Let’s Read God’s First Book

two children lay out the nature treasures they collected
two children lay out the nature treasures they collected

It’s no secret that I love books and reading, but this post isn’t about objects with pages. It’s about reading what Barbara Brown Taylor calls, “God’s first book, the book of creation.”

I’ve long referred to creation as God’s original cathedral, as in, “Let’s skip church and worship in the original cathedral today,” when I take a walk instead of attending a service. But I like this First Book language, too.

In a talk I attended in 2020, Brown Taylor reminded us of Job 12:7-10,

“Just ask the animals, and they will teach you. Ask the birds of the sky, and they will tell you. Speak to the earth, and it will instruct you. Let the fish in the sea speak to you…. For the life of every living thing is in his hand, and the breath of every human being.”

And of Romans 1:20,

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, we can clearly see his invisible qualities.”

So we can learn about God from what God has made. She quoted Meister Eckhart, “Every creature is of God and full of God.” There are several benefits to connecting to God through what God has made. Brown Taylor called it, “re-enchanting the world for your children”:

  • It can enhance reverence for God.
  • It can help children not fear the world beyond their screens, possibly even not fear the dark as much.
  • It can help them develop love for all God’s creatures.
  • It can show them the unity of creation because so many natural systems are connected and support each other in so many ways.

We don’t need to engage in any formal study or even go outside to do this, although it’s certainly great to do so. Here are some activities:

1. Keep something growing indoors, and pay attention to what’s happening with it: blooming, growing, dying back. What can it teach us about thriving and resting and over- and under-feeding?

2. Notice the animals around you. Count whiskers or spots on a pet. Turn out the lights and use a flashlight to find your pet. Look out a window and consider the birds. Put up a bird feeder, squirrel feeder, bat house, and see what comes. What kind of insects make their way into your home? What do you read there?

3. Read a poem to a tree. The poem can be written by the children, or chosen by them. This one seems silly, but people can be surprisingly moved by it.

4. Tape a moon calendar to the fridge or bulletin board and make sure you notice what phase the moon is in. Make a practice of noticing the moon; praise the child who’s the first one to see the moon every time you go outside.

5. Sit in front of a fire together. She said, “fire is a great fascinator.” Candleflame can also work.

6. Turn over big stones and investigate what is revealed. Bring a plastic bag or a shoe box on walks or to the backyard so kids can gather things that interest them.

7. Teach children to recognize the call of one wild bird, and try to learn it in the wild, as opposed to on an app. Brown Taylor said, “Every bird has its own voice, just like we do.”

8. Keep a Nature Bin to store the treasures you find in creation. My nature bin has items I’ve kept since college, some my parents had collected when they were younger, as well as things my children and I have gathered over the last 20+ years. You don’t even need a bin! Friends of mine pile their collection on their porch steps, where it becomes a great conversation starter.

Nature table as part of Creation Season at Grace Church.
My church set up a nature offering table during Creation Season last year. It contains many items from my nature box, but also offerings that other people brought.

You don’t even have to make the spiritual connection for children. Brown Taylor says: “Trust the Spirit to speak. I trust the Spirit that erected the world to continue to create the world.”

I love that curiosity about the world can lead us to God. Shared curiosity can lead us closer to each other, too. My children are in their 20s, but they still bring me feathers they find in the wild because they know how much I love them. Re-enchant the world with each other while you read God’s first book!

What have you read in God’s first book?
How have you read it together with children?


** Barbara Brown Taylor’s talk was part of the Parenting Forward conference in 2020. It is available for $10 here:  https://www.parentingforwardconference.com/2020-sessions **

The ancient art of faith formation

Sanilac petroglyph

This summer I went camping in the The Thumb of Michigan, and yes, I did hold up my hand and point to the spot on my own thumb when telling people about it.

An image of the back of a left hand two arrows pointing to locations on the thumb.

The Thumb was beautiful and, unlike at west-side campgrounds, we could get a great spot only a month before we wanted to head out. I think we’re going to make it an annual thing.

But it also meant that we were only 30 minutes away from a place I’d wanted to visit since I learned about it in 2019: Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park. This park is dedicated to educating visitors about and maintaining the stone carvings that were made by Native American people there between 1,500 and 300 years ago. The carvings are called Ezhibiigaadek Asin, “written on stone,” in the Anishinaabemowin language.So much history is told from such a small location. From how the petroglyphs were discovered: two fires devastated The Thumb in 1871 and 1881 and cleared the brush so people could see this rock again (the 1881 fire burned so hot and moved so fast that the technology didn’t exist that would allow people to outrun it so whole families jumped in their well to try to save themselves). To how Native American tribes used that land both to sustain their lives and to commemorate and  pass along their history and worldview.

The Anishinaabe (original people) used this Marshall sandstone outcropping by the Cass River as an important gathering place, a place to talk about who they were, where they came from, where they were going, and what their values were. An elder would gather the people, take a stick in hand, and deliver a teaching while tracing the figure being spoken of in the sacred rock. With each repetition, the figure was carved deeper into the sandstone.

