To Be Childlike
It was only a few years ago I was called to a ministry with children. This weekly encounter, guiding children and dwelling upon the mysteries of our faith through Scripture and Liturgy, has profoundly affected my own understanding of faith. We hear today, “although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”1 While I have three children of my own, it took working in an environment made for children’s spirituality to understand more fully what it means for adults to be childlike.
One of the most profound and raw experiences of being a child is waiting. Waiting to have vocabulary, waiting to have coordination, waiting to be tall enough, and the list goes on. Young children experience waiting in abundance. They are not told, ‘you can do anything you want right now, the only limit is yourself!’ or other such phrases. They do not receive these platitudes because they are untrue, but more than this, they focus on what is unnecessary at this particular time. Children are good at using the gifts of their age, and one of these for young children is the gift of wonder and awe.
They may not understand the fullness of the mystery of the root of Jesse, our first reading, but they have little issue spending time in wonder that a long time ago, God’s people were also waiting for someone, and during that time there were prophets who listened to God with open hearts and told the people what they heard God say. They can sit with a short message from a prophet and wonder at the work that God has done from the beginning, at the messages given to these people who were waiting, and how these messages speak of Jesus, whose birth we are waiting to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of December. It is a reflective lectio divina practice, focused on the essential elements of God’s message.
Jesus informs his disciples, “many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”2 It is a statement that causes me to ask myself, ‘Am I spending this holy time of waiting wantonly?’ We wait for December twenty-fifth, yes; we also wait for the fullness of the coming kingdom. This kingdom is truly here, right now, like a mustard seed in germination. Can I live in the waiting, as children do, and appreciate the gifts of the now? Not to lose sight of when all will be all in Christ,3 but also to actively work in continuing to till the soil and to water the ground. Can I use the gifts in each stage of my spiritual growth (without grumbling about the ways in which I am imperfect) while also maintaining this wonder at what God has wrought?
Indeed, to receive God’s revelation as a child is no easy task in this respect. I must work at divesting myself of grumbling at what I cannot yet be, and depend on the Spirit to help me dwell in the now, in this waiting period, and trust that this same Spirit is guiding me into who I am becoming: the Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:28