetical aspects.
Let us examine important points noticed by us in work with groups of children of different ages.
Children of 4-6 years of age do not care about where this or that life principle comes from. They just experience the emotional background around them and behave accordingly. If it is love which accepts them as they are, then children “soak up” this love into themselves. This allows the instructor to unfold children’s capabilities most fully and speed up their development. If children do not receive love and, moreover, if negative emotions are directed at them, then they suffer, become reserved, or on the contrary, begin to behave glaringly.
Therefore in work with children of 4-6 years old, one must first of all create the atmosphere of love, the atmosphere of an equal and calm attitude towards all students in the group, independent of their good or bad features.
At this age, children easily accept the idea of their unity with the world, perceiving even inanimate objects as living beings, assigning to them characters and habits. Therefore, the basics of the ecological education are perceived by such children as something self-evident: “it is painful to a tree if one breaks its branches”, “a flower does not want to be picked” — all this is very understandable to small children; one needs just to stress this.
The children of 4-6 years of age also understand very well that Divine Love is potentially present in every one of us and that it can illumine both our lives and the life of everyone around.
The meaning of Divine Love can be described to children with the help of the image of a living sun, which resides in each of us. Small children can easily imagine that inside their chests there is a sun which gives to all its tender light. Children like very much to shine and to give this light. There can be very different variations of this exercise:
— to shine from the chest,
— to pour out this love and light from the eyes with the help of a smile,
— to shine with the hands and fingers,
— to shine with one’s whole being.
When narrating to children fairy tales and stories, one may use various fine metaphors and expressions found in the Gospels, for example, a comparison of good people with trees yielding good fruit.
Children of 7-10 years of age have acquired some life experience already. They have certain relationships with the world established by this age. If children grew in the atmosphere of love and attended such classes, they are open and well disposed to learning ethical principles that can be understood at the age of 7-10.
If, on the other hand, children grew in the atmosphere of negative emotions, by this age they may have built a “protection” against the world which cannot satisfy their natural need of being loved.
Manifestations of this “protection” can be various. They are — apathy, lack of interest in the surroundings, defiant behavior (hypercompensation of the inferiority complex), etc.
Such children often provoke negative emotions in adults. And this proves to the children that they are “bad”, causing them to increase the “protection” from the people around them, who do not want to see the child’s inner essence. In this way, constant increase of tension in relationships between children and adults occurs. In some families it is manifested more, in others — less.
In the classes of psychic self-regulation, it is important to break this “chain”: protection — reaction of adults — protection… In every child, we have to find something good, something special, and help to uncover this from under the protective “mask”.
Sometimes it is enough to let children express their opinion, to pay attention to their words — and all “constraints” fall off, and the “mask” is abandoned.
If children feel that they have the possibility to show their worth, that the very fact of their existence is interesting to other people, then they become interested in getting new information from adults. And in order to lay the foundation of ethics in children, we can tell them, along with information for broadening their outlook, parables and stories from the Gospels.
The life of an adolescent group goes according to certain laws. Among children conflicts often occur. If instead of smoothing such situations one tries to help children to examine their relationships with the use of stories and parables from the Gospels, then it can change their “scale of values”, make them more ethical, kind, and honest.
At the age of 11-14, adolescents have questions to which they have not found answers yet. They already have a set of ways of behaving; they know various nuances of human relationships; their attitude towards themselves has already been formed; and in them appears the desire to know the principles of this world. They make attempts to solve arising problems on the basis of knowledge they have. Work in classes may help them to sort the accumulated knowledge, to get new information, to distinguish the true from the false.
The use of themes from the New Testament can help them to sort out the incoming information, to learn to control oneself, to withstand the difficulties of life, which will inevitably occur.
In classes with adolescents, the communication should be built in the form of a dialogue. It is important to give to each child the opportunity to express his or her opinion. This can help every member of the group to gain self-confidence, to learn to respect other’s opinions. It is very important to teach children that everyone has a right to have their own opinion. And therefore we have to master such qualities as patience and tolerance.
