Sunday, August 29, 2010


Do Spellbinder (1) storytelliers Nurture
the Spirituality of Children?

Paschal Baute, 2010 Draf 6.5

“The most beautiful thing in the
universe is the mysterious.”


My answer is yes and here is why. But let us start with the near impossible task of defining the concept “Spirituality.” On any list the concept of “religion” includes words such as church, creed, codes, scripture, rules, doctrine, worship, judgment, one source of Wisdom and “either-or” thinking. “Spirituality” on the other hand, includes a sense of mystery inherent in human life, openness to many sources of wisdom, meditation, sense of inter-connectedness or relatedness, personal journey, total wellness with “both-an”d thinking.

In short, religion is more about ultimate truth, certainty and revelation, while spirituality is more about wonder and dialogue. More exclusive fo the first and more inclusive in the second. A deep faith can embrace both views.

Both language frames are about Who we are, How we got here and what is this life about. The language of religion begins with revealed teaching of Wisdom teachers long ago. The language of spirituality begins with existential awakening of present reality, particularly to the mystery of one’s own life and one’s personal sacred journey. Certainly the languages are not exclusive, but rather a matter of emphasis.

The language of both, then, is at their roots, the language of mystery: that which is beyond human reason. Both require belief, love, wonder, awe, fear and maybe trembling. “Tremendum Mysterium” was a classic name for what one scholar called the “numinous” in life.

The language of mystery has two kinds: 1) talking about mystery, by creeds, preaching, worship, etc. 2) Sharing the actual experience of mystery, that is, some sense of the presence of Other, the mysterious. The first narrates story from a third person point of view. The second tells the story from inside the story as it is happening, a first person view. Some worship services attempts both. But we do not need church or organized religion to experience mystery in our human lives.

Are we not surrounded by mystery? The mystery of love: the mystery of life, of nature, or the origins of life, of gestation, of evil, of forgiveness, of grace felt as undeserved gift. Mystery in fact embraces us. Accidents. Death. Loneliness, the quirkiness of life. The awesome fact of evolution, The stars at night, the universe, planet earth and its wonders and chaos on this tiny small green planet in the vast reachers of the cosmos.

Research shows that a number of people, children too, have had direct experience of the Numinous, of Other in their lives. They have had incidents causing wonder, awe and even certainty about the mystery of their own lives. Our culture does not value this discovery and is more likely suspicious of it, as private revelation has led to great harm in some instances.(2)

Scientists, to be inclusive, are also fascinated by the mysterious in the physical world, and agnostic or not, have their own belief systems supporting their world view, sometimes held just as fiercely and arrogantly as any religious fanatic.

By way of full disclosure, I am a Spellbinder storyteller and ordained minister of the Gospel, active for many years in promoting interfaith understanding and spiritual growth, honoring all Wisdom traditions and a psychologist, mostly retired in the last two careers. As a Spellbinder storyteller , I am trained, certified and experience and a member of the Lexington Kentucky chapter.

So that the reader might understand my bias, let me risk several further disclosures. First and luckily, to the amusement or chagrin of family and friends, part of me has never grown up. I am still, in ways delightful at least to myself --and to children in my Spellbinding, very much a playful, wondering child, enthusiastic about life’s possibilities, adventure to be found everywhere, monsters waiting encounter around the corner.

It helps also, for good and bad, that I am a right brained man. That is, feelings, images, metaphors, visions, dreams, people possibilities, wonder, awe and gratitude are natural for me. Fortunately, also, my wife is the left brained partner who keeps me “in my place,” protecting me at every turn. Hah! As grace would have it, we both love stores, she reading several books each week, and my telling as often as I can.

On the famed Myers Briggs typology, Janette is my “Blue Earth,” a genuine no nonsense earth mother person. I am her “Red Sky,” passionate sometimes beyond belief but intuitive enough to anticipate most dangers. More or less.

Therefore I love storytelling with children. I love the adventure that belonging to our Lexington Spellbinders chapter has opened fo me. I never imagined having such fun at age eighty one. Hah!! Sometimes I still cannot quite believe it.

Now that the reader knows where I am coming from, let’s talk about the spirit of the child, the striking characteristics. I identified ten for a project recently: 1) A sense of wonder looms large: “awesome” is around the corner; 2) An openness to new adventures prevails; 3) Right brain is more often active, as the left brain is full of rules, reason, and the three Rs; 4) children are naturally compassionate: the older child moves intuitively to soothe a younger child’s upset. When there is more than one child who dies in a fire, usually by smoke inhalation, firefighters typically will find the older child with arms wrapped around the younger child; 5) Children tend to be intensely competitive: they are easily jealous and quickly offended if they feel someone (particularly a brother or sister) is getting the bigger piece of whatever; 6) imagination us active. They love stones of all sorts; 7) Cross cultural evidence is that our human brains are hard-wired for story, so we look for content to satisfy our cravings: A) to overcome the monster; B) to go from “rages to riches”; and C) to set out on the Great Adventurers; 8) Children are small and live in a large and somewhat scary, complex world. They love stories of going against the odds, how shrewdness can out-smart the big guys. They crave encouragement that they too, still so small in a big world, will conquer the forces of darkness; 9) Children love to laugh and laugh easily, and often at length. They easily sense the absurdities of adult life and arbitrary boundaries; 10) it is hard to stop, but enthusiasm ranks high as a characteristic. The root of this word is fascinating: It means filled with, overflowing with that of the gods.

It is fair to say that spirituality is pervasive in the development of children. This is not conceptual but intuitive and felt. It is a sense of “relational consciousness,” a sense of living inside mystery with doors to many possibilities. We might even propose that the language of children is occasioned by playfulness, wonder and awe, finding delight in adventure and laughter. Children find all of these in story.

