listen to the trail: behold a sermonless sermon

A child is a walking appetite. They devour with their eyes, they take with their hands wherever their little feet rush to carry them. If it fits in their mouth (nose, or ears) it goes in.

The same is true of their hearts.

Devotions are to feed children with spiritual nutriment; to foster compassion, develop character and positive values. The Good Dirt devotional adds follow-up questions for children to ponder. The questions help children reflect upon themselves; upon their own emotional responses during the day. This helps my son. Picking out and naming the different colors of his emotional kaleidoscope is good for him.

In our family, devotions are a bedtime ritual. The nightly devotion involves dental hygiene, stories, cuddles, reflection and prayers. These nightly rituals are my wife’s creation. They are not my style. The practice of stopping the day to read scripture and pray feels unnatural to me.

As I am not from a Christian family, I do not have family traditions to incorporate into my son’s life. So I listened to my heart: when is the best time to commune with God? When is the best time to practice the devotional life with my son?

For me, the devotional life pulses in the solitude of a busy city crowd. The city bus, cafes and street benches foster the proper devotional space for me. Urbanscape, with its gray buildings and matching sky; where the city’s royalty parade past broken men sitting along metro stairs extending their hands—this is where faith, frustration and action take place. The devotional life needs daily life to make sense of its own faith-claims.

As a father, I have found the best place for shared devotions is outside, walking along a trail, at riverside, or near a pond. And there should be food, tuna sandwiches, apples and chips. We should carry tools too, pocket knives, compasses and flashlights. I carry one more item, a folded piece of paper with a psalm and a hymn.

Pic 1After catching tadpoles in the pond, my son and I sit together in the shade for lunch. I’ll pull out my creased piece of paper and read it to my boy while he brushes the mud off hands before he eats. We easily talk about Psalm 1 as there are many trees growing near the water. How exciting for a ring-neck pheasant to fly over while talking about the Creator, and to hear a cuckoo in the pines.

Along with a psalm, I carry a hymn. Hymns are the meat and gravy of faith’s music. Hymn writers give us simple labyrinths of the common and the glorious, to wander and meditate upon. My son needs to know these people and their stories. I want him to have so much respect for Fanny Crosby that he thinks she is the worship leader for G.I. Joe.

Pic 2

Remember son, when I can’t be with you, carry a song of courage in your heart.

-Mark Liebenthal “plantingpennies”

2 thoughts on “listen to the trail: behold a sermonless sermon

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection, Mark. I love the photos and the image I have of you and your son sitting at the pond while sitting with the words of Psalm 1. What a tradition you have developed with him of worshiping together in the outdoors.

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