Act out and explore the Lord's Prayer
Research for the anniversary of World War I has revealed a rather striking fact - namely, that many soldiers in their diaries and letters home said they valued the words of the Bible. Sometimes, scriptural prayers or psalms could provide morale-boosting words before going 'over the top' into battle - or a source of comfort when a friend died. They could also provide an emotional vocabulary for soldiers trying to find the words to express what was going on inside - or inspiration for creative writing or artwork.
This activity might provide a useful addition to school-based activities relating to World War I, by taking a 'military-style' kinaesthetic approach to learning the Lord's Prayer. Some schools might even want to incorporate it into an act of collective worship.
Explain to the pupils that many of the soldiers who fought in World War I were Christians, and used to say certain prayers by heart. This could be a great comfort when life on the battlefield was frightening, difficult or disturbing. One of the most famous prayers they used was the one Jesus taught his friends which we now call 'the Lord's Prayer'.
Soldiers are used to working as a team. We're going to work as a team to learn the Lord's Prayer and act it out. Just as soldiers use certain gestures to remind themselves who they are and what they are fighting for (marching, standing to attention, saluting superior officers), we're going to use certain gestures to help us understand and learn one of the most famous prayers in the world.
Ask the pupils to stand in a circle. (Younger children should hold hands.)
Teach the prayer in short sections, line by line, pausing to revise the words and gestures learned so far.
Our Father - hands joined
In heaven - hands joined and raised high
Hallowed be your name - heads bowed
Your kingdom come - release hands and make a gesture of invitation
Your will be done - a salute
On earth as it is in heaven - all stamp feet for 'earth' and then clap high above heads for 'heaven'
Give us this day our daily bread - hands out ready to receive
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us - hands clasped together in front of the body and then released; turn and shake hands with the person on either side of you
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil - hands together in front of the face, shielding away temptation and then one hand up as a stop sign
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory - one hand pointing up high; the other hand raised in a clenched fist; then finally, both hands raised above the head high, with fingers spread
Forever and ever - draw a large circle in front of yourself with one hand several times
Amen - use the popular 'wind-up' Amen... with a long drawn-out 'A...', accompanied by the imaginary cranking of a handle, and followed by the '...men!' being shouted loud along with a big clap of the hands
Afterwards, consider posing some of the following questions:
- Did you enjoy acting out the gestures for the prayer? Why? (Did you secretly have a better idea for acting out a line than the one we used? What was it?) How might adding a movement to words help people to learn and understand them? Can you think of any other situations in which people use actions or gestures to emphasise what they say? (Careful now...! For example, handshakes for greetings, waving to say goodbye for partings.)
- Can you think of any ways in which members of other world faiths use gestures to symbolise what they mean when they pray? (For example, the Muslim practice of Salat, using a string of symbolic gestures when praying five times a day.)
- Are there things that you have learned off by heart? Why? Why might learning a prayer off by heart be an important part of life for many Christians?
- What do you think are the key messages of the Lord's Prayer? If you wanted to illustrate them as symbols or cartoons, what would they be?
- In the context of World War I, how might a prayer help mentally to prepare someone who was about to do something really dangerous? Which lines might be the most significant for that person?
- Does saying a prayer like this mean that it is then alright to go off and fight?
- If evil has to be resisted in the cause of protecting other people, does a prayer like this encourage someone to fight 'better' for a 'just cause'?