This article appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of
The Catechists's Connection.
by ANN NAFFZIGER
Previous generations of children learned how to read from sitting down with their parents and reading out of the Bible. As they learned to read and labored to sound out some of the more difficult names, they also learned the biblical values and lessons we Christians want to pass on. Tonight, scores of parents across our country will sit down to read stories with their children before bedtime. Children love the anticipation of hearing the next in the adventures of the Little House on the Prairie
series, or more likely these days, the Harry Potter books. But what about the Bible? Have you ever considered reading and discussing Bible stories with your children before bedtime?
A few years ago, my friend Jim decided to read through the gospel of Matthew with his six year-old daughter Naomi before she went to sleep each night. He started from the beginning, leaving out sections that wouldn't have been meaningful to a six yearold. He would read one short story or several verses of dialogue, translating them into more comprehensible language, and then ask Naomi for her reactions. When I babysat for her one night, the passage that fell to me for our pre-bedtime discussion was "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." In the conversation that followed, Naomi unabashedly told me, "When Peter is mean to me at school I bite him." Her honesty prompted a wonderful discussion and teaching moment.
Don't just read the stories, though--engage your children in them. With which characters do they identify? Why? Talk about how God is like a mother (Hos 11:34) and also like a father (Mt 7:9-11). If Jesus is the light of the world, make the comparison to the night light that gives comfort to your child when he or she is afraid of the dark. If you are reading with your child during the day, you might suggest they draw or paint something from the story you've just read, or you can act it out with them, letting them choose which part they'd like to take.
When it is age-appropriate, you can draw your child into "stickier" discussions that have lessons for our modem world. You will also want to point out how the Bible is culturally and historically conditioned. For example, even though you might notice that St. Paul didn't condemn the practice of slavery and that he ordered wives to be submissive to their husbands, you can have a fruitful discussion about how our cultural beliefs have developed over the centuries. Reflect with your children on why we believe what we believe now.
These are weighty matters, but, then again, so is our faith. You won't have all the answers about why God smites the first-born children of the Egyptians and then several chapters later tells the Israelites, "Thou shalt not kill," but don't let that keep you from exploring the Bible with your children. They will learn to appreciate your engagement of the text, even as they begin to engage it, wrestle with it, and try to understand it themselves. As you already know, there's enough material in the Bible for a lifetime of engagement.Children's Bible Study
Reading through one book of the Bible at a time, as Jim did, is one method of "studying" the Bible with your children. Another is to follow the lectionary cycle and read and discuss the readings that your family will hear on the upcoming Sunday at Mass. You will find these readings listed on the website of the Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org
) or in your parish bulletin. Doing this ahead of time might make the Liturgy of the Word a little more bearable for your squirming child who otherwise might have a difficult time comprehending the readings being proclaimed from the ambo. Yet another way to read the Bible at home is to buy a good children's Bible and read it through from beginning to end.Ann Naffziger is a catechumenate director and a free-lance writer. She holds a master's of divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and a masters' in biblical languages from the Graduate Theological Union.