Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Power of Yes – A Christmas Tale from First Day School

I have had the privilege of teaching First Day (Sunday) School these past four months. I have certainly learned much, as a teacher, about Quaker history and Quaker curriculum.

For example, in what other group would the curriculum start off with the statement “To talk about [name of your religious group—in this case Quakers], first we have to talk about jail”? In other words, what have Quakers felt so strongly about that they have been willing to go to jail, to stand in opposition to their communities, to their own Meetings?

Benjamin Lay (1681-1760), By William Williams Sr. [2] [3] ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons I will forever hold the image of Benjamin Lay, former slave owner, who stood outside his Meeting barefoot in the snow to witness to the condition of slaves. They probably thought he was a nut. We probably think he was right. This definitely gives me pause. Benjamin Lay said “Yes!” to his own experience of turning his life around and to the promptings of his own spirit and conscience.

I have also learned more about teaching children, including working with children who have difficulty making contact, sitting still, or who have challenges in making transitions. A child sitting with his arms and head entirely inside of his sweatshirt, literally or figuratively, can be drawn in, just as those who are bouncing around the room like Tiggers. I too have learned the importance of sitting down, being quiet, and listening, and also of coming out of my shell. I definitely need more practice, too.

The Innkeeper, by Glenn Harrington In filling in the Christmas story, we played a game designed to help us experience the emotions of Mary and Joseph as they went from door to door looking for shelter. We stood in a circle, with one person in the center, who went to each of the others asking “Can I come in? Can I stay with you?”

At first, there were many answers of “No!” Some were with a flounce and a flourish—what child, grown or not, does not enjoy saying “no”? I had mixed feelings. I have difficulty saying “no” to a child, especially someone else’s. I did not like the disappointment I saw in faces when turned them away, yet I knew this was part of the experience to talk about later.

One of the children seemed categorically unwilling to say “no.” When anyone came to him, he would look at them directly, grin, and say “Well of course you can, come on in!” with a sweep of his arm. As this repeated, fewer and fewer people said “no,” and all of us were welcoming each other in. At that point it seemed unnecessary to talk about the game—we got the point that saying “Yes!” and opening the door multiplied all of our joy.

I will carry the knowledge of Benjamin Lay standing barefoot in the snow, a door thrown open with a resounding “Yes! Come on in!” and the joyful life, energy, and uniqueness of children with me from this season into the coming year. I will remember the power of “Yes!”

What would you like to say “Yes!” to in your life?

Image Sources & Notes

Benjamin Lay, by William Williams Sr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Innkeeper, by Glenn Harrington

An interesting alternative interpretation of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem comes from ChristianAnswers.net :

The text of Luke 2 notes there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the “inn.” Unfortunately, the Greek term translated inn (kataluma) had multiple meanings, among them inn or caravansary. Used only one other time in the New Testament (Luke 22:11 and the parallel passage, Mark 14:14), it was the place where Jesus observed the Last Supper with His disciples…. The kataluma of the last night of Jesus’ earthly ministry was the “upper room.”

We suggest the kataluma of Jesus’ first night was a similar room in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph came into town with Mary ready to deliver. Arriving at Joseph’s ancestral home, they found it already full of other family members who had arrived earlier….

The Biblical account mentions neither barn nor cave—it is assumed because of the manger…. But in the ancient world, as well as in primitive modern cultures, mangers are also found within the house itself. Animals are regularly kept in homes at night. A small number of flock animals were housed, not in attached exterior sheds, but inside the house in one of the ground floor rooms…. Family sleeping quarters were on the second floor (an upper room)….

Consequently, Mary and Joseph did not find space in the living quarters of the ancestral family home. Instead, they stayed downstairs in the domestic stable, still within the ancestral home, where a manger or two was located….


Perfect Christmas Quaker-kid intro to biblical history and words…Thanks, Gail. As a former “herder,” I might add that earlier humans appreciated the body heat of stabled animals as well as needing to protect both selves and critters. One of my favorite Christmas stories for all ages is Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s Certain Poor Shepherds, A Christmas Tale. My grandsons and I started it Christmas morning while the rest of the household slept. At ages 11 and 8, they were as mesmerized seemingly as Gail’s students, exploring the the manner tales are told and the significance that may have on our lives.
Your creative approach to teaching will also help children see the unpleasant effects of bullying and the importance of genuine friendship and goodness. Well done, Gail.
Great piece! Sounds like you’re getting some challenges & managing them well. At the moment, PBMtg has no children, but several bouncy 4-6 yr olds for a few years. Whenever my teaching Sunday loomed, I wd groan & scramble for a lesson. Then get in the room & remember how much fun it is. We still have an “on call” list of teacher & helper every Sunday— on the theory that if you schedule it, children will show up. We hope!
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