The wisdom of children

If we believe that everything on this earth is a teacher, then we’ll probably acknowledge that some of the most beautiful lessons come from children who are still close to heaven.

We, who have grown away from that clear-sighted state, are sometimes surprised back to it, by a simple comment from a child.

My son Edward once stared at his grandfather’s ashtray decorated with the three “wise” monkeys. He pointed to the monkey with its hands over its eyes and wanted to know what it was doing.

I hesitated, wondering how to explain the concept of Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

I did my best.

“This little monkey can’t see anything that is bad.”

Edward frowned. “But Mum, he wouldn’t be able to see anything!”

I was silent.

Theology training from a four year old!

Another lesson came from six years old Judith who knew that God was everywhere.

When her school friend questioned this, Judith explained that it was easy to understand. “God is everywhere like the air. You just breathe God in.”

A teacher friend, Maria Josef RNDM, is another who told her class God was in everything.

One windy Canterbury day, she took them for a walk and they paused on a small rise, looking down on a paddock of wind-combed grass.

One of the boys, overcome by the view, shouted, “Look at all that God!”

Sr Maria shared this story 30 years ago, and ever since it has been my automatic response to the beauty of creation.

Look at all that God!

I could not create a more effective prayer.

With the assistance of children I frequently remember Jesus’ words that we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Neil Douglas Klotz, a student of ancient Aramaic, says the expression Kingdom of Heaven would be translated today as Enlightenment.

That is probably true but I think that become is the key word.

It’s a circular process. We don’t remain as little children but embark on a long journey of spiritual growth that takes us back to simplicity.

This is expressed in an old traditional story.

When we are young, a tree is simply a tree. As we grow, we learn that a tree is made up of roots, trunk, branches, leaves.  We then divide it further, see a tree made up of cellular tissue: xylem, phloem, cambium layer, stomata. We study photosynthesis and transpiration.

Finally, it all comes together and once again a tree is simply a tree. But now we know what it is like to be a tree.

I think this is what Jesus meant by “becoming as little children.”

Six year olds in Sacred Heart School, Wellington, were asked to write prayers of gratitude to God for some gift that was important to them. A boy wrote this:

“Thank you, God, for words so we can say thank you.”

Doesn’t that put all our learning into one simple statement?

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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