Religion is an endlessly fascinating topic for me and often the disparity it creates in my mind between unquestioning belief and factual knowledge can be likened to standing out in an open field during a thunder storm. Exposed, vulnerable and ultimately resigned to getting a little bit wet.
I am a member of the congregation in a Methodist church here in New Jersey. I sing with the choir. I lead the church in prayer and praise every so often as liturgist. In the past I have conducted the children's portion of the service by imparting some simple or fun message - for instance teaching the little ones how to sign "Jesus Loves Me" or reading from a children's book. Many years ago I taught Sunday School and attended bible study sessions of my own free will.
I have taken the spiritual journey that many folks have traveled before, regardless of ideology or dogma. And although I have done all of these things and have a deeply rooted belief system that is infinitely refined and redefined, as I journey on I have my reservations. The manifestations of our religious rituals and rites seem so arbitrary.
For example, Methodists take communion the first Sunday of each month. This differs from the Catholics who receive communion every Sunday. There are also some other key differences between the two religions. Methodists see the bread and wine (grape juice) as a SYMBOL whereas my Catholic friends tell me they believe that the bread and wine transform to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Of course, there exist differences in the rules between many religions. It seems that everyone is eager to send someone else to Hell because it is our way or the highway. Some organized religions are more welcoming to outsiders than others. I was told that I am not permitted to receive communion in a Catholic church because I am not Catholic. So, I take my bit of bread and wine where I am invited to partake...and somehow feel better.
No matter how silly I may think it is that simply admitting my sins washes them away or that I question the logic behind such pronouncements, when the time comes I am happy that for a brief moment I am good to go.
It brings to mind what I read about Joseph Campbell. He was the go to guy for comparative mythology and how it influenced all of the religions of the world. He saw the logical progression of mankind's belief system from coming to understand the surrounding environment by assigning greater power to unknown forces to the development of comparable religions across the globe from Buddhism to Christianity. With all his knowledge he still considered himself to be a Catholic.
But maybe that is the point. Maybe having belief AND being able to question that belief is the journey. After all, who really can prove anything that will happen after we die? We can look to the past and base our questions in that knowledge and then let our, what... hearts?, souls?, minds?... take us where it needs to go.
I strongly believe in giving children options and exposing them to big questions early on in their lives. I have found many children's books that deal with issues of God and religion and choosing a particular one over another depends on your religious inclinations. However, to promote discussion and to foster questioning I have come to respect the following books.
What is God? by Etan Boritzer and illustrated by Robbie Marantz. This book is dedicated to the children of the world. It explores this "very big question" through an exploration of the beliefs and history behind it. Children gain exposure to various methods of worship which highlight the similarities across religions rather than the differences as well as prayer. The simplistic drawings help give children access to the heavy messages. A book worth revisiting again and again.
God Lives in Glass: Reflections of God Through the Eyes of Children by Robert J. Landy. I copied this descripton from Amazon.com
"Children from around the world show us God in ways that we may have forgotten!
What does God do? How do we let God in? If you met God, what would you say?
Here are the "theological" answers of young spiritual thinkers from around the world, representing more than twenty different religious traditions. In sharing how they see God, they'll help you to see God in new ways.
In a poetic language of images all their own, these children re-awaken us to the mysteries and wonders of the universe, and lead us to our own understanding of the spiritual. "