This article is part of our series on The Peace Table , the new storybook Bible from Shine, a children’s Sunday school curriculum, jointly published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press
Ruth Goring grew up in Colombia, in a family of U.S. missionaries, and in the last two decades, she has returned to Colombia several times to accompany peace communities and human rights defenders there. Ruth’s picture books for children are “Isaiah and the Worry Pack” (IVP Kids, 2021); “Picturing God,” which she also illustrated (Beaming Books, 2019); and “Adriana’s Angels/Los ángeles de Adriana” (Sparkhouse Family, 2017). On Sundays she walks to Living Water Community Church, a Mennonite congregation in her Chicago, Illinois, neighborhood.
My assignment was to create child-friendly images to accompany the seven Psalms that had been selected for inclusion in The Peace Table Bible storybook. Author and project editor Chrissie Muecke had seen my multimedia collage illustrations for my book, “Picturing God,” and she wanted me to work in a similar style. It proved to be a joyful collaboration. As I meditated on each Psalm and began to put together a collage to express its heart, I felt a little like a medieval monk creating an illuminated manuscript.
I sent drafts of all the Psalm collages to the editors before gluing them down. I was trying some new things, but the art I had been contracted to make was “work made for hire,” which meant it would belong to MennoMedia, not to me. I had to make sure my ideas would work for this Bible storybook project — legible for the children who would read it and consonant with the Scriptures.
Psalm 139 is a congregational song in the great hymnbook of the Jewish people, but it focuses on God’s loving, attentive knowledge of each individual. I decided to outline my child’s body in colors, to emphasize the delight God takes in them. Was the warmth and brightness too much, though? Too Latino? Would the sequins take it over the top in the editors’ and art director’s eyes?
I may have squealed with delight when the answer came: The sequins were not too much. I could glue them in place.
I continued to work to suggest the busy curiosity of this child. God knows and blesses their love for animals, music, soccer, books, crafts, the sea. Many of the representational objects — seahorse, starfish, violin, teddy bear, duck, whale, bee, butterfly, macaw, ball, heart — had been given to me by friends. The “sea” tile in the lower right corner was a test piece from a potter. I had fun cutting and gluing together the little book.
But I also wanted to include abstract pieces — most of the shapes in the brain, the tiles on the body, the wooden disk. Why? Because even more than adults, children have feelings and thoughts that are hard to define. They don’t yet have the vocabulary to articulate them. And even if they live to be 100, some of those inner realities may never be put into words. The body chemistry that makes some of us prone to anxiety, makes others naturally calm. It creates our slow deliberateness or eager impulsivity. The suffering of our ancestors may even have genetic expression in our bodies and emotions.
God sees it all. God comprehends — a word that means both “includes all” and “understands.”
God holds the whole pulsing complexity of our selves. This is “too wonderful” for the psalmist — we humans cannot comprehend as God does.
In my illustration, the child does not fear this complete knowledge but looks up in trust, sensing safety. They return God’s gaze and expect God to share their pleasure in a new skill or a fascinating insect. They are learning that God is near in times of sorrow, too.
I want to be this child. And sometimes, I think I see reflections of God’s gaze in others, like a sparkling, encircling strand of sequins.
For more information on The Peace Table, visit www.thepeacetablebible.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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