Well, who knew…. Who knew that the people in the congregation I serve knew SO much about giraffes?
I have long considered giraffes my favorite animal. I told the children this on my first Sunday. Then last Sunday, I introduced them to my stuffed animal giraffe, Serenity. I told them about giraffes as a symbol of Compassionate Communication (also called Non-Violent Communication or NVC). I quoted Marshall Rosenberg, as saying “The Giraffe has the largest heart of any land animal, is tall enough to look into the future, and lives its life with gentility and strength.” (See www.cnvc.org for more info on NVC.)
My plan had been to engage the children in a conversation about what “giraffe speak” would sound like – manner words, requests rather than demands, things like that. It was a setup for a sermon on covenant and why we voluntarily chose to be and do good.
Turns out my plan missed the developmental mark with many of the children. They enthusiastically suggested sounds that a real giraffe would make but weren’t making the leap to what it would sound like if a human was “speaking giraffe.” This was my mistake, not theirs, and I felt a need to rescue to situation.
Finally, noticing that a number of the children had stuffed animals with them, I said, “Would this be how an animal with a big heart would act?” I reached out and pretended to grab one of the animals and said, “Give me that animal!” “NO!” this was not how an animal with a big heart would act, they all agreed, a little surprise to see their minister act this way.
“Would an animal with a kind heart say, ‘May I see your animal, please?’” I asked. “Yes.” they agreed, a little relieved, I think.
The child with the animal I had reached at handed me her animal. The boy next to her asked to see Serenity. And then, all at once, they started passing the animals that were in the group around. It was both serious business and incredibly sweet at the same time.
This is when the little voice in my head, the one that always shows up to coach me on Sunday mornings, said, “Now would be the time to stop talking.” My only regret was that the beautiful scene was not visible to most of the adults in the room.
Plans rarely turnout as one expects when there are children involved. Sometimes they turn out much better!
Finally, I suggested that all the animals find their way back to the person with whom they had come, which they did with ease.
In the days since then, adults and children alike have shared their vast knowledge of giraffes with me. I have always liked giraffes, but I have never made a study of them. I think that may change. I think I would like to learn more about the real animals, and I know I would like to spend more time with the children “practicing giraffe.”