ooer… here I am, once again having doubts about some of the underlying assumptions in today’s extract from Nouwen and prayer.
Nouwen seems to think little children are “poor, gentle, and pure of heart… the peace-maker hungry and thirsty for uprightness…”.
In my experience of children, which as mum, gran and teacher for over 30 years is considerable, they are generally not “gentle”, nor “pure of heart”. Neither are they by nature “peacemakers”, nor are the “hungry and thirsty for uprightness”. If you don’t believe me, just spend half an hour eavesdropping on a primary school playground! And for a real revelation spend half an hour watching toddlers “play” (“war”???) together unsupervised. In fact, you won’t be able to leave them for a full half hour… after – ooh, let’s say 10 seconds or so, you’ll need to intervene to prevent hair-pulling, eye-gouging, pushing and shoving, snatching, biting…
And as for the line in the carol “Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as He”… it sticks in my throat every Christmas, unsingable in it’s bare-faced nonsensity.
Part of the message of Christmas is that God took upon Himself our full humanity..On paper at least, and in credal statements, Christians believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. Too often, we skate over that bit – fully human.
here’s an imaginary conversation with Jesus:
“Jesus, did you ever get cross with your mum and dad?”
“Do you remember the time I went to Jerusalem with them? It was for my coming-of-age ceremony. Afterwards, I was having a ball discussing stuff with all those bigwigs in the Temple – talking about Abba Daddy God, learning what they thought, telling them what I thought. I didn’t notice the time, and mum and dad left without me. When they finally missed me they came back to find me. D’you remember that story?”
“Yes I remember – but sure you didn’t actually get angry with them?”
“I was 12… what do you think???” … and Jesus laughs ruefully, remembering one of the major family rows of his childhood.
In Christ, God calls us to become fully human, not some kind of milk-and-water, meek-and-mild appology for human, but fully human. Surely that is what it means to become a child of God.
And yes, Nouwen also says the little child is “weeping in repsonse to very little pain” and “the final victim of persecution”, and that is so true. And again, I would suggest that we need to learn to be honest about our pain and sorrow, not to bury it.
We also need to be honest about our childish greed, self-seeking and tendency towards controlling and destructive behaviour.
In Jesus we have both the example of how to grow through all our immaturities into full maturity and the companion who is by our side as we tread that often painful pathway towards wholeness.
And as the reading from Luke promises, as we come to realise our poverty, we will be blessed, for we will discover that the kingdom of God is ours. As we acknowledge our hunger, we will be blessed, for we will discover that we can feed on the Living Bread and drink of the Living Water and our hunger and thirst will be filled. And as we dare to be real, to weep in our pain and grief and sorrow, we will be blessed, for we will find Jesus weeping with us and eventually will be able also to laugh with Him.
And yes, today let us, as an act of will, give something away: most of all, our need to put ourselves first. May God open our eyes to see the poverty, the hunger and the weeping of others, however hidden it is, and to reach out with the love of Christ to enrich, to feed and to comfort.
And here are other people posting on the Advent Book Club: