It only takes a daily glance at the headlines to feel overwhelmed by the cultural landslide barreling down on our children. Violence, narcissism, exploitation – we are surrounded by the tragic consequences every day. They come with an almost automatic internal voice begging to know how we can protect our children from the maelstrom.
Certainly we can’t single-handedly defy every negative influence or erect a magical land that is free from potential danger. But the things that we can do – the things that can be most meaningful – are often so simple that we ignore them.
Seven years ago I was entrusted by Ruah Woods Press with the task of creating a four-year high school Theology of the Body curriculum. Where to start with such a monumental project? I began with a copy of St. John Paul II’s work in one hand and a pile of post-it notes detailing the challenges of today’s youth in the other.
I tried to imagine what I would love graduating high school seniors to know and believe about their identity, their relationship with God and the world at large and then to think through the small steps necessary to arrive at that place.
Along the journey, the idea was raised that starting in ninth grade isn’t sufficient for true transformation. What about junior high? What about kindergarten?
And so, other writers were tasked with creating a Theology of the Body curriculum for K-8. All together, the 13 grade levels form “ROOTED.”
What method does a curriculum take that seeks to “go to the heart of the tragedy experienced by modern man,” (Evangelium Vitae #21)? It’s not some sort of theological weightlifting that induces paralysis before beginning. It’s actually rather simple.
For K-5, ROOTED relies on the beauty of reading aloud. Simply sharing beautiful stories, discussing them and highlighting their themes can help our children to see that they are different from the animals, created with a purpose and placed in the world that is a gift from God.
Junior high students are invited to reflect on their place in the world through writing. It’s a unique time to consider how God has created them and what He calls them to in their maturing life.
In high school, there are more opportunities to reflect and to discuss in community, highlighting the reality that no one is alone. We are all relational, created by God in relation to Him and to every human person. The ache of loneliness that pierces the hearts of our young adults today, symptomatically screaming to us through drugs, cutting, social media addiction and promiscuity, has an answer that every teen longs to hear. “You matter. You are a gift. You are unique and unrepeatable, chosen by eternal Love, and entrusted with the gift of your life. There are struggles and sufferings in life, but there is joy and peace and meaning, and you can experience these things. You only need to receive them.”
Teaching Theology of the Body to school-aged children doesn’t need to involve a long lecture, a degree in theology or a complicated system. It requires the love and presence of parents and teachers for those entrusted to their care. It relies on sharing meaningful stories, asking thought-provoking questions and sharing the hope that comes from the confidence of knowing one has been created, redeemed and invited to heaven by God who is Love.
The Ruah Woods Press team frequently quote Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote, “Beauty will save the world.” The beauty of love, truth, sacrifice, meaningful art and the natural world captivate us and offers us a glimpse of something more, something better than the ugly blandness proffered by the culture at large. We can’t underestimate the power of beauty to lead our children to the certainty of the goodness of creation.
Seven years ago when embarking on the adventure of sharing Theology of the Body through a high school curriculum, I was a newlywed. Now my husband and I have a five-year-old who is asking penetrating questions about the meaning of life, a two-year-old who can’t get enough read-aloud time on the couch, and a newborn who is learning about the goodness of her existence through simple smiles.
Now I’m beginning to enjoy the lower grade levels of ROOTED as I read stories to our children, and simultaneously assigning the high school lessons to my students in a homeschool co-op. It’s incredible to imagine the potential for families, schools and communities to grow up with the messages of Theology of the Body, diving more deeply each year into the truth of who we are and what it means to receive and give love.
Yes, the culture in which we live might seem the very antithesis of what St. John Paul II shared in Theology of the Body about the meaning of each person and the world, and yet countering these messages doesn’t have to be complicated. Stories, smiles, questions, hope, joy, peace – these are the experiences that have the capacity to remind us of our dignity and purpose.
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Copyright 2019 Emily Macke
About the author: Emily Macke is the author of “Called to be More,” a high school Theology of the Body curriculum published by Ruah Woods Press. She is a graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. She is an adjunct instructor at Mt. St. Mary’s of the West/the Athenaeum in Cincinnati and has a wide range of experience speaking, teaching and writing about the faith. Emily lives in southeastern Indiana with her husband and children.