Finding Peace

Meditation with children – a new (old) way of talking and listening to God.

Last November, I taught a workshop to 47 Christian educators at the Children’s Ministry Conference held at Tyndale Seminary at the University of Toronto. The topic? Christian meditation with children.

We talked about meditation as a type of prayer. They practiced what I taught them, and then saw how it might be introduced to children in either a church or school setting. With our current situation of anxiety and uncertainty, and families needing to stay home, meditation is a gift for all ages. 

Christian meditation is about our relationship with God. It is a way of contemplative prayer, which means it is more about being rather than doing. It is about being “in the temple” of our hearts, not thinking about God, but being open to the presence of God.

Meditation is a way of silence, stillness and simplicity.         

The Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10) and “For God alone my soul in silence waits” (Ps. 62). Paul tells us that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom.5:5).

When we meditate, we let go of thoughts, ideas, images and feelings. It is listening to God rather than talking to God, like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Meditation is a way of moving our attention from the busyness of our heads to the silent depths of our hearts, to the presence of the Risen Christ within us. 

Where do we start?

We move from distraction to attention by using a prayer word, which is repeated from the beginning to the end of the meditation period. This use of a prayer word or phrase to focus attention has been part of Christian spirituality from the earliest days of the church, from the fourth century desert teachers through to the 14th-century “Cloud of Unknowing” and the Orthodox Church’s “Jesus Prayer.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching on prayer embodies the characteristics of contemplative prayer: humility, silence, trust, interiority and attention. 

The church has been reclaiming this contemplative practice over the past 60 years or so by such teachers as Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating and Fr. John Main, a Benedictine monk who came to Montreal in 1977 and taught meditation to clergy and laypeople for five years until his death in 1982. The teaching of Christian meditation continues with his successor, Fr. Laurence Freeman, who leads the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). 

The prayer word that Main recommended is “ma-ra-na-tha” which is Aramaic for “Come, Lord” and is found in 1 Cor. 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. 

Because it is not English, the mind does not jump from it to other thoughts as it would with an English word. The prayer word is a tool which helps move one’s attention from the head to the heart. 

What about children?

You may be wondering how on earth children can sit still (and be silent!) long enough to meditate. The surprising fact is that children can meditate and they even like doing so!

A child has a natural capacity to experience God, unencumbered by language or concepts. Some of the qualities we find in children are openness, innocence, trust, wonder, the acceptance of others and the ability to be in the present moment. Meditation is a way of prayer which taps into this contemplative nature of children. 

When I’ve asked what meditation means to children ages five to 12, this is how they respond: “Listening to Jesus,” “caring for others, being like Jesus,” “we close our eyes and be still,” “giving love to God,” “I really felt God was in my heart,” and, “I think meditation brings out the real me, and I don’t have to pretend to be somebody else.” 

In the last 15 years, Christian meditation has been integrated into the daily routines of Catholic schools in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. In the Toronto area, there are more than 150 Catholic (mostly elementary) schools incorporating meditation into their daily schedules. 

We’ve found that this practice of prayer helps deepen a child’s personal relationship with God in Christ, leads to increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance, increases the desire to build community, reduces stress and increases children’s sense of well-being and harmony. Meditation also leads to the fruits of the Spirit.  

Especially in this time of confusion and anxiety, we need to be rooted more and more in the truths of the Christian faith, and in the love of God, neighbour and self. To that end, Christian meditation is a gift not only to ourselves but to the world. 

Time to experiment

Why not use our current reality of being at home as a time to experience this new way of prayer with your children? Here’s a simple how-to:

