As Autumn blows slowly through the wooded path along the James River in my neighborhood, I am reminded of the conversations held by a group of children I know to co-construct an image of God. How profound their thinking, and how beautiful their representations! This is the first in a series: Constructing An Image Of God.
One morning, Isabella set out to paint. I asked her what she was planning to paint (implying intent, whether it's really there or not, helps children learn to approach their work with intent). After some thought, Isabella said, "The face of God." Working nearby were Millie (age 4), Annie (age 4) and Georgia (age 5), and they heard Isabella's intention. The three children engaged in dialogue, then, about the nature of God.
Millie: God is a "he." I know it because He made the world.
Teacher: A girl could not make the world?
Millie's mom: I think you could make the world.
Millie: I couldn't even plant a bush. I don't even have the seeds for it.
T: I wonder how God got the seeds.
Millie: He has magic.
Georgia: God is a boy. Because I've seen pictures in the Bible.
Millie: I've seen pictures in the front of a book that He's a boy. He has every boy thing that a boy has.
T: Like what?
Millie: Like brown skin..
Georgia: My best friend's grownup in the Philippines has brown skin.
T: So do you think God has brown skin?
Georgia: No. White skin. I know where God was born. He was born on a planet.
Millie: Maybe on Mars.
Georgia: Uh, but, why would God be wearing long sleeves, because Mars is really hot.
Millie: Mars is like a desert. Deserts are really hot and camels live there...(more facts about camels).
T: Do you agree with Georgia that God has long sleeves, so He couldn't possibly be on Mars?
Georgia: I think He's on a different planet.
Millie: I think He's on Heaven.
Georgia: Heaven is a planet. A planet above Earth. It's like a giant cloud.
We took the ideas from that conversation to our Community Meeting as provocation for further dialogue, beginning with the gender of God. Many children...but not all...thought God is a boy.
Maggie: A girl god is called a goddess.
Hartley: If it was a girl it would be pink; if it was a boy it would be blue.
T: Is God pink or blue?
Many voices: No!
Georgia: I think Hartley means His clothes.
Savanna: No. He has a white shirt with a sash.
Bellamy: A rope around it, because they didn't have our clothes in those days.
T: In what day?
Bellamy: When God was born.
T: When was God born?
Evans: God was born on Christmas.
Georgia: Christmas a thousand years ago.
Millie: One hundred weeks ago.
Blair: I think one thousand million years ago.
Savanna: One hundred and thousand fifty years ago.
T: How old is God then?
Millie: A thousand billion thousand.
Child: That's not even a number.
Georgia: He's so old it's not even a number.
Carrigan: God knows that He knows everyone, even the moms and dads and teachers.
Savanna: And everybody in the whole wide world.
T: How can God know everybody in the whole world?
Savanna: Because He made everybody in their moms' tummies.
Meadow: God's looking out for everybody. He's a spirit.
T: What's a spirit?
Georgia: A spirit is an invisible person that looks over you.
Meadow: Yeah, and they only come out at night.
T: Well, then how can God be watching over us all the time if He only comes out at night?
Meadow: He's not that type of spirit that only comes out at night.
Georgia: He only goes out at any time of the day or night.
Meadow: He's looking out for everybody.
Millie: God doesn't go in other people's houses. He just is a spirit that looks over people like Santa.
Blair: But how does He send the baby to happen in the Mommy's tummy?
Kinley: If you eat a lot of food and a lot of stuff, God would make babies from in the sky when you're outside.
T: God makes babies in the sky, and when you're outside what does he do with the baby?
Kinley: He makes the bones and then he puts all this....
T: How does the baby get in the mommy?
Adelaide: If she eats a lot of food.
Evans: God's still alive.
Meadow: God is always alive. He's a spirit.
Bellamy: God makes the babies invisible so they can go in the Mommy's tummy.
T: Oh, does the Mommy know?
Georgia: She does, because her stomach turns bigger.
Bellamy: The baby is really small. Small as a tiny mouse.
Hartley: I know when God got born. When Jesus got born.
Blair: That's not true.
Abby B: God and Jesus are sons.
Kinley: No! They're best friends!
Millie: God was born in Mary's tummy.
Savanna: No! God is in all of our hearts.
Maggie: He's basically everywhere.
Blair: In the Bible, at the end of the Bible, it says that 90 years before Jesus was born, God was born.
Hartley: No. The sun is God.
T: If you were going to draw God, what would He look like?
Georgia: A boy with a beard.
Savanna: A boy with a white shirt and a sash.
Hartley: It's gonna be blue.
T: Georgia said God has magic. What would the magic do?
Georgia: Make people be alive and stuff.
Evans: Make people.
Meadow: And He makes people go to Heaven.
Evans: He helps people go to Heaven.
Georgia: I think He wants people to stay alive, but He doesn't have the magic to make them that.
Millie: He can't even make the trees.
Hartley: Yes he can. God makes the trees. God makes the grass. But not the houses.
T: Who makes the houses?
Hartley: The builders, OK? You buy them. I have one question. Did God make food?
Savanna: No! The people. Cause I have cooking class.
Isabella: What about God makes trees...people plant trees.
Many voices: Yes He does!
Honor: Well, God is in the seed. So God makes the tree grow, not the seed.
Millie: God can't be in the seed, cause He's too big.
Honor: He can be anywhere.
Millie: He can't be as tiny as a seed. God makes trees for real. Actually, the planters make the trees.
We invited the children to draw God doing something that only God does. The pictures are, in my opinion, amazing.
As the children were drawing, Hartley came to me and said, "I think God is sad about [Martin] Luther King. I think He's saying, 'I wish Luther King was back. I want to make that person who killed him die with my magic.' "