Not meant for a child?

I remember my first Bible. The book had a fragrance to it, not like paper from a mill, but something like perfumed parchment. That set it apart as holy. ‘The Poky Little Puppy’, after all, did not have fragrant red-dyed pages. Moses with tabletsOn the inside of the front cover was a drawing of a man with a long beard and horn-like shafts coming from or penetrating into his forehead. The man was climbing down a mountain. He was carrying big tablets of stone, that began “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before Me”. I did have an inkling, even then, of what that meant: a childlike intimation of the Being beyond beings, of the God who made all and rules all, who Himself was strange because He was God, while all the ‘strange gods’ were not gods at all, as strange as they might be. On the inside of the back cover was a similar drawing of Jesus standing on a hillside, preaching to people below. This time the caption began “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” . I’m still working on that one.

There were special laminated pages set between the Old Testament and New Testament, illuminated with small drawings and red letters, for recording births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths. My name is there, in my father’s handwriting, as are the names of my brother and sisters. That alone gave me an idea as to the importance of the book. Here was something that had to do with what for me were, and still are, the mysteries of birth and death, not to mention the marriage between a particular woman and a particular man, without whom I would not have come to be.

That such love and reverence should be accorded a book, a family Bible, isn’t surprising. Perhaps it should be. Nobody would think of recording births, marriages, and deaths in laminated insets of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species, or Marx’s ‘Das Capital’.

CreationI remember reading “In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters”.  I didn’t even know what “waters” meant. I imagined darkness like a sea, and God brooding upon the sea. I found it strange that the “earth” was there but wasn’t there. But the words that fixed their wonder in my mind were those first three: “In the beginning.” Then came the words that flooded my mind, strange words that no storyteller I’ve known would conceive: “Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light”.

Moses in the bulrushesI didn’t stop there. I read on. I read about Adam and Eve and the serpent. I read about Cain and Abel. My eyes were dazed by the great lists of begats, of unpronounceable names, living prodigiously long lives, and occasionally inventing metalwork or settling in the land of Edom, named after a cheese. My child’s mind was fascinated. I read about Abram and Sara, and how hard it was for her to get a child, though I had no idea why she couldn’t get one from the same place where other people got them. Tobias and the fishI read about concubines, and had no clue what they were, though they all seemed to be women, like secretaries. I read about Lot and Mrs. Lot, and their visitors, and the rain of fire from heaven.  Moses in the wicker basket, the burning bush, the staff of Aaron, the gnats and locusts and boils (what are boils?), the frogs and the angel of death – then the ten commandments, the golden calf … finally I stalled at the law of purity in Leviticus. “What does the word is-sue mean?” I asked my mother. “Let me see” she said, taking the book and considering. She paused, and gave me an odd look. “I don’t know” She said.

SamsonAfter that I stopped reading in order, but bounced around the book – reading about Gideon, about Samson and the honeycomb in the carcass of the lion (the business with Delilah I found pretty dull and incomprehensible but a lion carcass and a honeycomb, that was another story entirely), about Tobias and the fish and I remember how sad I felt when the prophet Elisha was mocked by a gang of rotten boys and he cursed them and they were eaten up by some bears.

What was so exciting about the stories? Not the things I could imagine already, but the mystery of it all. They were not Disney tales easily understood, and easily forgotten. These stories were rooted in the heart of our humanity. The imagination of a child opens out to the half hidden, the unsearchable.

It is therefore a grave mistake, even if only for the sake of education, to suppose that schools should be neutral with regard to the being of God. An even worse mistake is to provide for our children, though with good intent, “children’s Bibles” and “children’s liturgies” that end up starving the imagination and stifling the faith.

A child will be aware from church, from family life and from his reading, of the tremendous mystery of that Father who is utterly different from us, yet Who knows our inmost thoughts. But the child for whom God has been reduced to a googly-eyed cartoon of a smiling old man will reject the cartoon as he grows older, believe me,  just as he rejects dressing up as Batman and running around the house in his shorts.

So please, please, let’s not throw Baltimore out and let Sesame Street in – not with our Bibles, not with the catechism, not in our Churches, not in our Liturgy.

Eybl - Girl reading


21 Responses to “Not meant for a child?”

  1. 1 Katherine Jane November 11, 2009 at 22:15

    I agree with you.
    My friends and I get together once a week with all our children and we read the bible and discuss it (not a children’s version but the real one) and this gives the children ample opportunity to express what they think, to ask questions and discover their faith.
    We have all noticed that the children love to be treated as ‘grown ups’ and I must confess that we learn a lot from how they understand the bible message. The discussions are astonishing.

