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What is the Bible?

This can be a loaded and challenging question for adults. History? A collection of poetry? Allegory? A set of rules?

In the Atrium, our answer can best be explained with one word: gift.

From their earliest days in the Atrium, the children are exposed to the Bible. A beautiful Bible has a special place on the prayer table, and a candle is lit every time a catechist reads from it.

Most of our readings are from the New Testament in Level I and Level II, so many children will think of it as a source for learning about the life of Jesus and their relationship to the Good Shepherd.

Level II is the place where we begin to study the Bible itself – what it is, who wrote it and what it tells us about our relationship with God. Our objective is to help the children feel gratitude, awe and love at the great gift of the Bible, a record of our relationship with God that was written by people together with God.

The way we introduce this is through a lesson called the Books of the Bible.

The material is a wooden cabinet that opens to reveal dozens of wooden books painted in red, green and blue. These books are introduced as a library – with different types of books, numerous authors and different lengths. All of the books tell us about God, but also tell us about ourselves in relationship with God.

The children learn that there are two main sections of the Bible – the Old Testament that tells the story of the Jewish people before Jesus (these books are painted red) and the New Testament tells us about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (these books are painted green).

Then, a catechist introduces the main sections of the Bible. The Old Testament is divided into the Pentateuch, history, wisdom and prophets. Then there is the Apocrypha. The New Testament includes the Gospels, the Book of Acts, Letters and Revelation.

The children’s work is to pull all of these books from the cabinet, mix them up and put them back in order. This puzzle can be satisfying to solve.

Later lessons go more deeply into the sections and order of the Bible, to increase the children’s confidence and joy in looking up passages, studying specific verses and comparing stories across books.  By the time the children reach third grade, independent and adult-led Bible study are regular features of their time in the Atrium. (In Level III, the children begin to study the Old Testament.)

Would appreciating the Bible as a gift change the way you read it? Would it increase your joy in stumbling through challenging passages?

Last Sunday, I sat with a second-grader who was writing down the parable of the pearl in Matthew 13:45-46. The children are introduced to this parable in Level I and continue their study of it in Level II, as a way to reflect on the Kingdom of God.

She told me she was writing down the words and drawing a picture of a pearl because she didn’t understand the parable. I asked her whether she would like to talk about it. When she said yes, we talked about the merchant and the word “value.”

What makes something valuable? Could she think of something in her life that was valuable? Her dog.

Why? Because of love.

And I told her I thought she had understood the Kingdom of God more than she realized. The Bible is a gift indeed!