Children and Youth
"We cannot simply think of our survival; each new generation is responsible to ensure the survival of the seventh generation. The prophecy given to us, tells us that what we do today will affect the seventh generation and because of this we must bear in mind our responsibility to them today and always." Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)
Seven Generations is long enough to really appreciate the impact of a policy made or action taken today. Choices made from this perspective help ensure that whatever prayers we make and action we take are likely to create the world we want to have, one of peace and prosperity in harmony with each other and with the earth.
The Prayer Vigil for the Earth honors this teaching of the people who are indigenous to the Americas. Diverse faith communities have given us many ceremonies over the 14 years of the Vigil that involve children, young adults, and the elders in setting intentions and making blessings for our people, the human race and our world, the earth.
Children at the Vigil particularly enjoy opportunities to bless their elders, to open the ceremonies, to lead joyous celebration in music. They also have a chance to be creative in making artwork, taking a new face, and/or telling a story of what the world is like seven generations from now. We thank them for reminding us what life is all about, however they see it. Open mike on children’s prayers for the world takes us all to the heart of our gathering.
Young adults come to actively listen to other emerging leaders, finding common ground in their visions and goals. They are eager to learn from the past, from their elders in this Prayer Vigil for the Earth environment. Many have met mentors that guided them well through the major initiations of life. There are opportunities at the vigil to sit with diverse religious leaders and learn how they have found peace and how they lead their communities in peacemaking.
A vigil means staying up, keeping the watch, keeping the light burning and the prayer flowing all night long as well as all day long. We especially thank the many young adults who stay up all night with a few wise men and women at each and every vigil, keeping curiosity and prayer alive.
Lighting the Sacred Fire and Set-Up
On Set-Up Day before the Prayer Vigil for the Earth begins, the ground is blessed by a Native American elder and the Sacred Fire lit. The youth, the next generation, for the first time light the Prayer Vigil sacred fire. Youth include children of Prayer Vigil participants, students from local schools and others.
These teenage volunteers and their supervisors are from Coesus International School in Washington, DC, and are listening to Bill Rolph, the Prayer Vigil Fire Keeper, explain the meaning of the Four Cardinal Directions and the Sacred Fire and their relationship to the Sacred Circle of structures that form the site of the Prayer Vigil. The structures relate to various Native American and African indigenous and several traditional Western religions.
Coeus International School students in the 5th through 8th grades attended the 2006 Prayer Vigil for the Earth to experience a truly international and multi-cultural array of service-oriented people and activities that further the school's mission. Community and Service is a core pillar of Coeus' curricular framework, along with Environmentalism, Health and Social Education, and "Homo Faber" (humans as creators). Students expanded their mental and spiritual horizons in joining their elders to assist with set-up for the Prayer Vigil, including raising Tipis.
Blessing the Children
The blessing of children is an ancestral ritual that honors the child's life and path of destiny which is supported by elders, family and community. The blessing also awakens in all adults the responsibility and commitment to be a model as a child is always watching and seeking guidance. The blessing calls on the Creator to protect each child until the child can protect oneself. The ritual honors those children who have made their transition and their spirit is at peace. The honoring of children for those in our family and the children of the world unites all cultures in the teaching of respect, understanding, compassion and tolerance in the prayer that each child in their growing leadership role can make a difference in world peace. This particular ceremony is led by Mary Sunbeam of the Cherokee Nation.
Grandfather Harry Byrd, spiritual Elder of the Prayer Vigil, always took blessing the children to heart. He said many times, “If you prick the finger of a white person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a black person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a red person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a yellow person, the blood flows red. If you prick the finger of a brown person, the blood flows red. This proves that we are ALL ONE.” This is an important teaching the Harry always gave to the children and youth who attended the Prayer Vigil.