  • Find a space where everyone can sit in a circle. Place a cloth on the floor in the centre of the room. If you have a candle (battery-operated is good!) place it in the centre.
  • Ask everyone to take off their shoes. This is a sacred space.
  • Make a sign that says “ma-ra-na-tha” as a visual reminder and place it where everyone can see it. 
  • Have a timer ready. (If you have a chime, even better, as children like to ring it before and after, but anything is ok.) 
  • How long should children meditate? Work up to one minute per age of child (so, a five-year-old can be expected to meditate for five minutes). Adults, don’t panic! John Main suggested 20-30 minutes for us. 
  • Now, for some spoken direction:
  • Ask the children, “Can you tell me times when you’ve been really, really quiet?” 
  • Tell them, “Sometimes we need to be quiet when we’re learning something new or figuring out a math or a word problem. Today we’re going to learn a new way to pray. When we pray we can talk to God. We can also listen to God. We can be quiet and still. The Bible says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ 
  • “That’s what we’re going to learn now. This kind of prayer is called meditation. It’s very simple. All we do is sit as still and as quietly as we can. We try not to move at all, not our fingers, not even our toes.
  • “We close our eyes gently. We put our hands in our laps. And then we say a special word – a prayer word – this word is: ma-ra-na-tha.” 
  • “Have you heard this word before? It’s not English. It’s Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke. This word means ‘Come, Lord.’ You can find this word in the Bible. It was kind of like a secret password for the early church.” (I like to show them the word written in Aramaic, found online, which they think is cool).
  • “We say this word quietly, not out loud, but just in our hearts. We say this word slowly and we repeat it from the beginning until the end of our meditation, or our prayer time. 
  • “Of course, we might end up thinking of other things, or hear noises, but when we do, we just go back to saying our word slowly and gently: ‘ma-ra-na-tha.’ 
  • “You might be wondering, ‘Why do we pray like this?’
  • “You will notice the candle, the light in the centre of our circle. That light represents the light of Jesus, which is also in our hearts. That light is the love of God and it is inside each one of us.
  • “When we pray like this, we are remembering that this love of God, this light of Christ, is inside us. We want it to shine in our lives – in the love we have for our family, our friends, our pets, our neighbours, everything! And when we say our special word, we are paying attention to Jesus. It’s like we are with him, listening to him, just like his disciples did. 
  • “Now, it’s very important to focus and not disturb anyone else. Be a friend to the person beside you, and stay very still. 
  • “We want to be silent, and still, and pay attention to the love of Jesus in our hearts. So, let’s say that word again. Can we try it? Say it with me: ‘ma-ra-na-tha.’
  • “Okay, let’s try together. We’ll meditate for three (or four or five…) minutes. Let’s close our eyes and take a deep breath, and begin saying ‘ma-ra-na-tha.’”
  • If you do have a chime or bell ask one of the children to ring it three times at the beginning. Tell the child to count for two seconds between each “ding.” Someone will do the same at the end. Let them know you’ll tap them on the shoulder to signal when it’s time. Say a short prayer, such as: “Thank you Jesus, for being in my heart. Help me to love others every day.” Then tell them to wiggle their fingers and toes, and slowly open their eyes. 
  • Finish up by saying: “Way to go! You just learned a new way to pray. It’s easy, isn’t it? Just like when learning anything new, it takes practice to get used to it. And guess what? Some classes in schools meditate too, and teachers find that the students are nicer to each other, and are calmer and peaceful. And they also learn new things really well.” 

Christian meditation is a beautiful way to spend time with God – for both children and adults, and even more so during this time of isolation. When we pray together, we feel the love and support from Jesus and from each other, and that’s a great thing, isn’t it?

Helpful Resources to Begin Your Meditation Practice

  • World Community for Christian Meditation
  • A quick video from St. Mary’s Elementary School in Hagersville, Ont., about their of their experience of Christian meditation.
  • A short talk by Fr. Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation.
  • Coming Home, Ernie Christie 
  • A Child’s Way, Jeannie Battigan
  • Like a Child: Why We Should Teach Children To Meditate, Laurence Freeman
  • Born Contemplative, Sr. Madeline Simon 
  • My Happy Heart, Gregory Ryan 
  • Word into Silence, John Main
  • Christian Meditation: Your Daily Practice, Laurence Freeman 


  • Julie Meakin

    Julie is the priest at Holy Family Anglican Church in Brampton, Ont. She entered the ministry after 22 years of teaching ESL and has practiced Christian meditation for the past 20 years. She is a member of the World Community for Christian Meditation.

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