Friday, October 29, 2010

What is God?

What is God?
Written by Etan Boritzer
Illustrations by Robbie Marantz
Published by Firefly books
Ages 6-12 yrs

The Big Question that has had great minds searching for an answer for all of history. Even for all of pre-history, which holds the beginnings of mythology and folklore. When anything that was not understood or was feared or revered was attributed to the divine- giving rise to multitudes of gods and goddesses. These had power over almost everything to do with life, and were often worshipped.

As philosophical and theological thought matured, there were many thinkers who thought deeply over this question, and came up with their own answers, passing on these as teachings to their people. Over many, many years, these teachings formed the basis of individual religions. Every religion has their own book which has all these teachings, and what they say is essentially the same- maybe done differently in different cultures!

"If everyone thought of all the ways
In which all the different religions are the same,
Maybe people wouldn't have so many fights
About all the different answers to the question,
'What is God?' "

A question, that we often face from our children. It does not matter if we do or do not believe in a God. At some point of time, children become aware of an entity called God- from home or from the world outside, and the question is popped. How do we answer it? Much depends upon our cultural heritage- what we grew up believing, and what we do believe in now. So by its very nature, our belief can vary widely the world over.

We had the question put to us long before I discovered this book. I do not follow rituals on a daily basis, but we do have the occasional pooja on festivals, if only as a part of the celebrations. There are also the bedtime story sessions which invariably feature stories from Indian mythology and the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Tales about gods and goddesses, an integral part of our cultural heritage.

So I sat down with A and tried to explain the concept of God in a way I best could. As a power that guides us in everyday life, as the voice inside you that tells you what is right and what is wrong, as something that helps us along when things are good, and helps us face bad times with courage, as something that makes the world beautiful for us. And if you want to call that power by a particular name, that's fine.

I was thrilled, then, when I found this book, a universalistic answer to the questions that invariably followed my explanation. Especially as some of her peers follow faiths other than ours, but in no way do they seem to be different from her. Questions like "What is religion? Which are they? How are they similar? How are they different? Why are there different festivals for different religions? Why do people of different religions fight? (Oh, yes, kids her age are very aware of this unfortunate fact!) What is prayer?"

Etan Boritzer, the author, has tackled many such themes, and among his many books we have titles like "What is Love?, What is Death?, What is Beautiful?, What is Funny?, What is Right?, What is Peace?, What is a Friend?," etc. The text is in simple free verse, complemented by equally charming full page water-colour illustrations on opposing pages by Robbie Marantz.

So, as the book answers the question- in words that can be easily visualised by a child:
"Maybe God is what you feel
When you stand on a very high mountain...and see a big beautiful view all around you.
When you hear beautiful music,...sometimes soft, sometimes loud.
When you see a million stars at night...and you feel very small looking up at them....

....If everything is God...All of us are God!" 

A book for anyone looking for answers to the Big Question- whether deeply religious, or just looking like me to provide an anchor for my child to have faith in all things great and good !

Image courtesy fireflybooks.


starry eyed said...

We have 'What is Death'. I love Etan Boritzer's style of tackling these tricky topics...had got it at Sapan before, but they don't stock it anymore. Did you get this from Flipkart?

Superb review :)

starry eyed said...

oops *Sapna*

artnavy said...

Thought provoking Sandhya.

ranjani.sathish said...

Excellent pick Sandhya and very well reviewed ! I liked your explanation to A on what God is. Sooraj very often brings up this question and I try to pass on a similar message to him (like you do to A) based on what I believe in. I think it would be a great book to read with him. Do we have it in our library ?

Tharini said...

I am so excited by this book Sandhya. Interestingly, we have a book at home now, that is called What is God like, and it goes into all the ways in which we can find God in our world, but with a focus on the passages from the Bible. Its a lovely read.

God is already an established concept in our home, but I would love to read it with Winkie and just enjoy the serenity from it. Thankfully, its there in my lib. :)

Thanks for this great pick!

Anusha said...

love it, love it! am so getting this one, and I love that the book asks grown up questions and provides kid sized answers. Thank you for a perfect CROCUSy pick and a spot-on review.

Meera Sriram said...

Well-written review Sandhya. The book seems like the perfect parental adjunct, while ushering a child in godly matters.

Choxbox said...


sandhya said...

@Starry: Thanks. Etan Boritzer has indeed answered the questions without going overboard. I love the way he has said towards the end (paraphrasing, not quoting) that we are all in some way connected and that when we pray we can close our eyes, breathe deeply and feel the one-ness of everything living. An exercise in calming down and focusing if nothing else in today's stressed out world.

I picked this one up at the Strand sale this year, but flipkart does carry it.

@Artnavy: Thanks.

@Ranjani:I'm not sure the library has this, but I can check. You can always borrow my copy.:)

@Tharini: Thanks. You'll like this one. It does not stress on a particular religion, but is more universalistic in its tone. Can be used by any parent anywhere in the world.

@KM, Meera, Chox: Thanks.



utbtkids said...

Sandhya, this is such a beautiful book.

Like T said, there is no doubt at home about the existence of God. But because of their young age, the children think that God is something that is confined to the idol or the physical shape of what we keep in the pooja room. As they grow up, I am hoping that they will pick up God is not just a separate entity, but a quality that binds us all together and the religions are mere paths to attain that quality.

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