02 September 2011

eye contact

photo by Heptagon, used by permission

Something that really sets Godly Play apart from other kinds of storytelling is the lack of eye contact between the teller and listeners. It seems to be one of the most disturbing features of Godly Play. It's certainly one that I have often heard people complain about. And I too find it frustrating sometimes not to be able to "see" how children are reacting to the story. But if I've understood right - that's precisely the point: It's not about where the storyteller's focus isn't, but about where it is.

The storyteller is completely engrossed in the story. And this deep involvement draws the listeners' attention to the same place. There's a lovely photograph of Jerome Berryman telling a parable story to a child. It's copyrighted and so I won't include it here, but please follow this link to the picture.

I don't think anyone could look at that photograph and say, "How weird that Jerome isn't looking at the boy!" It's clear that Jerome and the boy are looking together at a shared story. It looks perfectly natural and right.

If you have time you might click through the complete sequence of five photographs of that telling (at the National Godly Play Conference in Australia, July, 2011). There is one photo illustrating the eye contact that does occur before the parable begins, Even if you don't know what a parable is, the parable is already yours.

And then, I wonder how many sheep there really are? What I love about this photo is how curious Jerome looks. He has handed over control to the boy, and has no idea what answer the boy will come up with.

The third photo we've seen already: When there are places of danger I show them how to go through.

Four: I wonder if you ever had to go through a place of danger?

And finally, a picture of real intimacy and trust. I wonder what caption you would give to this photo.


  1. I have to say that you never cease to amaze me at the aspects of GP that you come up with to write about! This is a well-written post and the pictures of Jerome with the kids are inspiring. I have actually taken a lot of flack about not making eye contact as well as the slow, methodical speech when telling GP stories to adults.

  2. As a fellow Storyteller, I understand what you mean about eye contact. I rely on that contact with my audience for feedback on how to continue the story - am I boring them? are they gripped? doing I need to speed up, skip a bit or slow down?.

    But I have seen your GP lessons and your intent concentration on the materials draws the listeners in, they even lean forward to see where you are looking.

    I suppose the biggest difference is the materials. I rarely use "props" but you have your "characters & sets" to focus on.

    And Sheila, I don't know you but I am one of those people who find the lessons too slow & methodical for me. Not a criticism of anyone other than my fidgety self! I notice, though that this, alongside the lack of eye contact is what grips the young ones - it often holds their focus better than the "pantomime" we regularly see in children's programmes (on stage & telelvision).

    Next Sunday I am leading Junior Church for the first time. My style may be a little different so we'll see how the children react!


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