Connecting Religious Language with Personal Experience

World Religion SymbolsThroughout the 7th grade world religions class, we had been talking about the power of hope found in all religions. In our final discussion on the power of hope found in the Hindu tradition of Diwali, the students were asked to share a story of how they experienced hope.

One young girl boldly raised her hand and talked about how her dad had been diagnosed with cancer when she was born. As the student grew up, her dad shared with her that she had given him hope to fight the cancer. He said, ‘I had every reason in the world to fight and live so that I could be a part of your life.’ Once the young girl shared her story, the hands of other students started to shoot up, and we had a deep conversation for the rest of the class.

One young person shared how he was born with severe health problems and the family’s rabbi told them to have faith that everything would be ok. The boy said that his family will never forget the rabbi’s hopeful words in a time of crisis. Another boy shared how he was the result of a surrogate pregnancy and that his parents were filled with hope despite all of the challenges. You could see the joy in his face as he shared this very personal story with his classmates.

Sacred scripture and stories are a good starting point to talk about spiritual and religious themes such as hope because they have been a source of wisdom tried and tested for thousands of years. Students who do not have a background in religion often find these sacred stories relevant. When a variety of religious traditions is being taught and discussed, students often feel safer to speak because no one religion is being pushed on them. Students have plenty of spiritual stories and personal experiences to share and at this age they are willing to do so if they feel safe.

Norman Hull

About the Author

The Rev. Norman Hull is the K-8 Chaplain at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, California. He has served as a parish priest and chaplain during his 22 years of ordained ministry. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 1985 and CDSP (Church Divinity School of the Pacific) in 1995.