“Late have I loved thee,
Oh Beauty, ever ancient, ever new:
late have I loved thee!
For behold, you called to me,
and broke upon my deafness.
You sent forth your beams
and shone upon me
and chased away my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance upon me,
and I drew breath
and now pant for you.
I tasted you, and now hunger
and thirst for you.
I touched you, and I have
burned for your peace.”
Surely St Augustine’s discovery of the beauty and wonder of God is something that even children can understand; but the language is not very accessible to small children. In Gus Finds God, a
clever picture book by Michael P. Foley and Andrea Dahm, St Augustine’s quest for God is translated into terms small children can grasp.
It reminds me a little of a clever lift the flap book that all my children loved: Where is God? The baby in that book goes hunting all over his house looking for God. And the child lifts the flap to look behind the door and under the bed and all over but each time a flap is lifted it reveals a friendly animal and not God at all. Finally on the last page baby realizes that God “is inside of you and me” and the flap reveals a heart with a cross inside of it.
Gus’s quest to find God follows a similar trajectory.
“Once upon a time there was a little boy named Gus.
One day Gus and his mom were talking.
“Who is God?” Gus asked.
His mother gives him a catechism answer: “God is our Father who made us! He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and He loves us very much.”
Gus is impressed and wants to know when he can see God (expressing the longing of all of Israel, who yearn to see God’s face.) But his mother tells him that God cannot be seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled. He is invisible. Gus finds this answer confusing and so goes out to look for God himself.
He wanders about asking various creatures if they are God (rather reminiscent of the little baby bird in P.D. Eastman’s book who asks if the cow and the cat and the hen are his mother.
But the land isn’t God and the animals that live on the land are not God nor are the sea and the creatures that live in it. Nor the winds not the sun and moon and stars. Rather, they all tell him that God is the one who made them all.
So Gus decides that if God isn’t something outside of himself, maybe he needs to explore himself to see if God isn’t something within. But God is not in his body. So Gus ponders his soul. He thinks about his memory of experiences. And then his memory of ideas, things that are always true like math facts that he didn’t learn from his senses but discovering them within himself. Finally he ponders his memory of his feelings. He realizes that God is not in his memory, but above his memory.
“God is like a bright light that lets us see all our memories. God is higher than our souls, and he is higher than anything we can see or hear or smell. But this doesn’t mean that God is far away from us.
Oh no, God is so close to us that He is even closer to us than we are to ourselves.”
Gus concludes that his mother is right: God is more real than I am and he makes everything else real.” He tells his mother about his great discovery and they kneel to thank and praise God, using the words of St Augustine’s great prayer.
It is hard to convey such abstract ideas to children. I’m not sure that I quite follow the section about memory; but I love Gus’s search for God in creation and I love his insight into the fact that God made all that is good.
The book begins and ends with notes and suggestions to parents and teachers and those mention Augustine of Hippo and elaborate on many of the concepts in the book. I did wish that the book also contained a brief biography of St Augustine that was meant to be read by the child. (Like the one in The Blackbird’s Nest, the lovely picture book about St Kevin of Ireland.) That would be my preference to having to read and summarize from a note addressed to me as a parent.
Still, minor quibbles aside, I recognize that the author has written clearly and effectively about a very difficult topic in a way that does make it very accessible to young readers. This book will definitely be in my plans to read on the feast of St Augustine. (Or any other time that great saint comes up in conversation or our reading.)
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