Catholic Activity: Teaching the Creation Story
Mary Reed Newland emphasizes the importance of the creation story, and gives guidelines for summarizing the book of Genesis for very small children.
The first lessons in any catechism are about God and creation. If you read the story of creation to your children out of Genesis, translate it into their own words, linger lovingly over all the projections of it that are a part of their own lives, their first glance at that same lesson in the book finds them already knowing the answers. "Who made the world?" In the first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament is the story of how God made the world. This is how it goes.
Out of nothing God made this great, complicated world. First, He made the light, and then the space (which is called firmament in most translations), that emptiness between earth and the highest stars. Already there is something that has enormous meaning for small boys whose cereal boxes screech of space ships and trips to the moon. One would think, these days, that scientists, or cartoonists, or script writers created space. Well, they didn't. God did. For all their hip-de-do about trips to the moon, there would be none, even in the funny papers, if God hadn't made space.
Then He gathered together all the waters under the space, and called them seas, and what was left was dry land and that He called earth. And when it was done, He looked at it lovingly and said, "It is good."
Then He made all the green growing things on the earth, and then — lovely invention — He made the stars. Next the sun, and the moon, and then the fish in the seas and the birds in the air. After He made the fish and the birds, He blessed them, so that they would have the power to lay eggs and raise families and one day there would be our phoebe, in her funny mud nest over the door. Bold, saucy phoebe, who built her nest where the light should be and now we can't put a light over our front door. God even knew that, and saw us stumbling around in the dark with a flashlight all because of a phoebe. Our phoebe was in the mind of God that day when He blessed the very first phoebe so that she could start her family and be many times over a grandmother to our phoebe. Now they begin to see a great deal more about the God Who loves them so much. Not only did He know them that long ago, but He also planned things for them, so their world would be full of fun and beauty.
After the fishes and the birds, He made the animals, and of course He knew the first lady goat who would be many times over a grandmother to our goats. He thought, "I shall design a goat, of course, with chin whiskers and a voice that sounds like cloth tearing, because My children will want to have some goats." So Nanny and Helen were known, too, even then. How much God knows . . . it would be quite impossible to fool Him.
Then came the best part of all. After all the world was made, and the sky and the stars and the sun and the moon were in place, and there were green growing things, with rivers and seas and land where birds flew and animals and fishes lived, then (and have them look for themselves, and see that the words are there on the page exactly as you read them), He said, "Let Us make man to Our image and likeness." God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, all made man together out of the slime of the earth, and breathed their own foreverness into him, and loved him. And here is their first knowledge of the soul.
"What do you suppose it means — they made man in their image and likeness?"
No one knows; so they wait to hear what it means.
"It doesn't mean we look like God, because this happened in the very beginning, long before the Son of God came down to earth to take the form of a human baby. And it couldn't mean that He made us out of the same stuff as Himself, because God is not made out of stuff: God is a spirit, without a body. God never changes, but we change. So it couldn't be that we are like Him in our body, which changes every year and grows bigger and older all the time. It is the foreverness that He breathed into man that is like Him, the part of us that never dies, as God never dies. We are like Him deep inside, where our love comes from. That is the part of us we call our soul, and we cannot see it, or touch it, because, like God, it is a spirit."
Just recently a mother asked me: "But do you really mean to say you can teach a four-year-old that he has a soul, and expect him to understand it?"
Yes, I do — because I have seen it happen. A four-year-old does not doubt. It may be hard for him to visualize it, but he accepts it simply because you tell him. And there is this we forget, because we are grown and the years of first faith are so far behind: children have a sense of their being very early in life. It isn't lust the physical sensation that goes with having a body that can feel hot, cold, hunger, weariness. It is a real sense of their soul. I can remember distinctly as a child stopping in mid-air, as it were, and realizing "I am." I'm sure I didn't put it that way, but that is what it amounted to. My own children have tried to tell me about it in various ways: "Mother, sometimes I get the funniest feeling — about me, and if I am awake, or am I dreaming, or is this whole world real, or just me?"
Children may be clumsy with words, but that part of them that is eternal makes itself known in flashes of puzzlement like this, and we ought not to be surprised when it does. One ought to expect that such a staggering thing as an imperishable soul, filled with God, would be able to beat through the consciousness of flesh now and then and make us stop and wonder. Doubtless, four-year-olds do not often stop to register awareness of their souls, but their acceptance of them is the same act of faith as their acceptance of God.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961