The instructor has to analyze every class after it has been conducted — in order to understand the state and the needs of all members of the group. Then the next portion of information can be given in the most suitable form and have the meaning which is most important at the present moment.
The themes for discussions and meditations can be various. It may be, for example, the theme of love: “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37), “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
For instance, one may raise the following questions: “Why do we have to fulfill these commandments?”, “Who is my neighbor?”
It is also useful to narrate the parable of Jesus about a merciful Samaritan: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. By chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he gave two silver coins to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.” (Luke 10:25-37). So, a neighbor is not the one who, for example, has the same nationality as you, but is any kind person.
From this, one can conclude that ALL people are brothers and sisters because God loves ALL, and all have the Divine Light inside, — Atman, God’s Spirit, Which dwells in us.
At this point the instructor can suggest doing the meditation of seeking the source of this Divine Light in the chest, in the anahata. The chest, the “home” of this Light, is closed initially, blocked by the “heaps” of insults, by the “stones” of envy, flooded with heavy, sticky, bad mood. Let us try to shovel these “heaps” aside, to cleanse the passage to the “home”, to give way to the Divine Light of love. Let us feel how the windows of this “home” are opening, and fresh air is coming inside; the inner Light is kindling brighter; it is difficult for it to find room in the chest — and it pours out to everything around: to our friends, to the trees, to the flowers, to the birds, into the ambient space, bringing joy and love to everyone.
Let us recall someone who was unpleasant to us until this moment. Let us see that this person has the same Light in the chest, but it is blocked. Feel sorry for him or her and send a ray of our love to him or her. Let us love this person as he or she is, because God gives to everyone the possibility to become better, more pure.
Before this meditation, it is appropriate to recall the question of the Apostle Peter to Jesus and the answer of Jesus: “How many times should I forgive my brother who sins against me? Until seven times?” “I do not tell you ‘until seven times’, but until seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22).
The instructor can also introduce the Golden Rule into the life of the group: “Whatever you want others to do to you, you shall also do to them” (Matt 7:12).
This rule can help to solve conflict situations, to make decisions.
The Golden Rule can become the subject of one particular class.
One may use, as an illustration, the story about a king and his servant from the Gospel of Matthew. A king, moved to compassion, forgave the debt of his servant, but this servant did not forgive the debt of his fellow-servant and put him into prison, forgetting that he himself was in the same situation.
One may discuss this story and give different examples from real life. One may also note that sometimes it is very difficult to forgive and to understand: it requires efforts and work on reforming oneself, rather than anger, condemnation, and attempts to reform others.
Only through self-analysis, through efforts on changing ourselves does our development occur! New qualities of the soul can be gained through the work on oneself, which should not be put off, because in the future new tasks will appear that need to be solved as well.
In discussions on spiritual subjects, it is useful to give examples from the life of adolescents. In order to make adolescents interested in telling about their faults, the instructor has to explain that all our problems are lessons for us. Sometimes we cannot realize what is good and what is bad until we face it. And if we share now our faults without the fear of being condemned, then we will benefit from such communication. First, by telling about our bad deeds, we get rid of their “burden” through repentance. Second, the life experience accumulated by us may help our friends to make correct decisions in similar situations.
In order that adolescents do not feel the desire to condemn each other in such discussions and other circumstances, it is useful to first discuss with them the question: “Do we have a right to condemn others?”
All we on our life path fall, stumble, and do wrong deeds. As an illustration of this, one can recall a story from the New Testament. Once people brought a “sinful” woman to Jesus and asked Him to condemn her. But Jesus replied, “Let the one who is without sins among you throw the first stone at her” (John 8:7). The people dispersed, and soon around Jesus and the woman no one remained. No stone was thrown. So, before starting to condemn let us think first about whether we have a right for that, are we blameless? Let us imagine ourselves in the place of that person whom we want to hit by a word or even by a thought. Would we like the same be done to us? Usually it is difficult to think of this, because in such moments we are angry. From this point, the instructor may turn the discussion to the theme of the essence of anger and its manifestations.
