The Cathedral of St. Philip - Atlanta, GA

Circles Within Circles

An article for the Cathedral Times
by Lisa McNamara, Director of Children's Ministries
June 25, 2023

Circles are important in children’s ministries. We sit in circles, we draw circles, we even have Godly Play stories about circles, all making me very aware of the circles of life. There are the daily circles: wake up, get dressed, go to school, eat our meals, engage in afterschool activities, spend time with family, go to bed, wake up. New day–same thing. Then things broaden into a weekly circle. On Sundays, wake up, go to church, go to lunch, attend afternoon sports, eat dinner, and have a mad scramble to finish weekend homework assignments found in the bottom of a backpack. Mondays through Fridays are work- and school-week rituals, and Saturday is a hodgepodge of yard and housework. Then the week starts over again. The circle broadens into monthly routines: paying bills, meeting deadlines, visiting doctors and vets, and checking in with family. The circle expands even wider into annual traditions, like the beginning of a school year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Year, Lent, Easter, the end of school year, and summer vacations; and it all happens again with a new school year. 

A few years ago, at a Cathedral Staff retreat, we did an exercise of each one of us telling our “Spiritual Autobiography.” I keep thinking about how it made me feel to talk about the different milestones that have really impacted my life. Your spiritual life affects the size that your BIG circle of LIFE will become. There are the regular ebb and flow of things, as mentioned above. But there are also things that alter your entire existence, and that is where the circle expands or shrinks. The birth of a child can bring you such joy and happiness: you can see God’s love shining, and your circle gets a little bigger. Opening your heart and life to others, and simple acts of kindness, will cause your circle to grow exponentially. When you lose someone in your life, and you feel debilitating grief, your circle is still growing because you have loved the way God wants us to love one another. Even when we are faced with our own mortality, our circles can grow, as we can feel God’s presence and comfort. 

But life’s events can also make our circles shrink. Do we harbor ill feelings towards someone? Do we judge others for their life choices? Do we long for material possessions? Do we cheat to get ahead of others? These are things that cause the circle of our life to become small. 

My favorite parable to tell in Godly Play is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. There was once someone so special he said and did amazing things. People would follow him and ask questions. Once he was asked about the kingdom of God. And he responded, “The Kingdom of God is like no other. It is like a tiny seed that grows and grows into something giant, many times greater than the seed it came from.” 

We call our 4th and 5th grade youth group “EYSeedlings.” I love this. We are all just tiny seedlings existing in our little circles, trying to grow and grow until we become so big that we can reach the Kingdom of God.