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Children utilize photography to seek and find images of God

Eleven-year-old Kristen pictures God as a shadow - "blurry, because nobody has a clear image of him."

Rebecca, 8, sees God in the smile of a little boy blowing out the candles on a cake."Here's proof that there's God," she says. "This boy has never smiled like this before. This is a part of God, a nice and happy one."

In the March issue of Life magazine, children not only talk about God, they show pictures they took. The results of their photographic journey reveal a personal God who guides young people through the mysteries of life, from the inevitability of death to the realities of cancer and child abuse.

"It was interesting to me how reflective of religious concepts that we always ascribe to adults are in the minds of kids as well. They're smarter than you think," said Life religion editor Robert Sullivan.

The magazine gave cameras to 56 children ages 8 to 13, in settings ranging from a small town in Texas to a camp for critically ill children in New York, and asked them to capture their own images of the divine on film.

Some kids came back with traditional pictures of churches or the sky, but many shot photos that showed God much closer to issues they were dealing with in their lives.

The issue of why bad things happen to good people was on the mind of 11-year-old Loni, who took a picture of her friend wearing a baseball cap.

"Why did God pick Tiffany to have cancer," she asks. "Why does God pick anybody to have cancer?"

At The Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 11-year-old Robert took a photo of two children with their index fingers touching and thumbs raised as if they had imaginary weapons.

His question to God? "Why are there guns."

Many of the pictures deal with death.

"Death is such a hard-to-understand concept for a lot of them. The idea that God is on one side of that gives them some comfort," Sull-i-van said.

Roxanne, 8, took a picture of a little girl beside a grave. "I love my grandma. I know she is with you, God," she said.

Eleven-year-old David said his picture of a boy running by a gravestone "shows God because it contrasts energy and life to the death the gravestone represents."

Such a profound image and analysis may seem surprising coming from a youngster, but Sullivan and Life staff photographer Joe McNally said they were continually impressed with the sophistication of the children's ideas.

"They just sort of blew us away with their metaphorical interpretations," Sullivan said.

For example, Arielle, 12, took a picture simply of a stapler because "a stapler, like God, binds things together. Whether it is people or objects, God is always there to hold together your thoughts and feel-ings."

Armando, 12, photographed a pine cone.

"I believe it doesn't matter how big things are. What is important is love and happiness," he said.

Whether it was a picture of a spider or a young woman holding a child of a different race, the children pictured in God a source of love and wisdom transcending human understanding.

"It wasn't like he was a stand-in for Santa Claus," Sullivan said. "It was really a seeking for something larger than themselves."