During quarantine, many of us were hungry for anything that would make life satisfying. Both adults and children found themselves hungry and grieving for something that many of us struggle to articulate.
The bible says that the words of God are life. Similarly, the Holy Spirit he gives us is the water of life. In spite of the world’s beauty and even life’s futility, Jesus is the only one who satisfies.
From January of 2021 until today, both spontaneously and intentionally, my students have developed a radical hunger for God’s word in the Bible. They have encountered the truth of his story, been shocked by his contradictions, and been drawn to his mysteries.
Here are just some of the ways from January until today that the Lord has made my students hungry for the BIble.
Last School Year (2020-2021)
As some of you may know, my school had various times of hybrid in person instruction for groups of students last school year (yellow on the timeline). After months of Zoom classes, the majority of my students began to arrive for in person learning starting in late January. Gradually, more students joined us until 12 of my 15 Third graders learning inside the school building. While we have lost and gained some students, these students are now my current Fourth Graders.
Teaching the Bible with Comics over Lunch
As students returned to the building, we often talked about God’s story over lunch. As we sat and ate together, I would alternate between taking bites and explaining to them different stories on the projector. One of my students favorite characters’ to explore last year was Joseph of the Old Testament. By discussing Joseph’s story with bible comics and scripture, students became enamored with the story of redemption God worked in Joseph’s life. Students saw themselves reflected in Joseph’s traumas and found hope in how God redeemed his family.
From day one of our current 2021-2022 school year, my students asked for a return to our “bible study lunch” routine. In August, this student in particular made it very clear that she was excited to learn more about God over lunch, just as she had in 3rd grade.
Connecting the Bible to Students’ Inquiry Projects
Last year, I gave my students the freedom to study any topic of their choice in depth in the form of Inquiry Projects. While students were given ample freedom, they were required to connect the Bible or other aspect of their faith to their research topic. Students have connected God’s word to their love of animals, video games, the science of energy and batteries, and so many other domains. Check out more on how students’ have woven the word of God into their Inquiry Projects here.
When students are allowed to select their research interest and then go deep to identify ways that their topic intersects with God’s story, they see themselves reflected in God’s story. It has been a joy to see the word of God come to life through students’ interests!
Using Art and Lectio Divina Bible Study Reflection to Teach Social Studies
Last year, we also used a reflective style of bible study called Lectio Divina. It was my great joy to find opportunities to connect Lectio Divina style bible reflection to Social Studies. By introducing the conflict within the United Farm Worker’s movement through the lens of workers rights in the Old Testament, students were able to emotionally understand the conflict of this period of U.S. history. Based on the same theme but through the lens of Jean Francois Millet’s “The Gleaner’s” painting, students were able to learn both more about the biblical practice of gleaning crops and how God wants us to honor the poor. This allowed them to see more connections between the treatment of the farm workers in the United Farm Workers Movement, prompting them to imagine what fair workers’ rights might be like in the modern day for vulnerable populations.
Check out more on this unit below!
Preparation for this School Year
Feeding their Hunger: Enlisting Others’ Support
As students became noticeably more interested in the bible, I shared news of their interest with our Assistant Principal and Director of Religious Education. With my Assistant Principal’s support, we were able to purchase enough bibles for a classroom set (22). Our Director Religious Education applied for a grant through Saint Mary’s Press to get additional bibles for students who don’t have bibles at home. They students don’t know it yet, but many of them will offered a bible for Christmas, as we remember a time when Jesus as the Word of God came to be with us in the flesh.
A Note on Using the Bible for Religious Instruction
My approach towards teaching religion includes more direct instruction from the bible, an approach Protestantism has taken historically. At my current Roman Catholic School setting, there is a growing sense of favor for this approach. After the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Catholic leaders began to encourage a more active role in bible readership. Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has revised their position on bible reading to encourage individuals to read the bible.