  2. 2 Cara November 11, 2009 at 22:35

    Once again you’ve given me food for thought. Thanks.

    That’s a great idea, Katherine!

  3. 3 Mary Nicewarner November 12, 2009 at 00:26

    I think I had a children’s bible as a child, but the real bible was more interesting. I was fascinated with biblical stories when I was young, though the begats bored me. To be honest, they still do 🙂 [Yes, I know they have their purpose.] Michaela received her first real bible at birth from her grandparents but she also has children’s bibles. I admit that I use the children’s Magnificat to help her follow along at Mass, she is very fidgety and it is hard to get her to pay attention. Having said that: I do not water down the faith for her even though she is young. She is aware that Jesus suffered deeply to save all people and that he was crucified for our sins. Her favorite mysteries are the sorrowful ones and she uses an adult scriptural rosary book. We did buy her a child’s version but she wasn’t interested in it:)

  4. 4 Karin November 12, 2009 at 02:29

    Sometimes I think we don’t give children enough credit- they understand more than we think they do.I agree that children’s Bibles and liturgies do not help them much in their learning their faith. I remember sitting for hours as a child leafing through the very large and heavy Bible my parents had. They seemed to keep it hidden in an end table cabinet, but I always knew where to find it. I truly believe it planted some seeds.
    Thanks for another informative post.

  5. 5 Antonella November 12, 2009 at 06:44

    Having read the above…I wonder why during Mass before the Liturgy the children in some Catholic Churches all leave to attend sunday school or catechism classes and then return sometime before communion… would be better for the child to stay in church for the whole Mass………could it be because they are fidgety or that they can getter a children’s point of view or understanding in a classroom !!??

    • 6 Judy November 12, 2009 at 12:57

      Any Catholic Church doing this is going against the Liturgical rubrics…it is (SADLY) yet another watering down that has taken place in order to appease, attract, and keep a certain “audience” (i.e. not wishing to chase Catholics away to Protestant churches where their children are more easily entertained).

      Gabriella…secretaries eh? Hmmm…makes sense in a child-like way doesn’t it…LOL…what a dear little girl you were. When I would come to my mother with a word that was “taboo” she would get the same odd look as your mother and then tell me “Look it up in the dictionary”. Unfortunately, we mothers today can’t even trust the dictionary … do you know that in some dictionaries they have CHANGED the definition of marriage…adding a second definition to include same-gender relations?!?!?!? (Sorry for that digression)

      This is a wonderful post and I thank you for the reminder that all our children really need is TRUTH…and we can find that in the Bible…just as it is. My kids’ most favorite story is that of Tobit…we read it annually on the feast day of the Archangels…funny…no matter how many times we read it we are STILL in suspense as we travel the way with Tobias and Raphael!!!!!

      Thank you for your wonderful blog which ALWAYS blesses my day!

      • 7 booklady November 14, 2009 at 19:30


        Thank you for this wonderful and timely (from a strictly selfish standpoint!) post. As a brand new DRE I just had to teach my first class in awhile; it just so happened to be on Holy Scripture to a small group of five young catechumens, aged 12-8. I brought in family Bibles from home and we spent a good deal of class just ‘swimming in Scripture’, i.e., talking about it, getting the feel of the Bible, dipping into it here and there and reading from it. The children loved it! So did my own daughters when they were growing up. I got them Bibles at very young ages and we read from them frequently. My one daughter continues to read her Bible every night before bed.

        The Holy Bible is one of the main reasons why I am still Catholic. I, too, had a beautifully illustrated story Bible as a young girl and remember some of the exact same impressions you describe!

        May I share your lovely, lovely post with my catechists?

        God bless you again!

      • 8 Gabriella November 14, 2009 at 19:40

        Yes certainly, Booklady, you are most welcome! 🙂
        Thank you.

  6. 9 Ruben Vidal November 12, 2009 at 13:43

    Super Bible lessons for modern children:

  7. 10 Ehawee November 12, 2009 at 21:30

    Oh yes, I’m sure children understand the Bible as well or BETTER than adults.

    Children are not good at analytical abstract thinking, but they are GREAT at understanding stories and metaphor.

  8. 11 ginny November 13, 2009 at 01:46

    Children understand more than we give them credit. They certainly do not need “picture books” to understand the bible. Unfortunately, our churches do not have this same mindset. It makes me cringe when the children leave the church for their own liturgy of the Word. I find it more disruptive then having them there in church for the entire Mass.

    • 12 Judy November 13, 2009 at 02:29

      I agree. And the problem (Liturgically) with this little system is that often these children are being ushered out to hear their own “little gospel version of the Gospel”…Only a priest or deacon may proclaim the Gospel during a Mass! Thanks for not minding this comment Gabriella. I realize it’s a bit off-topic to your post…but,in some ways, I suppose…ties in, since we are speaking of sharing the Word of God with our children AS IS…and that would pertain to the Readings and Gospel at Mass as well, wouldn’t it?

