New book helps children grow closer to Jesus through Scripture
April 16, 2020
“God’s Word Alive: Touching Hearts of Children through Scripture” by Erin Keller. Self-published (2020). 157 pp., $20 (paperback).
Most of us who went to Catholic elementary school remember learning vocal (memorized) prayers. We learned to pray the Rosary, the Guardian Angel prayer, perhaps the Angelus. But few of us learned to speak with God heart-to-heart, or to ask what he wanted to say to us.
Erin Keller has been trying to remedy that since her oldest kids were in elementary school. Through the organization she founded, One Heart – One Fire Ministries, she has brought her teaching to Catholic schools and parishes. Keller has a Master of Spirituality degree from Creighton University, along with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Directed Retreats. She currently works with the Evangelium Institute, which provides faith formation to adults, and especially Catholic school teachers, in the Omaha area.
Now she has published a book for teachers and parents to use the meditations she has written throughout the years to teach their children to pray. “God’s Word Alive: Touching the Hearts of Children through Scripture” provides meditations on the Sunday Gospels for all three cycles of the liturgical year.
The book begins with an introduction on how to use the meditations. “The written meditations are meant as tools to take the scripture from the head to the heart,” she writes (p. 9). She encourages parents, teachers and others who use the book to steep themselves in Scripture. She invites them to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in tailoring the meditations to the needs of their students, especially once they have grown used to the method she presents.
Keller’s meditations follow the format of Lectio Divina, the traditional Catholic practice of reading and reflecting on Scripture to grow closer to Jesus. They also employ the method of St. Ignatius of Loyola, inviting children to use their imaginations and as many senses as possible to make the interaction with Jesus real to them.
Keller lists the reference for the day’s Gospel, and has leaders read the passage from the Bible itself. After reading the passage twice, the teacher or parent discusses it with the children. In some lessons, the children are led to repeat a simple prayer. Other times, they listen to a meditation read slowly and prayerfully. They picture Jesus interacting with them as they sit quietly with eyes closed. Finally, there is a journal topic, so that children can draw or write, according to their age, a response to their meditation. Some weeks also have more advanced meditations for older children and teens.
A good example of the meditations Keller offers is for the Third Sunday of Easter, which we will celebrate on April 26. Keller begins by having the children put on sunglasses. She leads them to recognize that it is hard to see clearly with the glasses on, then makes an analogy to the inability of the disciples to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Once they have given back the glasses, she has the children close their eyes.
Then she tells them: “Imagine you are standing in front of Jesus. Jesus is smiling at you, and he bends down and touches your eyes and then your heart. You feel his love move through your fingers as He touches you. In your heart, ask Jesus to give you eyes that always see Him, ears that always hear his voice, and a heart that is always filled with love. Jesus tells you He has done that and picks you up and gives you a big hug” (p. 32).
She then leads the children to repeat a prayer, offering their whole selves to Jesus. For a journal topic, they either draw a picture of Jesus touching their eyes, or write the answer to the question, “Dear Jesus, what is keeping me from seeing you clearly?” (ibid.)
Keller’s book will bring children of all ages to a deeper encounter with Christ, forming a habit of prayer. And the importance of this habit cannot be underestimated: It may well keep them close to Jesus and the church their entire lives.