I last wrote a review regarding Christian books around Eastertide of this year. As always I am reading, reading, reading. I think I single handedly keep our church library busy! One book that is full of wonder and thought is the classic, “The Religious Potential of the Child” by Sofia Cavalletti, which I think should be a must-read for any parent interested in children and their relationship to God. This book was written after twenty-five years of work with children ages 3-11, and offer profound insight into spirituality and religion for the young child. To me personally, religion is first and foremost about love, joy, wonder and a personal relationship with Christ and this book captures this so well. I read this quite some time ago, and am glad I circled back around to it again as its words are so rich and profound for all of us as human beings.
What this book does to me, is to remind us that children can lead us to God and that we must not hinder them. Instead, we must envelop both the mystery of God and the mystery of the child. If we start with our own hunger to know and love this child before us, how much easier to find a path to the Divine!
The major themes of this book includes Christ as the Good Shepherd; the Eucharist and how this draws forth a response in us; Christ as a Light and how this transmits to a child through Baptism; and the mystery of Life itself. In this book is acknowledged the child’s ability to see the invisible, the child’s mysterious knowledge of God and the joy that can be found in God. The adult is not the “teacher” – both the adult and the child receive in wonder.
These wondering experiences are based in Christ – Christ as the mediator; Christ as seen from the Incarnation as a bond between man and God. There are wonderful indications in this book for working with small children using parables from the New Testament, particularly this image of Christ as the Good Shepherd, including modifications and presentation. Communal and personal meditation and art response are all part of wondering.
Interestingly, this book advocates waiting for Old Testament stories until the child is at least eight, except for some of the passages of the prophets in relation to Advent, and to begin with the life and Resurrection of Christ. It points out that the main message of the events of Christ’s infancy is do not be afraid; God is near; therefore rejoice! The true mark of Christianity, to me, is joy…a joy no matter what circumstances. This has been tested many times in my own life through illness, through trials, through deaths. And yet – rejoice and find the Light! The passage of Christ’s death and Resurrection is pointed to from the Book of Luke – this idea that Christ was King on the cross; this juxtaposition and mystery –Jesus is a king of a mysterious kingdom; “one that is even like a mustard seed”. I think these insights could even be helpful to non-Christian parents if they are presenting the life of Christ in sixth grade homeschooling. The Resurrection is seen as a communal event celebrated together in liturgy; the parables and the events of Christ’s infancy are spoken of in this book as leading to meditation and prayer.
There is a wonderful chapter on Prayer in children – to a young child meeting Christ as the Good Shepherd, perhaps the only prayer needed might be “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Different parts of the Lord’s Prayer, common to all Christians in all denominations, can also be highlighted. A small child may only really need to hear, “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, Thy Kingdom Come” whereas an older child may need to hear the words of forgiveness for others spoken in this prayer. Prayers spaces are discussed as well. The importance of silence and wonder is emphasized; the idea of not giving too many stimulii is addressed. Wonder must have a worthy object to attach to, is a line written in this book, and I find this to be true – especially as children grow older.
There is a wonderful chapter about morality, beginning with “God is love.” Morality does not only include just actions; but an orientation. The last sentence of this book is, “The “metaphysical” child, the “essential” child, will find the full realization of himself only in the world of the transcendent, a world in which he has shown he moves completely at his ease.”