Benno and Lesson He Learned About Thankfulness
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 1/2
To explore ideas concerning who and what should be thankful.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a narrator and some children to play the parts of the sheep, birds and frogs. They could make appropriate animal masks to wear during the assembly. The timing of their responses makes the assembly, so practise this a little so the children know when to make them for the best effect. Also, let them know that, in the assembly, at the end of the story, you will be asking what the animals might have been giving thanks for, so you want them to think about an appropriate answer their animal might give. For example, the sheep might give thanks for the fresh green grass, the chance to run about, getting rid of their thick winter wool.
- If you wish, gather some images of other animals – perhaps ones that live elsewhere in the world – and have the means to display them during the assembly. Also prepare some questions to ask about them.
- Familiarize yourself with the story of 'St Benno and the Frogs', which can be found in Helen Waddell's Beasts and Saints (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1995; first published 1934). The original story mentions only frogs, but has been expanded here to include other animals.
- The prayer at the end is an adaptation of the Benedicite, omnia opera, which is found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This was, supposedly, the song sung by the young men thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar.
Narrator Once there was a very holy man. His name was Benno. He was so holy that he prayed nearly all day long. He would go into the woods, kneel down and pray for hour after hour.
One day in late spring or early summer, he went out as usual. He saw that everything was very beautiful – the blossom on the trees, the swallows skimming through the blue sky, the warmth of the air . . . He knew that his main prayer today would be to thank God for all of these beautiful things. So, Benno kneeled down, opened his mouth and . . .
Narrator It was the sheep in a nearby field. 'Stop that!' shouted Benno, 'I can't think with that row going on, let alone pray!' So the sheep, who knew that they had to obey such a holy person, stopped bleating. Benno got down on his knees again and opened his mouth to pray . . .
Birds TWEET! TWEET! TWEET!
Narrator 'I can't believe it’, Benno grumbled. He looked up. There was a blackbird's nest in one of the trees. Some eggs had just hatched and the fledglings were making a racket. 'Excuse me, you lot up there, someone's trying to pray down here. Could you please, Mrs Blackbird, stop your babies from making such a din!' So Mrs Blackbird, who knew she had to obey such a holy person, chopped up a worm and popped it into her young ones' mouths and told them that they had to stay quiet. Benno got down on his knees and opened his mouth to pray . . .
Frogs CROAK! CROAK! CROAK!
Narrator 'I can't believe it! I just can't believe it!' shouted Benno. 'You lot in that pond - pipe down – I'm trying to pray!'
Frogs CROAK! CROAK! CROAK!
Narrator Benno still couldn't pray. 'It's still not good enough! Turn it off completely!' One young frog was enjoying himself so much that he just couldn't stop.
Frog CROAK! CROAK! CROAK!
Narrator Benno was really cross by now. 'That's it, I have had enough! Right. I want every animal in this wood to listen to me. I am a very holy person and it's my job to pray, but I can't pray with all this racket going on, so you're all going to have to shut up. Stop making such a din!'
As soon as he said this, the wood fell silent. Benno was really pleased. He got down on his knees and opened his mouth to pray . . . but nothing happened. He tried to make his tongue make some sounds but words just wouldn't come out.
He put his fingers in his mouth and gave his tongue a twiddle, but it was no use. The words still wouldn't happen.
Then a verse from the Bible came into his head (Prayer of Azariah 1.57): 'O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. . . . O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.' He suddenly realized that the baaing of the sheep and the singing of the birds and the croaking of the frogs might be pleasing to God. In fact, it might be even more pleasing than his own prayers.
So, he said sorry to all the animals and told them that they could make as much noise as they liked. From that moment his tongue was loosened and he could pray again.
So, that’s the end of the story, but what's it all about?
Many Christians think that if we humans have a basic purpose, then it's to give thanks to God – not just for ourselves, but for all of creation. Perhaps animals are giving thanks to God in their own way, but we just don't understand them!
What do you think the animals might have been saying thanks for, if only Benno had been able to understand?
Benno's problem was that he didn't realize his own prayer was only part of a much bigger prayer all of creation offers to God.
Time for reflection
Let's be quiet for a moment and think about all the beautiful animals that live in the world and all the beautiful things they – and we – have to be thankful for.
Here are some words adapted from the very old prayer Benno remembered that reminds us our thanks are only a small part of the song of thanks sung by all creation:
Sun and moon, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever. . . .
Ice and snow, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever. . . .
Lightning and clouds, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever. . . .
All green things on the Earth, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever. . . .
Whales and all that move in the waters, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.
Birds of the air, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.
Beasts and cattle, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.
Children of men, bless the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever. . . .
‘All creatures of our God and king’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 10, 2008 edition)