Friday, April 6, 2012

A Book for Good Friday

Several years ago at a workshop Emily and I were holding on Charlotte Mason's method of education, we  were addressing her way of teaching the Bible. A mother who was there shared a revelation she had recently had while reading a biography of the poet, William Blake, to her children. It dawned on her suddenly as she  read of his rich knowledge of Bible stories, that her children did not know them. Though they were very  involved in church programs, the extent of their Bible knowledge was limited to the memory verses they had in Sunday school or AWANA.

Her realization about her children's poverty of Bible stories is an example of how parents and churches, as  well as the publishers of books, think about children. Their view is far smaller than Ms. Mason's. I have been  talking about the weakness in modern literature for children. This is not a new phenomenon as Ms. Mason's  words reveal:

Children Enjoy the Bible.––We are apt to believe that children cannot be interested in the Bible unless its  pages be watered down––turned into the slipshod English we prefer to offer them. (Vol. 1, pp. 247-248)

If you know much about Ms. Mason, you know she believed in the ability of children to acquire an appetite for the real thing. Reading the Bible was no different. She considered its words fit reading. She considered children fit understanders.

We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to 'deal prudently,' and to deal  reverently...Children between the ages of six and nine should have considerable knowledge of the Bible text. By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. The Old Testament should, for various reasons, be read to the children. The gospel  stories they might read for themselves as soon as they can read them beautifully. It is a mistake to use  paraphrases of the text; the fine roll of Bible English appeals to children with a compelling music, and they will probably retain through life their first conception of the Bible scenes, and, also, the very words in which these scenes are portrayed. This is a great possession...Let their minds be nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the wilfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience. (Vol. 1, pg 248-249)

It does not sound as if she thinks them incapable of understanding, as we so often do, or that a better time than today will come which will be more suitable for the straight reading of the Bible itself.

Today, as our family rereads the passages of Christ's betrayal by the Jews and his closest friends, his deliverance into the hands of the cruel Romans, his unimaginable suffering, and ultimate death, there will be more than the usual quiet attention. Though I have said that in reading fiction children can face and begin to handle trauma that will prepare them for life's real tragedies, they do not have to be told this is not fiction. They do not require my careful interpretation or explanation. They are persons. The Holy Spirit will be their teacher. They will own the story because it belongs to them.

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Jesus said, "Hinder not the little children". Let them have a "Good Friday" with the words of the real story: "When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death (Mt. 27:1) and on to his standing before Pilate who "knew that they handed Him over because of envy" (Mt. 27:18). Let them absorb the details of Pilate's wife's dream, hear the crowd's bloodthirsty scream, "crucify Him!", and see the vivid pictures - the crown of thorns, the whip scourging, the Place of the Skull. This is vivid language, powerful storytelling. This should not be diluted down to some hypothetically childproof  acceptability. This is the story of their salvation. The agonizing cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" should be ringing in their hearts all day.

It will not be too much for them. In good Charlotte Mason fashion, you will stop in a precarious place  because this heightens their attention and prepares them to come back with full readiness for the next lesson. You may end with "It is finished!", but they will know it is not the end of the story. They will be intensely  prepared for the next chapter, the women creeping through the dawn's first light to the tomb, and the big surprise, "He is not here!"

The best part of this story is that that is not the end either.

For the joy of reading,


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