  9. 13 anne bender November 13, 2009 at 06:16

    I love the picture at the bottom of this post. And I love how you describe your first bible as perfume scented.

    I agree with the post and comments about Children’s Liturgy of the Word-I don’t care for it at all, but I do like Children’s bibles for the same reason I like this post-I like the pictures! They just add something for me, help me to flesh out my imagination. That’s why I like the idea of the perfume scented bible as well. Let’s make it as nice and attractive as we can because after all, God is the essence of nice and attractive.

    Also, I think the shortened stories work well with shortened attention spans. It gives them a little at a time and leaves them wanting more. The easier to read and understand words helps them learn to read the bible on their own. By the time my boys were ten, they were able and willing to pick up the “real” bible and read it on their own. Start slowly and work your way up works for me.

  10. 14 churchmouse November 13, 2009 at 08:48

    I loved my children’s Missals (had a few), which helped me understand the Mass and kept me occupied as a four-year old. The photography in them was sumptuous. I was probably the only pre-school child I knew who understood the Order of Mass and even recite parts of it thanks to those Missals. I had larger adult ones by the time I entered school.

    And I read every set of children’s Bible stories I could get my hands on at the library. They were great — especially the illustrations!

    I still think about these books today. They were printed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Later on, even though I don’t think it’s appropriate for kids once they reach high school, I did enjoy reading the Good News Bible at home when I was 12 or 13. (It was probably a gift.) It did get me used to reading Scripture.

    • 15 Ehawee November 13, 2009 at 09:06

      Why do you think that the Good News Bible is not appropriate for kids of high school age?
      Is it because of the violence?

      • 16 churchmouse November 13, 2009 at 09:19

        Hi, Ehawee — Not sure what you mean by ‘violence’.

        High school students should be reading appropriate translations of the Bible not watered-down primary-school level versions. (This doesn’t apply, of course, if one’s child has learning disabilities.)

  11. 17 Ehawee November 13, 2009 at 09:36

    Oh I see, sorry, I didn’t know that the Good News Bible is a watered-down version 🙂
    I agree with you and with Gabriella.

    Many parents I know don’t want their children reading the proper bible because of the violence (God destroying entire cities like Sodom and Gomorrah, God striking down people, etc.), they prefer the cartoon bibles where God is portrayed as a loving father, a creator, a kind old man and never as the Judge that He is!)

    Thank you for clarifying.

    • 18 churchmouse November 13, 2009 at 09:53

      No problem. In my day, they didn’t have the non-violent, ‘loving father’ illustrated Bible stories. Kids read straight away that God punished disobedience, which was good from both a spiritual and temporal point of view. I suppose by today’s standards, some of those illustrations could be seen as violent, however my friends and I looked upon them as a representation of God’s might and awe. He was not One to be trifled with on any account.

      Therefore, we didn’t grow up with moral relativism or rationalising our disobedience, both of which are all too common today. So, IMHO, this is where we are likely to have problems in Christianity in future. We can already see it in a lot of people in their 20s and early 30s. Half are traditionalists (which is good) but the other half appears to have a lazy or heavily politicised approach to Scripture and the Christian life.

  12. 19 Reachparadise November 13, 2009 at 18:48

    You conjured up some memories from my own childhood with this post. I, too, remember the mystery and “higher order” of it all when I was first exposed to the bible. (Well, it was actually a series of large print, single story books, but same idea). I recall most of them being from the Old Testament – Moses, Noah, Adam and Eve … it felt like another world to me at that age … something that was as unreal as a fairy tale … but something told me it was all true.
    Thanks for sharing.

  13. 20 nazareth priest November 16, 2009 at 00:05

    Gabriella: Thanks for your note on our blog. I’m still alive!
    This post brings back so many memories. I was raised in a Protestant family but one that loved God, taught us to live a life modeled upon the Law of God, and my grandparents, now deceased, my grandfather a Protestant minister, my grandmother his devoted assistant, taught me to love Jesus and His Holy Word.
    I have a tapestry of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung in my grandfather’s office in his rectory.
    I have the first bibles I received as a child and they are very precious to me. It was the first contact I had with Jesus which lead to His Catholic Church and my vocation as a religious and a priest.
    May both Grandma and Grandpa Hopkins, the ones who taught me to love the Lord Jesus, rest in peace. AMEN!

  1. 1 Bibles for children « Churchmouse Campanologist Trackback on November 24, 2009 at 01:27

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