Eleanor Lalley shares her experience of reading the Bible as a child and her desire to spark that enthusiasm in her own children.
By Eleanor Lalley
When I was a child, my brother, sister and I shared a Catholic children’s Bible. It was hardback and illustrated and it was all ours to read or even just to look at the colour illustrations. We spent many happy hours looking at the drawings of the Old Testament and New Testament stories: Moses found in his basket, the parting of the Red Sea, Joshua around the walls of Jericho, Jesus preaching, the Last Supper and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
My favourite illustration in that particular children’s Bible was of Delilah cutting off the sleeping Samson’s hair (Judges 16). There was so much going on in that confusing and disturbing picture which took up almost a whole page. As a child I did not understand that image of a bejewelled, beautiful woman cutting the long hair of a muscular man. We certainly never read that Bible story in Church or at school, so why was it in the Bible and why was it illustrated so prominently?
When I had children of my own I made it a priority to have children’s Bibles in the home and to read from them with my children. I also wanted to read with them some of those Bible stories not included in Sunday Mass readings: Joseph (Genesis 37:2-50:26), Samson (Judges 16), Esther (Book of Esther), Judith (Book of Judith), Daniel and Belshazzar (Daniel 5), and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3) to name a few. As my children grew older we read graphic novels of the Bible. The comic strip artwork opened up biblical stories and characters in a new and modern way, conveying their energy and powerful messages. One of our favourite children’s Bibles included the excellent Lego Bible, which is painstakingly photographed using Lego figures and blocks.
I recently asked my now 15 year old youngest girls (who are twins) about the most memorable story they read in the children’s Bible. They said that it was the story showing the wisdom of King Solomon when he threatened to cut the baby in half before the two women claiming to be the child’s mother (1 Kings 3:16-28). Both of my girls asked for that story to be read to them repeatedly when they were younger. Of course it was illustrated as well in full colour to covey the high drama of the situation.
So what is the point of sharing these strange Bible stories with children? For one reason, it is important to stress that people followed God in different ways than they do today. God is always present with his people no matter when they lived. Some biblical tales are better shared with older children and in fact may terrify little ones. Reasons to share some of the more colourful biblical stories with school-aged children are:
Reading the children’s Bible at home can create a lifetime of interest in Scripture and its application to every day life. It was not just my children’s Bible at home that interested me. In Catholic primary school my teacher told the class stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs from Genesis (Genesis 12-50). In High School we read the creation stories in Genesis (1-3) with a more analytical eye that made these stories come alive. The details and composition of the creation stories still fascinate me to this day and my confidence with the Bible was strengthened by years in school hearing about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and his wives.
Today as a mother of teenagers and a 22 year old the Bible passages that feed me spiritually tend to be the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels – especially in the Gospel of John. I also have a love of the letters of St Paul and the very human successes and failures of the communities he wrote to. These days I keep up with lectionary readings in Magnificat and have a well-worn study Bible with notes written in the margins. There is always something new to discover in the Bible and it speaks to me differently in different seasons of life – from childhood to adulthood to parenthood and beyond. But I still love the more unusual stories in the Bible. Have you ever read 2 Maccabees 7?
Do you have a favourite Bible story?
Eleanor Lalley is a Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of Liverpool who works in a parish in Ainsdale, Southport. She has seen first-hand in the parish and beyond the spiritual benefits of Catholics engaging with Scripture and contributes to the Liverpool Archdiocesan website https://thegodwhospeaks2020.org.uk