Torah Godly Play
Godly Play is an innovative approach to religious education that seeks not so much to tell stories of faith in order that we will "know" them, but as spiritual action of finding meaning, identity and God through storytelling and listening. The pedagogical ideal of this approach is that, from the earliest age, children are invited to experience and become increasingly aware of the spiritual call within sacred stories and of their own deep response as something naturally afforded by religious narrative.
Godly Play’s has developed over three decades in the United States by Jerome Berryman, a Christian theologian and educator. However, its respect for and attention to childhood spirituality, and the significance of story to hold and develop that through its unusually contemplative and playful style, addresses concerns common to Jews and Christians.
Godly Play was developed by Berryman as an outcome of his work with Montessori-based religious education combined with a contemplative reading of sacred texts (lectio divina). In Berryman’s analysis this is a return to the nonverbal, relational communication system that is foundational to spirituality, and with which we started as children before shifting to a reliance (arguably, overreliance) on language to express the spiritual.
As such, it uses specially created artifacts and symbolic objects to enable a trained storyteller to powerfully engage children (and adults) in the wonderment of scripture, parables, liturgy, etc. It is not like anything else that we have witnessed in Jewish education and in some ways is countercultural to the norms in our community of grappling with the text or deconstructing it. It might be considered much more an encounter with the text. In addition, Godly Play is not merely an educational method, but a means to also enact the theology and liturgy of Jewish language. The time spent together in Godly Play is an enactment of a liturgical experience as much as it is a telling of a story.
As you can imagine, Godly Play is a complex and intricate approach to religious education, inviting participants into an encounter with sacred time and sacred space as a community. There are already approximately 5,000 Godly Play classrooms in churches around the United States and in the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany. Scripted stories of Torah and Nevi’im have been published, and there is an International training program for participants organized in local regions. Hebrew College currently runs a community of practice for Godly Play practitioners.
Hebrew College offers training seminars for Torah Godly Play in Boston and New York. It also offers resources and consultation to synagogues and schools looking to establish Torah Godly Play classrooms and programs and is developing and adapting a Jewish curriculum for Torah Godly Play scheduled to be published in 2014.
Torah Godly Play is partially funded by an Innovation Grant from the Covenant Foundation.
Rabbi Michael Shire
Shoolman Graduate School