“Such attitudinal changes [towards bible reading] bode well for [Roman] Catholics, especially when reading and praying with the Word of God leads to lessons learned, hearts inspired and lives profoundly moved for good.”–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Changes in Catholic Attitudes Towards Bible Reading”, 2021
A Note on Navigating the Difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles
It is a little known fact that the Protestant and Roman Catholic bibles are actually different. In addition to the 66 books of the Protestant bible, the Roman Catholic bible contains 7 additional books commonly referred to as the “apocrypha”. These books are “Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Macabees; also certain additions to Esther and Daniel.” Historically, Protestants have refrained from including these books in the bible because the books the timing of their authorship (between the Old and New Testaments) was dubious. While still viewing these books as important cultural artifacts that may have influenced to a 1st century Jewish worldview, most Protestants today would not consider them the inspired writing of the Holy Spirit.
The most honest and simple approach I have taken to diffusing this debate with my students is to explain to them that I am most likely to share with them the books of the bible that I am most familiar with. While I do not intentionally exclude the teaching of Catholic books of the bible, I feel that the response of humility in this case is to stick to what I know and ask for God’s grace to cover the rest.
A Note on the History of Protestant vs. Catholic Bible Debates
The fact that there is such support of bible reading in our classroom and that there is peace over the version of the bible we are using is extremely significant. For hundreds of years in the 19th-20th centuries, Protestants and Catholics waged a culture war over the translations of the bible that students would use in public schools. I feel that the balance that staff and I have been able to reach is a balm for that history.
For more information on the Protestant vs. Catholic Bible Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, check out Chapter 3 of James Fraser’s “Between Church and State”.
Most Important of All: Celebrating the Word of God
As students have returned in full to the classroom, it has been a joy to have a full set of bibles to greet them! I am grateful for the strategic support of my school community to make God’s word accessible to our children.
This Year (2021-2022)
Discussion: What do you know about God? How can the Bible help you learn more?
This year, I have relied on more open ended questioning to make students’ aware of their need for God, and his presence in the word of God. By teaching students to draw connections between their observations to things that could be true about God, my goal is to increase both their engagement and curiosity (so that our study is personally meaningful vs. stale). This style of inductive teaching is inspired by Romans 1:20, which says,
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”Romans 1:20
This style of inductive theology is connected strongly with the work of Thomas Aquinas, who experienced various mystical experiences but whose leadership has since inspired many Christians to reconcile “faith and reason.”
Some open ended questions I have presented to students are:
- How can we know God?
- How can knowing God help us?
- What will happen if you DO vs. DON’T have the Holy Spirit?
Unlike John Locke’s tabula rasa “blank slate” style approach, using open ended questions means that we are assuming that children are likely to have discerned some things about the character of God. After students’ have responded to a question, I have often shown them how different bible verses connect or mirror their ideas.
Based on students’ responses, I have shown them how scriptures connect to their ideas. In discussions, we have talked about how the bible is one crucial way to know what God is like.
Inductive Reasoning through open ended questions can open up conversations with people about the nature of God’s character. I imagine this approach would also work well in inter-religious dialogue, where individuals believe different things about their gods. In that case, it might be easiest to have conversations with individuals, pray for them to be hungry to know Jesus, and then invite them to explore more if they show interest (thus respecting their freedom to choose). In an evangelistic sense in my current ministry context, my goal is to challenge students to explore parts of God’s character they haven’t considered.
In order to stir this conversation on God’s character, I’ve been able to weave in some of A.W. Tozer’s famous list of attributes of God from his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy into our word of the day. We have gradually been working through the banner of Tozer’s 24 parts of God’s character, and will likely explore some of the obscure titles in the bible for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit once we are through.
Growing their Knowledge of Biblical Stories with the Bible App for Kids
While it is true that some of my students have a growing hunger for the bible and despite the fact that catechism (Sunday School) classes are offered by the parish, many of my students lack exposure to biblical stories. In the past, I’ve often worked with students who lack background information in other topics, and have found that giving them a chance to watch videos or read books in advance often benefits their comprehension before we discuss the concepts formally. In order to to expand my students’ background information of the bible to make our conversations more accessible to all, this year, we started using the Bible App for Kids as part of students’ weekly homework.
Since making this decision, we will often be reading or watching videos related to our theme, and students will tell me that they watched or read a similar thing on the Bible App for Kids. Among the kids that attend aftercare, many of them have made a competition to see who could listen to the most stories to unlock other episodes. It’s been a win win.
As a side note, I like the design of this platform because it takes students’ chronologically from the Creation of the Universe (Genesis) to the Heavenly City (in Revelation).