Evil can never be exterminated with evil. Evil only gives birth to more evil. Only love can purify man from evil. As an example, one can recall the story about how Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, was turned to righteous life.
The tax collector Zacchaeus lived in a town called Jericho. He offended people by robbing them, taking from them more taxes than the law prescribed. When Jesus came to this town, He did not condemn Zacchaeus but even decided to stay in his house. Such unusual behavior of Jesus changed Zacchaeus instantly. Jesus’ love led Zacchaeus to repentance (Luke 19:1-10).
The instructor may suggest the following meditation: let us recall a situation when we condemned someone. Let us replay this situation mentally and imagine that God looks at our anger, at our spite and laughs at us being angry — from outside we look as clumsy as that person whom we are angry with. Let us try to understand this person, send him or her rays of our love from our spiritual hearts.
One may also discuss the nature of evil. Usually we do wrong deeds because we perceive outer things incorrectly — we believe that we perform these deeds for the sake of good. One may narrate the story about Saul who was, due to his religious beliefs, the worst enemy of Christians. But having recovered his sight, he understood and accepted the Teachings of Jesus Christ and with the same vigor began to preach Christianity (Acts 7:58, 8:3, 9:1-28).
One more theme: “It is easy to love people who love you”. The best example of love for all is the behavior of Jesus at the last hours of His life on the Earth. Jesus healed the servant of the high priest, whose ear was cut off by one of the apostles during the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus loved and pitied people who crucified His body, because they “do not know what they are doing”.
Another aspect of human relationships can be revealed to us in the parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector: “God, I thank you, that I am not like other people: robbers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get”, the Pharisee said. But the tax collector would not even lift up his eyes to the sky, but beat his breast, saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-14). Who of these two people was more honest about their spiritual qualities?
One may also discuss the following subject: “The one who exalts oneself will be humbled, and the one who humbles oneself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Talking about this, let us try to answer the questions: “What does ‘humbles oneself’ mean?”, “In what way would such a one be exalted?”
If the students are ready to comprehend profound spiritual truths, the instructor may also discuss the following: “What benefit is it to the one who gains the entire world but does harm to one’s own soul?”
Our bodies can be likened to automobiles in which we perform a travel called “life”. The way we have lived on the Earth predetermines the place for us after the death of the body. Let us recall the parable about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had all kinds of material boons in his earthly life and enjoyed them, but did not think about the spiritual. Lazarus, on the other hand, was poor but led a righteous life. When they left their physical bodies, the rich man found himself in hell, but Lazarus was taken to paradise. “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:19-31).
From this parable, one can naturally come to the discussion about what is hell and what is paradise, about the structure of multidimensional universe, and about the place of God-the-Creator in it.
There is another parable, which is also appropriate to this theme, — the one about a foolish rich man who spent all his time gathering and saving material wealth. Having had gathered material wealth, he anticipated a long life full of pleasures of using these riches, but God said to him, “You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15). “Do not lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matt 6:19). In this statement, Jesus meant that only the results of our spiritual work are really ours, that only these results remain with us forever. Material possessions, in contrast, are temporary. One may have good things, be dressed well, enjoy various material boons — all this is good and necessary for supporting the physical body in good shape, but this must not be the purpose of life, must not become our main goal.
Two nice themes for discussion are found in the story about Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Jesus asked for some water from a Samaritan woman, a woman of a different nationality. This woman was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, did not disdain to ask her, in contrast to other Jews. Jesus did not demonstrate by His behavior that she is “lower” than He. Having had drunk some water, He said: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but those who drink of the water that I will give to them will never thirst; the water that I will give to them will become in them a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).
First of all, here is a theme about the equality of people before God, about the inadmissibility of arrogance. One can supplement this theme with the story about how the Apostle Philip converted an Ethiopian grandee into Christianity (Acts 8:26-39).
