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Renowned religious educator Dolores Curran often commented: “We teach too much too soon and too little too late.”
She was referring to the ways in which we adults tried to pass on our faith, our beliefs, our denominational creeds to children and, by contrast, the methods we used to teach adults.
Eager to keep our church family traditions intact, we crammed information into little heads and provided questions to be answered before any questions were asked. Quite literally, we gave too much too soon. Adults were “off the hook.” They had been fed orthodoxy, the right answers, as children, and were left free to live an unexamined life. They got too little too late.
For a number of years, concerned people have been trying to reverse the process. They have been attempting to challenge adults by empowering them to deepen their faith, to ask the hard questions, to have open hearts and minds. At the same time, efforts are ongoing to encourage children to think about God, creation, church and faith in ways that are natural to a child’s inquisitive mind.
Some denominations have children’s time during the Sunday worship service. They offer ways in which children can relate to scripture readings. Others have Faith Formation courses, and family oriented, parent-led, religious education. There are Bible study groups for little ones and, of course, the ubiquitous vacation Bible schools that make learning fun while delivering a solid message.
Success is measured by the percentage of retention. Dismay is felt when the young people become “church dropouts.” Anguished parents and grandparents beat their breasts and examine if they played a role in the departure from organized religion. They wonder what will happen to the young folks after they leave the church. They try everything in their power to keep their children and grandchildren in God’s family, even by making churchgoing a fun event with modern music and all kinds of sights and sounds. All the while, faith is tested and trust is placed in God to bring healing and hope to all.
There is hope...lots of hope. I found evidence of hope in a marvelous little book written by a local author and dear friend, Katherine Moore. She provides sample conversations for adults when faced with children’s questions about God, themselves and all creation. The power of her work is in the fact it is based on questions asked by her 4-year-old grandson Charlie. The book is neither too much too soon, nor too little too late. It is just enough at just the right time. As Katherine phrases it, “dialogue with a light touch.”
Charlie sometimes wonders about God. His grandmother affirms his musing with her own admission of wonderment and opens conversation about the questions that pop up out of the blue.
Charlie’s questions are basic ones. They touch the deep reality of humanity’s ongoing search for God, our quest to know Divinity as both transcendent and immanent.
Charlie wants to know “Who is God?” Who is this invisible person we can neither see nor hear, touch nor feel. Is God real and how do we know that reality? He won’t settle for a creation story response. He wants to know how he fits into the picture. “Did God make me, too?”
When he probes more deeply, “What is God like?” His grandma describes a God with whom Charlie can relate. She tells him, “God is all goodness. When you think of things that make you feel happy—things like ice cream, sunsets, snow, clouds, turtles, birds, singing and playing—all the goodness you feel is what God is like.”
The description seems to defy other information Charlie has gleaned in his short four years on earth. He wants to know if God looks like an old man. Obviously, this picture had been previously drawn for him. Grandma knows how to handle the integration of the concrete and the abstract. She tells Charlie it is helpful, sometimes, to think of God as an old man who cares for us with wisdom and kindness. Yet, she doesn’t want to leave Charlie with a limited view of God. Instead, she assures her inquisitive grandson with these words: “One thing is certain, wherever there is real goodness, God looks like that.”
Satisfied, thus far, with the who and what of God, Charlie needs to know where God lives. Is God up in the sky? Will Charlie see God when he flies in a plane? Heading deeper into the mystery of the divine, Charlie pushes the question. “If I can’t see God, then is God pretend?”
Moore’s response would satisfy an adult as well as a child. She reminds her grandson that he is real. He breathes, eats, thinks, runs and sleeps. However, “we cannot see our brain thinking; we cannot see ourselves when we are sleeping; and we cannot see the wind. Yet, we know all these things are real. In the same way, we can know that God is real.”
Each question led to another and another. There is a sense that Charlie will constantly probe the questions, sounding them to find their depth. He’ll want to know where God is, if God is real. He wonders how he can know if God loves him if he can’t touch or see God. Perhaps to certify his grandmother’s authenticity, he’ll want to know if God ever talks.
Charlie ends his questions where he began them...“but I still wonder about God.”
Charlie is us, young and old, schooled and unschooled, churched and unchurched. In and with him, we come to the same conclusion, “but I still wonder about God.” Katherine Moore assures us we’ll never really know all about God. To know all is God’s province. We can know something about God. We can draw our own picture of God. Most importantly, we can rest easy knowing that God is behind the big blue sky but God is also found in the kindness and love inside each of us.