The above figure is the archer, who shoots knowledge into the future for coming generations. The items around it are offerings of tobacco, copper, and feathers that contemporary Native American people have given in gratitude for these gifts their ancestors made for them.

A stone carving to aid in teaching about the Thunderbird at Sanilac Petroyglyphs State Park.If I remember correctly, this is the thunderbird with wings outstretched, creating thunder with each flap.

This figure has been subject to more erosion than others, so it’s no longer as clear. At the bottom right corner of this photo you see a round hole in the rock–vandalism. At some point, someone dug a figure out of the sandstone and removed it. Which is why there’s now a high locked fence surrounding the site.

There were stories the interpreter couldn’t tell us because we were a group of men and women, and some teachings were only for men and others only for women.

A line of indented circles in the Sanilac petroglyphs that runs perfectly north/south.

This line of circular indents was a mystery until someone used a compass and realized it was a perfect north-south line.

I felt so connected to those long-ago storytellers. For hundreds of Sunday mornings, I have knelt or sat in front of a group of children and talked about how God loves us with a never-ending, always-and-forever love; that God always wants to hear from us; that God is involved with our lives in mundane and amazing ways; that the life of faith is one of both comfort and challenge.
While I tell the stories, I move my hands over sand, manipulating wood and clay and felt figures as I tell a rotating group of 80ish stories. Over and over and over for the last 24 years. Carving them deeper into my own heart and life, while hoping to plant seeds in the children’s hearts and lives.

I can say the beginnings of many stories from memory:

The desert is a strange and wild place. During the day, it is burning hot. But at night it is freezing cold. The wind comes, and as it blows, it shapes and molds. The desert is never the same. So many important things happened in the desert that we have to have a small piece of it in our room.

Once there was a man who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things, that people began to follow him.

This is the season of Advent, the time we are all on the way to Bethlehem. But who will show us the way?

Words, images, repetition.

These have been the way people have done faith formation forever. This trip was a beautiful reminder of that.

So how can I pray the Psalms?

Praying “The Lord is my Shepherd and I am his little lamb.”

In church the grownups have been hearing messages about praying the Psalms, because the people who wrote them talk about all the feelings we can feel–happiness, anger, sadness, frustration, relief, confusion. But how we can pray the Psalms?

When I pray the Psalms, I like to choose short parts that are just 1-3 verses long, so that’s what we’re going to do here. You can choose to do all the ways I talk about in your head, but if you want to follow along, you should gather these things:

  • three pieces of paper
  • something to write/draw with (can do one color or many colors)
  • cup of water

Also, you should sit in a place that can get wet–and be sure to keep your computer/tablet/phone in a place that can’t get wet.

Okay, let’s get praying.

Ways to pray any Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd, and I am his little lamb.

Psalm 23:1, Jesus Storybook Bible

There are five ways we can pray any Psalm. While we go through them with the beginning of Psalm 23, draw or write on the first page. I drew a shepherd, a lamb, blah.

  1. Repeat the verses at least 4 times. Slowly. And just enjoy them in God’s presence.
  2. Ask God to show you something about the passage. How are you my shepherd? How am I like a little lamb? Show me. Help me understand.
  3. Thank God for what the verses talk about. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for knowing me and what I need.
  4. Ask God to do more or give more of what the verses talk about for yourself. God, I’m feeling sad. Please carry me on your shoulders like I’m a little lamb and help me feel better.
  5. Ask God to do more or give more of what the verses talk about for others. God, please take care of [my friend/loved one]. Let her know how much you love her. I hope he feels how much you love him.

Praying a sad Psalm

The verse we used was a very sweet one. Is it different to pray verses about sadness?

Save me, O God,
    for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
    I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
    and the floods overwhelm me.
I am exhausted from crying for help.

Psalm 6:1-3, NLT

You can still use any of the 5 ways, but it can be harder when the Psalm talks about big emotions that we may or may not be feeling at the time. Take your second piece of paper and write or draw things that the verses make you think of, or draw or write about the people you’re praying about.

6. When you feel this way: God, I feel this way. I am feeling like things are really, really, really hard right now. I’m having a hard time dealing with it. This is what’s going on: ______________________________. Help me.

7. When you do not feel this way: God, please be with people who feel this way, with people who are very sad or very frustrated. This is what’s going on with my loved one: _______________________________. Help them.

Praying Psalm 6:1-3

Praying a violent Psalm

Some Psalms can feel awkward when we go to pray them.

Break off their fangs, O God!
    Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!
May they disappear like water into thirsty ground.
    Make their weapons useless in their hands /
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
May they be like snails that dissolve into slime.

Psalm 58:6-8, NLT & NIV

The Psalmist asks God to do this to their enemies, to evil people. Draw or write on your third piece of paper while we learn how to pray these kinds of Psalms.

