Crucifixion, Kindness and Spitting- Exploring Christianity with a 7 Year Old through Art and Parables

Christopher and I decided when Evelyn was born that we would begin to introduce her to different world religions when she was interested and old enough to listen and learn about many religions with an open, inquisitive mind and heart. In California, keeping religion at bay wasn't difficult, not because California lacks it but more because we experienced a greater awareness and feeling of respect towards other beliefs. I was a bit worried about it during our year in Texas, but am thankful that my family members respected our requests and boundaries regarding religious influence. The year in Texas coincided with Evelyn's first experience in a public school, so she had some exposure to Christianity around Christmas and Easter leading to some interesting conversations where she showed interest.

 The Fall of Christ with the Virgin, Saint Catherine of Alexandria with Donor - Santi di Tito - 1593 Galleria dell'Accademia

The Fall of Christ with the Virgin, Saint Catherine of Alexandria with Donor - Santi di Tito - 1593
Galleria dell'Accademia

Now that we're in Italy, she's learning more about Christianity as she's surrounded by Catholicism. Last weekend, we visited the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence to show Evie Michelangelo's David and give her an opportunity to explore the museum filled with masterpieces. Eventually, we found ourselves standing in front of a wall of paintings depicting the scene following Jesus Christ’s crucifixion when he has been removed from the cross. Naturally, Evelyn was full of questions. “What happened? Why is this man in all of these paintings?” We answered, “This is Jesus after he died. What do you see in the painting?" We waited for more questions. “Why is he bleeding on his hands and his feet? Why is his side bleeding?” We answered and led her to look closer. “See that spear painted in the corner? Do you see the ring of thorny branches? They put it on his head like a crown. What do you think of when you hear “crown?” How do you think it felt when it was on his head? What is in the shadows of the painting? How do you know it’s a cross? Look at the painting next to this one. It’s very similar. How is it different? Let’s turn and face the other wall. What do you see in the painting across from us? Yes, there are other crosses. Where is Jesus in this painting? Who do you think are on the other crosses? Look at their faces. How do you think the people in this scene feel? What is happening in this painting? Yes, that’s blood underneath Jesus. Look closely. Where do you think it came from? Yes, that’s a skull painted down there. Why do you think the artist painted it there?”

 Deposition of Christ - Agnolo di Cosimo and Torri detto il Bronzino - 1560-1561 Galleria dell'Accademia

Deposition of Christ - Agnolo di Cosimo and Torri detto il Bronzino - 1560-1561
Galleria dell'Accademia


We spent about ten minutes in the Tribune Hall of the galleria dell’accademia looking at a few of the many paintings depicting the crucifixion of Christ then continued to wander through the museum at a 7 year old’s pace, which happens to be both quick and excruciatingly slow, usually opposite of the pace that we, the adults, wanted to go.

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Today while riding in the car with Evelyn and an Italian friend from school, I overheard her telling her friend in Italian about the museum. Excitedly, she spoke of the very, very big statue of Davide di Michelangelo then began to talk about the man in the paintings with the sharp crown who was nailed to a cross by his hands and feet then stabbed with a spear in his side. She mentioned the blood, “sangue sangue,” which is Evelyn’s beginner Italian for “so much blood.” Her friend knowingly nodded her head while Evelyn described the paintings and the croce (crosses) depicted in the background, waiting until Evelyn was finished talking before she softly said, “Gesù.”

I sat and listened from the driver’s seat and considered how Evelyn’s exploration of the crucifixion of Christ differs from the imagery that I grew up with. I remembered how uncomfortable the image of Christ hanging lifeless on the cross made me feel, even as a young adult the first time we were stationed in Italy. It was such a stark contrast to the protestant cross I grew up with, that symbol of salvation from sin that referenced the death without the gruesome added detail of the tortured and crucified Christ. It’s strange that now, a decade later, I have a different reaction to these images with my seven year old daughter by my side. We see the story unfolding before our eyes and explore the details, especially those that are uncomfortable. 

Tonight, we began reading the chapter on Christianity in Evelyn's Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions that was given to her by my sister and brother in law. The chapter includes a very condensed version of the parable of the Good Samaritan. (For those who might be unfamiliar with this parable, Christ tells of a Jewish traveler who is robbed and beaten near to death while on the road to Jericho. A priest walks by and does not help him. A Levite also walks by and does not help him. Finally, a Samaritan, who at the time was an enemy of the Jews, stopped and helped him when all others who walked by did not.) I stopped and asked Evelyn what happened in the parable. “Well, there was a guy driving along the road to Jericho and he was robbed and got in a car crash.” I giggled very quickly and then explained that back then there were no cars and that people traveled by walking. Then I read the parable again and asked, “What would you do if there was somebody you didn’t like who was hurt and needed your help? What about the boy in your class who punched that kid’s tooth out last year?”
“Giovanni?! No way. He’s so gross!” she said, causing me to cackle. “He spits in his hands and grabs other people."
“Umm…but if he was hurt he probably wouldn’t be spitting at you. What if everyone else walked by him because he spits. Would you stop and help him?”
“Yeah, I guess so. He probably wouldn’t be spitting.”

I closed the book, turned out the light, and snuggled up to my daughter, wrapping my arms around the physical embodiment of everything we work towards and nurture. And I smile at the thought that we’re raising somebody who might stop and help somebody, even if he spits.