The second theme, which follows from the story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman, is the Divine knowledge, which we can drink ourselves and which we can give to others to drink. And love for people, about which Jesus said, is the precondition for understanding the Divinity.
“Be careful that you do not do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward with your Heavenly Father. The hypocrites… have already received their reward” (Matt 6:1;5), “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; and you will be blessed, because they do not have the resources to repay you!” (Luke 14:12-14).
How should we understand this? Literally? Or as a grotesque emphasis of the meaning that should be attributed to relationships between people? A good deed that is done for the sake of being praised is not truly good, because it is caused by expectation of reward. This can be seen very well with small children: some of them refuse to fulfill a request for the promised reward. They feel that love does not need to be rewarded materially. However, we often teach children to do something for a material reward, thus forming a wrong scale of values in them.
Very often one performs deeds which cause regrets afterwards: betrayal, false evidence, violation of a promise. Then comes the pain of remorse, regret about what was done. Sometimes, in such cases you know that you are wrong, but something prevents you from doing right. For example, one says one thing, another insists on something else, and then confidence in our rightfulness is lost in the flow of others’ opinions.
We have to learn to be firm in our decisions — whether small or big. “Herd behavior” often dominates in us. In a company of people, we often do that which we would never do by ourselves. The most striking example of this factor of “herd behavior” was the persecution of Jesus Christ. “Crucify, crucify Him!” — the crowd yelled to Pilate, demanding the blood of Him Who brought to these people His Love, Who healed them…
What can help us to strengthen confidence in ourselves, in our abilities? Here one can use the story about Jesus walking on the sea. The Apostle Peter said then to Jesus: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the waters. He said, ‘Come!’ Peter went down from the boat, and walked on the waters to come to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and took hold of Him, and said to Him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matt 14:28-31).
One can also talk about the work on perfecting the soul — that this work is hard but worthy of efforts: “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. But narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life; few are those who find them.” (Matt 7:13-14).
“All gave out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44). This story about two small coins of a poor widow may serve as the starting point of conversation about how we regard the deeds of other people. Often near us there are people whose contribution to work or to something else is unnoticeable and not very significant, but it is done with their last bit of strength and with full dedication to work. We have to notice such impulses in people, appreciate them, and regard them as precious gifts.
And one more important theme: “There is nothing from outside of you, that going into you can defile you; but the things which proceed out of you are those that can defile you.” (Mark 7:15). None of even the most disgusting acts of other people can verily defile us; only our own bad deeds and emotions defile us.
In conclusion, I want to say the following. This article described the principles of using themes from the New Testament for discussions and meditations in work with children. Everyone who conducts classes for children may select from the New Testament material needed for particular cases and give it in the most suitable form for children.
But it is important to remember that some principles given in the Gospels are understandable only to people of sufficiently high level of spiritual development. And one should not give such complicated principles to children, because it may cause damage to their growth.
For example, “… If someone strikes you on your right cheek, then turn the other cheek also” (Matt 5:39). But “turning the other cheek” can be an act following from one’s strength or from one’s weakness; only the first one is correct.
Concerning warriors, they have to possess the qualities about which John the Baptist said: “Those who have two coats, let them give to the poor who have none. Those who have food, let them do likewise. Demand no more than that which is appointed for you. Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:11-14).
Or, for instance, the story about Martha and Mary: Mary sat near Jesus’ feet, listening carefully to each of His words, and did not help her sister with the preparations. When Martha asked Jesus to send Mary to help her, Jesus answered: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42). But in order to become like Mary, one has to first learn to run a household, to develop in oneself the qualities of a householder. One has to become like Mary not because of laziness and inability, but because one has known the work on the material plane, has ceased to be afraid of any work.
By working with children, acquainting them with the world, broadening their outlook, giving them the fundamentals of ethics, we lay the foundations on which they will build their own spiritual temples when they become mature.
We must develop various practical skills in children, teach them to live their lives actively. Then on this well prepared soil, good fruit from the Divine Word will grow.