The practice of “Getting Ready” is an important component of Godly Play. When they were sojourning in the desert with the Ark of the Covenant, the People of God needed a variety of tools and practices to help them get ready to come close to the Ark. Likewise, we need a variety of tools and practices to help us get ready to come close to God and one another–in the Godly Play Circle, in worship, and in everyday life.
A few years ago, when I first read Resmaa Menakem’s book, “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” with a group of colleagues from Music that Makes Community began to wonder how I might use the process of “getting ready” for our weekly chapel with St. Mark’s Montessori preschool students as an opportunity to help children experience and internalize some basic tools for regulating their own nervous systems in ways that might serve them and the world beyond chapel. Menakem suggests that discovering and utilizing somatic practices to soothe our own nervous systems and connect with others in mutually soothing and nurturing ways is one important thing that white-bodied people can do to interrupt the cycle of racialized violence against black-bodied people. In this way, our intentional practices of “getting ready” might actually be part of our larger anti-racist commitments and practices. I began experimenting with integrating some body and breath practices Manekem recommends in his book (See My Grandmother’s Hands, pp. 137-147, 155-159, 173-174, 184-186, 191-193.) into my weekly chapel sessions. For example, breathing, humming, rocking, singing together may help calm our nervous systems and co-regulate our nervous systems with others. Stretching our bodies and allowing our focus to move above, below, and especially behind us may help activate the vagus nerve and help establish a sense of safety and orientation to our physical environment.
In addition to equipping people of all ages with strategies for self-soothing as a necessary component for healing racialized trauma and creating more safe and just communities, I suspect that a robust repertoire of intentional, embodied practices for “getting ready” may also serve to make our Godly Play circles, churches, and communities more hospitable and supportive for many neuro-diverse individuals and people who have experienced trauma, as well as most neuro-typical individuals.
I believe practices of getting ready are essential to prepare people of all ages for both action and contemplation, and to equip us to live into the fullness of our created potential as God’s people of faith, love, peace, and justice in this world. I hope you’ll join me in experimenting, expanding and integrating new practices of “getting ready” into our collective toolbox for Godly Play and for daily life.
Below is a video in which I lead some of my favorite “Getting Ready” practices, as well as a sample script. Feel free to use and adapt these in whatever ways best serve your context and communities. And join me in continuing to wonder….
I wonder what part you liked the best?
I wonder what part was the most important?
I wonder what part was especially for you?
I wonder what we could leave out and still have everything we need?
I wonder what is missing? I wonder what else we might need to include in order to have everything we need?
Link to Video: Getting Ready with Mother Sylvia (~15 minutes)
Mother Sylvia's "Getting Ready" Rituals (Sample Script)
We come together so that God can fill us up with the gift of peace from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes…and so that we can share that peace with one another and with the whole world. God’s gift of peace is always available, but we have to be ready to receive it.
Rocks (Recalling & Sharing the Hard & Heavy Things)
The Rocks can help us get ready…
Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary from carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This rock reminds us that all of us have things in life that are hard, or rough, or heavy sometimes….”
(Pass a rock around the circle and invite children to share a “hard thing” from their week, if they wish)
Water (Recalling & Sharing the Blessings & Joys)
The Water can help us get ready…
Jesus says, “I am the living water, let anyone who is thirsty come and take the water of life as a free gift.” The water reminds us that God’s love and life and goodness and blessings flow over and under and around and between and sometimes right out of the hard and rough places in life…
(Pass the pitcher of water around the circle and invite children to share a “blessing” from their week if they wish. Once everyone has shared, invite children to touch the water and make the sign of the cross.)
Oils (Fragrance, Engaging the Sense of Smell)
The fragrant oils can help us get ready…
We can put a drop on our hands (or inside our masks) and take some nice deep breaths.
(Offer to place a drop of oil in the palm of the hand (or inside the mask) of each child.)
These fragrant oils remind us of the cloud of sweet smelling incense that the people walked through in the desert, whenever they wanted to get ready to come close to God.
The oil also reminds us of the precious gifts of frankincense and myrrh that the Magi brought to the baby Jesus, and the sacred oils that anointed the kings, and priests, and prophets of old, and the holy oils, or “chrism” that anoint us in Baptism.
Song (Engaging breath, body, sound, vibration)
“O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth. “(Psalm 96:1)
Singing together can help us get ready…Let’s sing together…
(Lead a good “settling” song: Shalom My Friends, Be Still and Know, Open my Heart, etc. You can find a list of good "settling" songs on this Godly Play Songs & Stories Resource Spreadsheet. See Sheet 2: Songs by Function/Theme.)
Body & Breath
Now let’s gather the peace we’ve created by singing…
Reach up high overhead and gather some of the Peace from the Heavens, rub it together between your hands, bring your hands to your head–feel the warm peace fill your thoughts and your mind.
Reach out to gather the Peace from in front of you, and reach around to gather Peace from behind you, rub it together between your hands and bring your hands to your heart–feel the warm peace fill up your heart.
Reach down to gather Peace from the Earth, and Peace from each side, rub it together between your hands, then rub that peace into your belly and your back, your head and your face, your arms, and your legs. Feel the warm peace filling up every part of your body.
Take a deep breath and breathe in Peace.
Then breathe out Peace as slowly as you can, letting Peace fill the whole room.
In the beginning, when God created the Heavens and the Earth
The earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep
And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the Water
Then God said “Let there be Light”
(Strike a match)
And God saw that the light was good.
The light shines in the darkness
And the darkness will not overcome it.
(Light a candle)
The light can help us get ready…
And now, I think, we are almost ready for our story…
(In a Godly Play Circle, go and get the story in silence, or possibly humming the “song of the day” and return to the circle. You can find a list of potential songs to pair with certain stories on this Godly Play Songs & Stories Resource Spreadsheet. See Sheet 1: Songs with stories)
There’s one last thing that can help get our ears and hearts ready to listen for God. The sound of the bell invites us to get as quiet and still as we possibly can, so we can follow the sound of the bell as it rings all the way into the silence…we can follow the sound of the bell as it carries us down, down into the deepest depths of our hearts, or ride the sound of the bell like a wave that carries us out, out into the vast ocean of peace.
Ring the bell. Follow the sound as long as you can, then begin the story (or other discussion, meeting, session, training, activity, etc.)
My name is Sylvia Miller-Mutia, and I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. I have recently accepted an exciting call to serve as assisting clergy at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM with a focus on outreach, evangelism, and family ministry. I continue serving as "priest at large" for the larger church and wider world, assisting the people of God in whatever ways I can, and developing new resources for spiritual formation to share. Prior to my current call, I served as Rector (aka Pastor) of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM (2015-2018), Assistant Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA (2010-2015) and Pastoral Associate for Youth & Families at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere, CA (2002-2009). I am married to Donnel (grief counselor, couples coach, artist, best dad ever), and we have three awesome kids, ranging in age from 8-14.