I can count the ways that my childhood is different from that of my children – I grew up in rural Wisconsin, and I’m raising children in urban Houston, Texas. I lived in the same house from birth until I left from college, and my children had already moved twice at the tender ages of 3 and 6 years old. My children might hear “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio on their way to school, and I heard the strains of my dad singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during one of his pep talks.
Even with all of those differences, my children are hearing and reading the Bible in ways that strongly mirror my own childhood scripture learning. Their dad is an Episcopal priest (as is mine). They attend Eucharist (almost) every Sunday, go to church camp, and attend Sunday School (as did I). In the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, found largely in the Book of Common Prayer, regular Sunday worship includes Bible readings from a three-year Lectionary Cycle, including an Old Testament reading, a psalm, a New Testament reading from a book other than the four gospels, and a Gospel reading.
I take for granted how closely my children are listening in church when it might appear that they aren’t paying attention. One Sunday not too long ago, after hearing a reading about Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings (“bake a little cake”), my younger son whispered to me, “I didn’t know they had BIRTHDAYS in the Bible!” When there’s cake talk, we listen very closely.
Beyond the readings in the lectionary, the words in the Book of Common Prayer often echo the words of the Bible, too: “Open my lips O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise” is the beginning of one of the rites for Evening Prayer, and is also part of the text of Psalm 51.
One of my favorite childhood memories is saying Evening Prayer with my family at home, and at church camp. And one of my favorite parts of Evening Prayer is a canticle called The Song of Simeon, or Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
This canticle is drawn from the second chapter of Luke, when the infant Jesus is presented to respected and devout man, Simeon. I don’t think I would remember that story if we had not repeated those ancient words so many times, and I treasure the times that I say them with my children now.
Adding to all of that, many of our worship hymns come directly from the pages of the Bible: the congregation sang “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts, to me…” at our wedding, recalling the words of Psalm 84. My favorite hymn in the hymnal, “The Spacious Firmament on High,” is set to the tune Creation from Haydn’s famous oratorio, The Creation. Its words were written by Joseph Addison, and they reference scripture from the book of Genesis, the Psalms, the gospel of Luke, and the epistles to the Hebrews and the Romans.
When I reflect on how my children are learning about the Bible and I realize how much of it they are getting when we attend worship regularly, it feels like realizing that your daily goal of eight glasses of water per day isn’t so unattainable when you realize that water in foods like fruit “count” toward that goal.
All of these snippets of scripture “count” in my children’s Christian education, even if we’re not hashing out an exegesis over brunch afterward. This feels like a relief from some of the pressure of raising children who know their Christian heritage through scriptures. And any relief in parenting can feel like the “peace of God which passes all understanding,” which we read about in the Bible and hear in the words of our prayers.
Do you absorb the Bible through worship? Do your kids?