Mayan Priestess Blessing the Children
- Nana Eufernia Cholac Chicol
Child Blessing an Elder
Another tradition is exemplified by Mitch Walking Elk blessing the babies with sweetgrass. One of the most sacred plants for the Plains Indians, sweetgrass is a tall wild grass with a reddish bas and perfume-like, musty odor. Sweetgrass is usually braided together in bunches as a person's hair is braided, although friends have said they have seen it simply bunched and wrapped in cloth. Either way, it is usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around, letting the smoke spread through the air. This latter method is how we were taught to burn sweetgrass in the sweat lodge - allowing the purifying smoke to get to all parts of the lodge.
Native Americans were taught that it was good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or cedar had driven out the bad influences. Sweetgrass brings in the good spirits and the good influences. As with cedar, burning sweetgrass while praying sends prayers up to the Creator in the smoke. High Hollow Horn says in the The Sacred Pipe, "This smoke from the sweetgrass will rise up to you, and will spread throughout the universe. Its fragrance will be known by the wingeds, the four-leggeds, and the two leggeds, for we understand that we are all relatives; may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!" Sweetgrass is also put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage to purify and protect sacred objects.
Children’s Music and Peace Parade
At the Vigil we feel that it's important for children to have their own space, so there is always a Children's Tent or Tipi where art supplies, musical instruments and craft projects are available. Bill Jenkins brings his collection of over 100 instruments collected from around the world. At various times during the Vigil a Children's Parade is created where we circle around the entire site making a joyful noise. The children learn how to be in a real band and how to play a variety of drums and percussion instruments.
Nisa Nature's Adventures for Children
Nisa Montie's nature show for children has a twist - children find treasures inside themselves as well as outside in nature. Through songs and dances, children experience a deeper connection to themselves and their environment.
Unity-by-the-Bay, Annapolis, Maryland, youth dancers highlighted the Prayer Vigil for a number of years.
To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
Dancing in Prayer
A Bahá’í youth is seen dancing in prayer. The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. He explained that there is only one God and one human family, and that all religions are spiritually united. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings offer spiritual guidance as well as directives for personal and social conduct. Though they come from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, they are united by their belief in Bahá’u’lláh and by their desire for a united, prosperous, and peaceful future for all of humanity.
Children Walking the Labyrinth
A Labyrinth is an intricate pattern, design, symbol or archetype found in many spiritual and community traditions in various cultures around the world. It has a single or unicursal path leading to a center or goal, with the same path in reverse leading you back out. An ambulatory labyrinth is one large enough to accommodate people walking upon this sacred path in meditation. There are no cultural barriers within a Labyrinth. This Labyrinth was made by Pamela Ramadei, Treasurer of the Labyrinth Society, in cooperation with the women of Sacred Space, using 300 pounds of semolina flour. Prayer Vigil participants added feathers as they walked in meditation.
Ceremonial Drummer, Larry Long, teaches a child to drum. Other drummers pictured are Dave Wilson and Little Wolf Vasquez. (Dr. Wayne Evans is out of view.)
Child playing the drums in Bill Jenkins children’s area.
Volunteer Sue Haydon (left) assisting in the children's tipi.
Around the Prayer Vigil of the Earth runs a ring of flags from all over the world, Japan to America to Eastern Europe, and each flag is a picture of peace made by a child. Children meet at the Vigil and interact in simple curiosity, each learning about the other's beliefs and traditions. They call us adults to that place within ourselves that knows God, knows Love, and knows no boundaries. Please bring your children and your own childlike heart to this Vigil to become a part of the creation of peace here and now, in good company and on sanctified ground.
The children's perspective and point of view in prayer is both the heart and the goal of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth. Many volunteers have discovered and developed gifts of the spirit within themselves or within their communities in order to help children lead in prayer and peacemaking: whether through dance (Unity by the Bay church), through meditation and discovery (Sacred Space), through service (Coeus International School), through sacred ceremony (Mary Sunbeam and many other elders), or through art (the Peace Prayer Flag project). Please bring your own experience as an individual and as a community in prayer and peacemaking from the heart of a child.