In Godly Play Jerome will often have children bring to the circle lessons they feel belong together with the lesson which he just presented to them. The children bring materials used to present other lessons they have learned and place them on the floor in the middle of the circle next to the lesson planned and intended for that day and in doing this and discussing their selected stories or we might say texts they in fact demonstrate sophisticated parallels, juxtapositions and intersexual potential for one story to interpret another though this is all done in the familiar language of manipulative objects, ancient stories, and of course wondering questions.
One of the questions and discussion points that came up several times at the recent Spirit Play conference in San Antonio was how to involve older children, teens, and adults in a kind of Spirit Play that is appropriate and stimulating for who and where they are. Not to trivialize the significant challenges that would in fact present themselves in many cases if one took on the work of faithfully offering such a translation via a comparable curricular design. I do however want to underscore the other truth about such an aim which is how absolutely simple it is to do as well, for it can be achieved artlessly by just telling a story and inviting the adults or teens to creatively wonder over it using the tools provided by the broader lexicon available to them in the form of poetry and important words remembered from songs and worship, sacred histories both personal and corporate, in the people and events and ideals represented all arround us in stained glass windows, carvings, artwork, and rituals with which we cover and mark the physical spaces in which we gather as well as the metaphorical and temporal spaces we inhabit as a united people both congregational and associational.
So here is my example which not only illustrates the type of thing I am describing but is offered to you as an actual ready to use focus to use for a class of adults or older teens some time.
Watch the recent film, directed by Tom Hanks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. After you have watched it have some one present you the story of “The Buddha and the Mustard Seed Medicine,” in which Kisa Gatomi has all but lost her senses and gone made from grief over the loss of her only son. The buddha issues a challenge to her that is so utterly ridiculous except to one who is caught in the raving nightmare brought on by the need to hold onto what can not be possessed or claimed and so she follows her desire from house to house untill at some point she begins to wake up and awareness enters like a candle in a dark room and she returns with a new peace and joins the Buddha’s Sangha though she is not just a disciple for she becomes a well-respected teacher who is regarded as having attained a higher state of consciousness than have the vast majority of us a state that is approaching the attainment of her own buddha nature. I have to say I was blown away with the deep resonant parallels between the ancient story told as a movie set only a few short years ago amidst events which many Americans still experience as fretfully recent.
My suggestion for using it with adults is to invite people to the class or discussion or whatever setting you would be using to frame the exercise and encourage them to watch the movie in advance of the session ( I think it would be too much movie to watch all together if you then wanted an open and spirit led conversation with the potential to wonder toward new and meaningful insights and realizations for those involved. I do think it is important to have some immediate and shared experience of the story told in the movie and the story from the life of the Buddha. My suggestion is to select several clips from the film that capture the big ideas of the film and I would use anywhere from 15 to as much as 30 minutes of clips from the movie (2 or three extended scenes also not 20 itty-bitty clips)- so that every one can draw from their own perception and reception of the ideas and themes from the movie rather than someone elses summary, and so that there still is a real way in which the group had together watched the movie. Then without discussion I would bring out the Spirit Play Basket with the materials for the “buddha and the mustard seed medicine” and present it to the adults or teens as you would in Spirit Play with the exception that I would announce that I was going to share the story with them in the style of telling stories used for the young children in our Spirit Play program. When I had finished the story portion of the lesson I would initiate several wondering questions though not simply arround the story of Kisa Gatomi and the Buddha but also the movie as well as questions that opened the group to reflect on the possible meaning or value or insight that emerges when these two vastly different stories are told side by side. You could even consider the next step of offering the adults the opportunity to metaphorically place the materials for other stories that come to mind for them which seem to belong in the same meaningful moment and reflective pause with this film and this Ancient episode from Buddhist religious history.