When we awaken children’s minds, invite awareness into realms of possibility, to longings of the heart, overcoming the monster, believing in rages to riches, with great adventures of discovery and courage still await them, and that although still small in a scary world, we little ones can and will prevail, we storytellers are nurturing their precious spirit of the child. It hardly needs to be said that this focus is often neglected in our test driven educational enterprise of today.

This list, of course, is incomplete. Every fine storyteller will be ready to add another. Think about this: This spirit is what our Spellbinding folk fairy tales nourish! To use one of their favorite words: this is “Awesome!” Still. And we storytellers have been doing it for thousands and thousands of years.

My point is simple: the Spellbinding storyteller nurtures these characteristics of children. More evidence? Within a half hour, childrens “fall in love” with a good storyteller. They want to hug, touch, high five, and find out more about this wizard who tells stores so well that they are entranced. Their spirit is fed, nourished, enriched and delighted that someone, some ADULT, out of all the boring, rule bound adults they must deal with, can understand the world in which they live.

I think of spellbinding storytelling as a heart to heart thing. My sense of wonder, of mystery, awe and gratitude reaches out to the hearts of children around me. So I love the excitement of the art and craft. I love how they are nourished by being nourished in their hearts by me. By ME! What a privilege, what a blessing for this overgrown adult child! It is a particular gift for one whose professional middle class parents were so protective and perfectionistic that, well, darn it, I had to grow up too quick and missed too much play time. But maybe that is just my rationalization for spending so much time and energy now in being with kids in storytelling. Not a bad hobby for a guy who feels rightly or wrongly that he missed part of his childhood!

Storytellers, Spellbinding storytellers nurture the spirit and the spirituality of children. Oh, if our schools, educational enterprise, teacher and parents could understand ths better.... Never fear! Like the pied piper, we shall lead the way.

It is a great privilege and blessing to nurture the spirituality, the spirits of many children throughs the art and craft of my storytelling. I do it without talking about God or religion. Therefore I am politically correct and under the radar of un-named organizations seeking to keep any conversation about God or religion out of our tax supported domains.

I am a wizard, in truth. Not the kind that produces magic tricks, but the kind that imagines, creates, catches stories about far out adventures, such as the author of Harry Potter. After being turned down by publishers on both sides of the Atlantic and finally finding one small publisher who risked investing in her material, this single mom is richer than the Queen of England.

Why? Because her stories and all such stories nourish the human spirit of children. Ruth Sawyer said the good storyteller will be “gloriously alive,” full of amazement. Is this not what listening children catch (and what their spirits love), which cannot be taught, but only caught.

What is equally fascinating is that this process is not one way but a circle. My storytelling time with children is the best thing I do to keep myself that way. Yes! Donald Davis speaks of the language of Feedback, one of the five languages of storytelling (2). The interaction of the listener and the storyteller influences the narrative and its presentation. I usually do not “find my groove” with the story and a particular audience until I have told it several times.

The four other languages of storytelling, according to Davis, are words, sound, gesture, and attitude. Dave I presume to improve on his list? Hardly, but I wonder if there is I wonder if there is not also a language of the heart?
A find storyteller, according to Ruth Sawyer, (3) pioneer storyteller, is “gloriously alive.” Is it not the joy and zest for life that sparks the imagination of children and keeps them wondering about the adventures till awaiting?

When an eight year old girl seeks after 30 minutes of storytelling to give me a hug, I know that my heart has touched hers, that my storytelling has given her permission to continue to live with wonder and amazement in her young life.

I rest my case. Whoever encourages the sense of mystery, wonder and awe of the child, nurtures their spirit and spirituality. “Words are tapping on a cracked kettle that bears dance to. Humans seek music to melt the stars.” Flaubert, Madame Bovary, quoted by Robert Coles in his pioneering classic, The Spiritually of children.

Placing a child in their midst, he said, “Unless you become like one of these, you cannot enter the Kingdom.” Could anyone anticipate teacher of wisdom doing this? Excuse me folks, but that is stunning: “awesome!” Maybe that was the point St. Gregory of Nyssa, centuries later, was reaching for when he said: “Concepts create idols; only wonder understand anything.””

A thank you note from one second grader read: “Your wizard teacher taught you well!” Do I need any further confirmation? I am nurturing the spirituality of children as much or more as I did in any of my other careers. Better still, this work nourishes me, my spirit, and invites me into greater mystery.

Post Script. If this mystery we call God loves stories enough to give humans the Bible, a library of many different kinds of stories, are we who continue the storytelling inside the mystery still? Possibly. ”Created in His image, both male and female,” could we be little raindrop of God’s life feeling and loving the universe, extending Her unfolding story today and everywhere?

My wife prefers the Masculine form. I prefer the Feminine form. Naturally.

If, finally, when humans began storytelling about one hundred thousand years ago and discovered the power of stories, that whoever told the best story had the “leg up” in the struggle to survive, thereby creating our human nature as we have it today, then are we storytellers not continuing the Great Story of the Evolutionary God? Possibly. Consider that we humans today are the first generation to know that we are made out of stardust. In fact. We are part of the great story of the universe loving itself here on this singularly beautiful planet earth. Awesome! Mystery lures us everywhere.

“Now are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?”
Said Groucho Marx.

© Paschal Baute, 2010.

1. Google Spellbinders. Lexington Ky has the second largest chapter in the USA. See link

2. Donald Davis, How to Tell Your Own Stories.

3. Ruth Sawyer. The Way of the Storyteller.

4. David Hall and Rebecca Nye. The Spirit of the Child.

5. Robert Coles. The Spirituality of Children.