Using Lectio Divina Bible Study Reflection as Morning Work
In addition to using Lectio Divina woven within subjects, students have been able to use Lectio Divina as morning work, often to flesh out concepts we will return to later in the day. I especially have grown to love this approach with shorter sections of the bible (approximately one paragraph), in order to challenge students to go deeper with the text. Once students get more comfortable making connections between concepts and verses they know, I hope to teach them about using the context of the book to understand unknown ideas.
Introducing the Structure of the Bible
My most intentional decision this year when it comes to biblical instruction was to teach students about the structure of the Old and New Testament. In giving them visual aids to understand the way scripture is grouped and then introducing the unique attributes of each category, we are able to explore genre’s in the biblical text that may not otherwise be clearly differentiated.
As someone who loves history, I made this short video to explain to students how each of these categories/genre’s interacts in the history of Human interactions with the Trinity. Check it out below!
Discussion Theology over Lunch with Superbook
In last year’s tradition of theology discussion lunches, students introduced me to the Superbook cartoon this year. Overall, the show is relatively historically accurate; its clear the producers had historians help design the character’s costumes and scenery. I also appreciate how most of the details in the way the characters speak often quote (and not just paraphrase) verses.
Spontaneously, my students have noticed that there is a lack of diversity in the main characters of the show, and an imbalance in the gender dynamics between the two main characters. I am considering how to challenge them to write a letter to the show’s producers’ to express their concern.
Making the Minecraft Bible available (for our Gamers)
In this current age, I have many students who are quite obsessed with video games. My personal approach is to helping students navigate this form of entertainment is to train them to discern which parts are like the Kingdom of God, and which parts are not. By drawing their attention to which aspects of games are similar or dissimilar to the teachings of Jesus, they tend to start to self select games that are less disturbing.
While there are Christians who automatically assume all games are ungodly, making blanket assumptions fails to engage with ways that video games can depict the gospel. For that reason, I love seeing students’ interest in “The Unofficial Holy Bible for Minecrafters.” After a student’s recommendation in the Spring, I was grateful to get a classroom copy of this bible in the classroom, which students read with approximately the same zeal as they would a graphic novel.
In the past, I’ve also had cohorts of students examine specific video games through the lens of the bible. Here is one example of how students have analyzed the video games they play through a biblical lens!
Check out more here:
Teaching them to Navigate the Bible
It has always been my goal to teach students how to navigate the bible to find their own verses. Organizationally, that was a challenge back in August. Coming back into the classroom from COVID-19, students had to navigate the classroom space, become more responsible for their materials, and learn how to socialize again. While I spent most of August and September helping students re-acclimate and giving them portions of scripture without using the classroom bibles, I finally had the opportunity in October and November to train them on how to navigate our new classroom bibles. Organizationally, this has taken a lot of brainpower on their part, in part because each classroom bible is approximately 1500 pages.
As should be expected, many students needed to practice using the table of contents to locate different books, find chapters, and then find verses. While students have been introduced to how to locate verses and use the index materials, we will have many chances to practice. My goal is that eventually, students will feel comfortable reading the bible during Independent Reading.
Years ago, I had a series of images while in prayer of giving birth to and nursing a book. When I see my students’ passion for the Bible, I am reminded of that image. I know that God wants to draw my students into such a deep, woven hunger for his living word and living water. I cannot wait to see where their love God’s word will take them!
Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Jesus, you have the words of eternal life.
Shhh…(it’s a secret!)
My students don’t know it yet, but thanks to the donation of bibles we got at the beginning of the year, each of them who doesn’t have a bible at home will receive their own bible for Christmas. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we know that one of the names of Jesus is “the Word”.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1
Another one of Jesus’s names is “Emmanuel”, which means God with us.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23
As we prepare to celebrate a time when God came to earth to be with us, I am excited for them to receive the word!
Are you Hungry for God’s word?
Do you hunger and thirst for the testimony of Jesus? The Holy Spirit wants to reveal Jesus to you, and will meet you as you study God’s word. Many of us who are spiritual mothers or fathers to our children know that when God opens a new door to us, he opens it to our entire spiritual family. Ask for God to give you more passion for his word! Ask him to ignite the hunger of your spiritual or biological children to encounter him through his story.