I have to admit that I used to have a hard time reading these kinds of verses, and praying them felt wrong because I try to avoid saying or thinking mean things. It’s also true that my life is not in physical danger–no armies are coming after me, I don’t have people plotting against me. So these Psalms feel weird.

But there are kids who live in places where their government is a danger to them, where groups of criminals are dangerous to them. Some kids even have families that hurt them. That helps us know how to pray these kinds of verses. Learn about kids who are, right now, in danger; have your grownup help you so you can pray more specifically.

6. When you feel this way: God, I am feeling scared and angry. Protect me from these people who are trying to hurt me. I need you.

7. When you do not feel this way: God, please be with the kids and grownups who are in danger. It is hard to know that kids like me are in danger. Please keep them safe.

8. In your imagination, swap the idea of enemies-as-people for enemies-as-diseases. God, cancer and COVID-19 [or whatever disease a loved one might be suffering from] is like enemies in their body. Break off the fangs of their disease. May the virus in their body disappear like water soaking into the ground. Make it useless in their body. Heal them.

Praying Psalm 58:6-8

Wreck This Journal

Now that we’ve created these three pages, we’re going to be inspired by the book, Wreck This Journal, and deal with these pages in ways that remind us of spiritual ideas.

Bring the Light

Jesus is called the Light of the World in the Bible. Take the violent Psalm page and bring some light to it by poking it full of holes with your writing instrument.

The Lord’s Supper

We eat bread and drink juice to remind us that Jesus loved us enough to die for us. Treat the sad Psalm page like bread and eat it. Okay, just chew on it and spit it out.

Living Water

The Bible talks about Jesus giving us living water that satisfies more than our physical thirst. Take the little lamb page, make it into a cup, pour some water in it, and try to drink out of it. Don’t spill on your electronics!


I hope you had fun and that you feel inspired to pray any Psalm!

The video of this lesson is below 🙂

Don’t Pin the Xbox on God

An image of the person holding an xbox one controller.
An image of hand holding an Xbox controller

So instead of inviting general prayer items in children’s worship with, “Does anyone have anything they want to talk to God about?,” I’ve been getting more specific, both as a way of teaching the kinds of things we can do in our prayers, and of getting beyond the first things that come to kids’ minds.

  • What do you know about God that you think is awesome?
  • What do you want to ask God about?
  • What are you sorry about doing or not doing or saying or not saying or thinking? (I let them answer in their minds.)
  • What do you want to say THANK YOU to God about?
  • Is there anybody you know who needs help?

Yes, we’ve still spent a lot time praying about kitties, and thanking God for them, and celebrating God’s creativity in making kitties. But we’ve also asked God just how he made things out of nothing. And some kids who are always jokey and rarely chime in with a prayer item have responded to the last question with some heartfelt requests that showed that, no matter how they might talk, they love their younger siblings.

But last Sunday things went off the rails.

Miss Natalie: “What do you know about God that you think is awesome?”

Child: “That God made the whole world and the Xbox.”

Miss Natalie: “I’m with you on the whole world thing, but God is not responsible for the Xbox. People made that. God made people to have creative and intelligent and curious minds so they were able to come up with the Xbox, but I don’t believe the Xbox was divinely inspired in the same way that the Bible was divinely inspired. You can’t pin the Xbox on God.”

And they were OFF.

Five kids between 4th and 6th grade tried to come up with arguments that would prove that God was responsible for one of the things they love most in the world. They tried to come it with God’s all-knowingness–“If God knows everything, then he knew that the Xbox would be invented, therefore God created it.” They tried that argument again, but louder.

I tried to come at them with an analogy: If your teacher tells you to make a clay pot and you make the clay pot, your teacher knew that you were going to make the clay pot, but you’re the one who still made it, not your teacher (or it might have been, “Your parents made you, you make a clay pot, you’re responsible for the pot, not your parents,” frankly it was so loud that I forgot what exactly my clay pot-related analogy was). They responded but the teacher/parents still knew….

When they started challenging me about what we really meant by the word “make,” I knew that the debate had essentially come to an end and they were prolonging it because it was fun. It was fun. I don’t know what the children’s worship room across the hall thought we were doing; I felt a little bad because the leader of that room always creates a calm environment, and here we were having a debate so raucous that kids were getting up and pacing.

I don’t know that I won, but I held my ground. God is not directly responsible for the Xbox. So when it came time to pray, I thanked God for creating people with such creativity, curiosity, and intelligence that they came up with the Xbox, but also thanked God that those same things lead us to debates about what God did and didn’t do, and then I had to thank God that we could laugh during prayers (because we were all laughing).

Did the kids learn anything valuable through that exchange? No idea. But I hope they took away that I will listen to them, and take them seriously, and that we can always laugh about things, and God loves us through it all. They also learned that I can be side-tracked–but they already knew that.

So, my fellow people who minister to and with children, what are some of the debates you’ve gotten into? I can’t be the only one fielding comments like that!