The Mindful Journey and Religious Exploration – Cynthia Westby Dir. Religious Exploration for Children and Youth

What is spirituality? Answering this question helps guide me in my work. For me spirituality is about nurturing relationships with mystery, self, others and the world to experience and realize our interconnectedness. It is also about nurturing love and kindness; as we appreciate our interconnectedness, our oneness, we understand that what happens to one person or part of the world, affects us all. Teaching, storytelling, walking in nature, are all spiritual practices that cultivate awareness of these relationships and our interconnectedness with all of life. Spiritual practices like these, ‘wake up’ our awareness of our relationships. Mindfulness, wondering, questioning, and paying attention, bring our relationships with self, others, mystery and the world into meaningful focus. RE is all about supporting and encouraging awareness, and waking up our senses, emotions, understanding, and caring, and in the process discovering we belong – in community, in the world, in Mystery; we are loved and wanted. That is my hope and vision for RE.

As we move into the second half of the RE year (2016-17) I am transitioning my monthly article from mindfulness topics to RE topics, starting this month with a half-year report on RE. From being with things as they are in mindfulness, I will be with things as they are in RE . An important part of my spiritual practice here at Westside has been to nurture relationships with the children, youth, congregants, and staff. There are many ways that RE has an impact on children and youth including: Sunday morning RE classes, Sunday evening Youth Group classes, Coming of Age classes, and Stories for All Ages during our regular worship service. There are many incredibly gifted, caring volunteers who make the RE program function smoothly and Westside is blessed to have over 50 RE teachers, Youth Advisors, RE Council members, behind-the-scenes assistants, storytellers, Chalice Chapel helpers, and more!

In RE the children and youth have been wondering, questioning, and learning about themselves and the world. I have offered curriculum focused on learning about the world’s religions – specifically, so far, Buddhism and Islam. The children have been learning about our neighbors and their faiths, through stories and lessons. They have been exploring their understanding of faith, and their feelings and sense of what they are learning, through art. They have also been learning mindfulness practices to cultivate awareness. They have been practicing a mindful state of being. In Youth Group they have been focusing on self-care and coming to know the many ways to do this. In Coming of Age, the kids have been developing their personal understanding of their spirituality and finding ways to articulate this.

As a member of the Worship Council, I work with Interim Minister, Alex Holt and Music Director, Bert Gulhaugen on multi-generational services. This past six months the two multi-gen services have been: “Unity of Light” (held at the time of the solstice) and our Family Christmas Eve service. These were both lovely opportunities for our children to be an integrated part of worship service. Chalice Chapels (RE’s periodic Sunday worship service for children ages 5-14) has been another opportunity for children to explore the theme of world religions. These services are also a meaningful way for children to learn the order and meaning of worship service. We had one on “What is Holy” and in a few weeks, we will have one led by an Islamic Sufi teacher.

I look forward to sharing more about what is happening in RE, and RE related topics over the coming months.

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