We are celebrating Children’s Sabbath at church this week. As i think through what that service should look like, I am mindful that it should not just be a service for children. It should be one that honors the spiritual gifts that children possess, and recognizes them not as the ‘future church,’ but as fully active and vital parts of the body, right now.
Scripture refers to God as “father” so often, that many people hold a firm image of God as not only parental, but fully male. Even those of us who try to envision a more inclusive entity, revert often to ‘mother’ language, just to balance the scales a bit. We talk about God as Creator, Sustainer, etc…images of the Holy that still paint God as fully adult and in-charge.
For all the spiritual value of understanding God as a parent, holding too tightly to those images can limit the ways we experience God–and, accordingly, the ways that we engage the world.
For instance– people who cannot fathom or accept God as partly feminine, also find it impossible to welcome women to the table of leadership. So it stands that–if you can never let yourself imagine God as a poor person, you might not be able to witness the holy in the face of the poor. If you cannot envision God as a person of color, then will people of color look just a liiiiittle less human to you?
And if God is always and only a parent, then how can we fully witness the divine in the being of our children? Well, except maybe at Christmas. (You know, Baby Jesus…he’s still our favorite Jesus, like Ricky Bobby said).
When the kids hit that tiny carpet square in Worship and Wonder, they say some of the most profound, prophetic and challenging things you’ll ever hear. I’m grateful for adult leaders who know how to hear their words as what they are–gospel–and not as just the cute stuff that kids say. If you ask me, children have a far greater range of spiritual motion than adults do. Again, not because they are ‘good,’ or pure, but because it is simply a gift of childhood to live with and accept that which is too great for reason, logic, or a business plan. How much the ‘seen and not heard’ generations must have missed, in their children’s formative years. If the post-post-modern church wants to truly emerge, maybe we need to put our children in charge of the vision teams.
Children can love and accept others, far beyond the sometimes narrow and self-serving ways that adults tend to move through the world. For as often as we talk about God loving us ‘like a father,’ or ‘as a mother,’ we miss entirely the good news that God loves us like our children love us: with no concern for how much money we make, or what label is on our clothes; with no notice of whether or not we’ve fixed our hair, or brushed our teeth; with no reserve about telling us when we’re being mean, and with little memory of the way we yelled at them an hour ago; with great forgiveness for every slight, and with tremendous grace for all the ways we’ll screw up tomorrow. Children love us in a way that is complete; they greet us at the door with a joy that is unfettered, and spend time in our presence with no other wish than to be with us. Children don’t care if you burn the toast, or lose the farm, or run over their trike with the car.
The love of a child is a precious and fragile ecology. In the wrong hands, that love can be manipulated, abused, and taken advantage of. But with care and compassion, it is the gift of a lifetime. Even if it is not Christmas (and it is NOT; whatever Wal-mart would have you believe to the contrary) I can believe, on any given day, that God is at least partly childlike in his/her joyful, unwavering love for us all.
So this Sunday, we will have communion with goldfish crackers. We will sing ‘Deep and Wide.’ We will make animal noises and be squirmy. There might be crayons. We will collect peanut butter and jelly for our valley food banks, to feed children in need. We will say prayers of blessing over the smallest ministers of the gospel. And we will remember that there is nothing small about ‘childlike faith.’ It is, in fact, the greatest love we can know.
like a child we receive all that love can conceive, like a child we believe Jesus comes… ~Dan Damon