Extending a Helping Hand to Earth and Animals
Caring for Creation (for Kids)
by Vicki Garlock
This is the third in Vicki Garlock’s three-part series on world creation stories for kids. Part one, “How the World Came to Be (for Kids)” was published in TIO’s April 2017 edition, and part two, “Involving Creation in the Creation (for Kids)” was published in TIO’s July 2017 edition.
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Once creation, in all its splendor, has been spoken, dreamed, resurrected, danced, and cracked open into existence, we can turn our attention toward creation care. Since all the major faith traditions emerged when people lived in harmony with the land, stories highlighting our connection with nature are readily found in the sacred texts and narratives of the world’s religions.
Jews and Christians readily turn to Biblical passages praising both the Earth and her Creator. Many such passages are found in Genesis 1, where God frequently gazes out over the day’s creative endeavors and declares them good. Similarly, in the book of Psalms, we regular encounter the psalmists using various aspects of creation as evidence of Yahweh’s glory and might. Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Job also offer inspiring and relevant passages. Here are some nice lists to get you started:
Caring for the Earth – Eastern Traditions
Hinduism and Buddhism also have some great creation care stories our kids have studied. One of our favorites is the story of Varaha, who saves Earth from the depths of the seas.
Vishnu, one of three deities considered part of the “Hindu trinity,” is well known for his many avatars (earthly manifestations). His third avatar was the great boar, Varaha. Descriptions of the boar are found in the Vayu Purana, and descriptions of Varaha rescuing Earth are found in the Varaha Purana. A few kid-friendly versions of the entire story can also be found. Examples of this story can be found here and here.
In one version of the Varaha story, the evil demon, Hiranyaksha, shows complete disdain for the gods by shoving Earth into the sea. Vishnu, taking on the appearance of a gigantic boar, dives into the ocean and retrieves Earth in his huge tusks. Varaha, the boar, then restores Earth to her rightful place in the universe. After resuming his god-like form, Vishnu defeats the evil demon Hiranyaksha once and for all.
Another creation-care story from the Indian subcontinent is the ancient Buddhist tale “Brave Little Parrot.” Many people believe the characters in this story who display Buddhist ideals represent the Buddha himself, as he appeared in his previous lives.
In the tale, a forest fire breaks out. The little parrot flies away to safety but soon realizes that many of her friends are unable to escape. She attempts to put out the fire herself by carrying small amounts of water in her beak. Moved by the little bird’s bravery and compassion, the eagle god is moved to tears. The torrent of tears eventually douses the flames, and the world is saved.
Stories like “Varaha the Boar” and “Brave Little Parrot” can be used as a starting point to help kids explore their relationship to the Earth. What questions do they have about things they notice in creation? What aspects of creation do they care most about? What is the most interesting thing about creation that they’ve observed recently? How can they help the earth, even though they are small?
Caring for Animals
Many faith traditions also offer stories that specifically focus on the relationship between humans and our non-human animal friends. One example from our curriculum is a parable told by Prophet Muhammad called “The Woman Who Helped a Thirsty Dog,” retold by Nurdan Damla.
In this story, a woman arrived at a well. She was dusty and dirty and horribly thirsty. She also had an unpleasant job, so the villagers didn’t like her much. The woman found herself at the edge of the well with no bucket. No one offered to let her borrow one, so she climbed into the well and drank as much as she could. When she finally crawled back out of the well, she saw a dog lying on the ground nearby who was just as thirsty as she had been a few minutes earlier. Still with no bucket, she climbed back into the well and filled up her shoe with water. She carried the shoe in her mouth and placed it on the ground next to the dog who gulped the water as quickly as he could.
As with the previous narratives, these stories provide an excellent starting point for exploring kids’ connections with the animal world. Kids can brainstorm ways of helping with their pets at home, and they can contemplate all the ways in which animals provide for humans. In our classrooms, we have paired these types of stories with service projects, such as making simple tug toys for dogs, raising money to give to our local Nature Center, or collecting pet food to donate to our local Meals on Wheels program.
Creation stories from faith traditions around the world offer rich narratives for exploring creation care that appeal to kids of all ages. Along the way, we also learn to appreciate the beliefs and practices of religious traditions that are different from their own. Hopefully this fosters not just a greater connection with the Earth but a deeper appreciation for their friends, neighbors, and fellow humans.
Header Photo: Torbakhopper, C.c. 2.0 nd