Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Pre-School Teacher with the Gift of Wonder

[The following is an excerpt from "Experiencing Wonder in Storytelling and Cinema" at ]

Back during the preliterate days of our ancient ancestors, people gathered to hear stories from storytellers. Maybe they gathered in the village or around a fire. They would have heard stories of heroes and stories of where they came from. In those pre-literate days, they would have heard favorite legends that had been passed down through oral tradition.

I can recall a storyteller from my own pre-literate days. She was the Sunday School teacher for the pre-school class at the First Baptist Church of  Wedowee, Alabama. Back in the late 1950s there was not a lot of technology in churches. We may have had a flannel board, but that was the sort of gadgetry that was usually reserved for special occasions, like Vacation Bible School. Our teacher, when I was in the pre-school class, was an older grandmotherly type. On more than one occasion, which is probably why I remember this, she would tell us about how the world began. The only technology she had was plain white paper and an old shoe box full of broken crayons. When she got ready to tell us how the world began, she would hand us each a sheet of paper, then ask us to find a black crayon in the box of crayons. We kids would then go digging around looking for the right crayon.

“I found one,” someone would say.

“Here’s one,” someone else would chime in.

“Let me see that,” the teacher would examine the crayon. “No, I think that’s purple. I want you to find the blackest crayon you can see in that box.”

The when we all had our black crayons, she would instruct us to color our whole page black, until no more white could be seen from the paper. After allowing time for all the children to scribble on their paper, the teacher would say, “Now look at that paper – all you see is black. That is what it was like before God made the world. There were no trees, no birds, no people, no lakes – there was not even any light. Can you imagine no light at all? There was nothing anywhere before God made the world.”

Our preschool teacher was no childhood development expert or theologian, but she was able to lead a group of preschoolers who were incapable of abstract thought (according to the experts) to a sense of wonder about their world and their own existence - and a sense of awe at the possibility of nothingness. I know because I was one of those preschoolers.

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