By Joseph White
There are many different talents, gifts, learning styles and areas of need represented in God's family. In many ways, our Church is as diverse as the human family as a whole. We must consider this diversity as we follow Jesus' admonition to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19).
The wealth of our faith lends itself quite well to this diversity, and we can present Catholic teaching in many different ways. Pope John Paul II stated in Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time) that "the variety in the methods is a sign of life and a resource" (No. 51). This means that when we use many different methods to teach the faith, we show that our message is living and rich, and we show that we respect those we are catechizing.
The Gospel is for everyone, and it needs to be communicated in ways that result in real understanding, reflection and application. There are important reasons, therefore, to use multisensory methodology -- activities that use various senses and abilitites.
Our Catholic faith has a long-standing tradition of multisensory methodology.
Jesus himself taught not only through words, but also through his healings and other miracles and his compassionate example as he cared for the poor and marginalized. As he taught about God's kingdom, Jesus would frequently cite visible illustrations of what he was teaching. For example, on one occasion when he was teaching his disciples about humility (see Mt 18:1-6), he brought a small child for them to see as an example of what we are called, spiritually, to be. Jesus was a keen observer of his environment, and he watched for concrete examples of the principles he wanted his disciples to live.
Early Christian teachers followed Christ's example of multisensory methodology. St. Paul, for example, taught both by preaching and through the written word. He also used visual aids at times to engage his listeners. For example, when he preaches at the Areopagus in Athens (see Acts 17:22-34), St. Paul points out the altar to the "unknown god," saying that this God is the one he has come to tell them about.
The Church continued a tradition of multisensory methodology, further developing the signs of sacramental rites as well as using music and the visual arts to tell the Gospel story. The Church has enjoyed a rich history of painting, sculpture, music and dramatic arts. Masterpieces like the works of Michelangelo testify to the importance that has been placed on this multisensory tradition. In recent decades, Catholic films and television programs have been produced to teach others about the faith. In Mass today (particularly on important feast days), we might have the opportunity to smell incense, hear music, view beautiful icons and stained-glass windows, move into various prayer postures -- for example, kneeling and standing -- and even taste Jesus under the signs of bread and wine.
Multisensory methodology has been an important part of the celebrations and teaching of the Christian tradition for centuries.
Two decades ago, an idea emerged that shed new insight on how people learn. In his 1983 book, "Frames of Mind," Harvard University psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner proposed a new theory of intelligence, called the "Theory of Multiple Intelligences." Gardner asserted that there was not just one type of intelligence, but many different ways in which a person could be "smart." He proposed the following eight types of intelligence:
Linguistic Intelligence: The ability to read, write or speak well. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave energetic and inspirational speeches, was high in linguistic intelligence.<[etk]>
Spatial Intelligence: The ability to read charts, graphs and diagrams or to excel in the visual arts, such as painting, drawing or photography. Great artists such as Leonardo <[lb]>da Vinci are high in spatial intelligence.<[etk]>
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence:-1] The ability to use numbers and logic, to solve puzzles, or use the scientific method. Albert Einstein is one individual we would recognize as being high in logical-mathematical intelligence.
Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: The skill at singing, playing an instrument and appreciating or composing music. Great composers such as Bach and Beethoven were high in musical intelligence.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Skill at using the whole body in physical movement. Great athletes, such as seventime Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, are high in bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Naturalist Intelligence: Sensitivity to the features of the natural world; the ability to discriminate between various types of living things. The late Steve Irwin (the "Crocodile Hunter") was high in naturalist intelligence.
Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to relate to various types of people, to work in groups, and get along with others. Pope John Paul II, who appealed to so many different types of people, and was known for being both personable and sensitive to others, was high in interpersonal intelligence.
Intrapersonal Intelligence: Skill at introspection and contemplation. Great Catholic mystics such as St. Theresa of Ávila are high in intrapersonal intelligence.
The General Directory for Catechesis states: "When catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the entire Christian life reaches its summit" (No. 85). The "climate of prayer" in catechesis invites individuals into relationship with God. Prayer is conversation -- talking as well as listening. This task of catechesis is accomplished by helping individuals enter into this conversation. Here are activities you can try that appeal to multiple intelligences:
Linguistic Intelligence: Invite the group to write prayers on various themes. One possibility would be to use the forms of prayer discussed in the Catechism (No. 2626-2643).
Spatial Intelligence: Create "visual prayers" by drawing or painting pictures for God. Invite participants to express feelings, hopes, petitions or thankfulness and praise through their artwork.
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Explore the Church's tradition of memorized, repeated prayers such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: St. Francis said that those who sing "pray twice." Use music (and for younger children, music and movement) in prayer times.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Make use of various prayer postures in your group prayer time. Discuss how these prayer postures relate to different ways and forms of prayer.
Naturalist Intelligence: Invite the group to go on a "prayer walk" in which you walk outdoors and thank God for aspects of his creation.
Interpersonal Intelligence: Have a group prayer time in which participants form a circle and go around the circle thanking God for something or presenting particular intentions (praying for relatives who are ill, etc.). After each prayer, say in unison, "Lord, hear our prayer."
Intrapersonal Intelligence: Encourage participants to keep a "prayer journal," in which they
record their reflections on their faith and write letters to God.
Dr. Joseph White is a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor. Adapted from "Catechist's Companion: Multisensory Methods in Catechesis" (OSV, $2.95)