Jesus tells us we must become as little children.
This it seems is, beyond love of enemies, our greatest challenge. In a sense it is the beginning of the true walk as a Christian. To experience the world as a child does, is I think to receive the gift of sight that it is to be born again. To see the world unfiltered. And it is our greatest challenge for it requires us to dismantle all the barriers to life our experience of childhood ‘taught us’ to put up.
Life as a child is to experience most fully the violence in which we are immersed but have become so inured to, we fail to see it. As adults when we say the world is a violent place, we see it Elsewhere. In war, in murder, in assault. For many of us, this is a somewhat remote reality, it is coming to us as it were through clouded glass, we hear it as if the noise is muffled.
Not for the child.
The Swiss psychologist Alice Millar, writes I think with tremendous insight into the violence of the world of the child. She tells a story of observing a toddler with her parents and entering into the child’s experience of what to the parents see as harmless, numbed as they are to the violence.
A young child is walking with her parents in a park. A peaceful scene we might think. The adults are eating ice creams and clearly the child would like to as well. She entreats, unable truly to say what she means, noises, cries for the ice cream. One of the adults gives her a lick, but then turns away and continues to walk on, laughing ‘indulgently’ at the child. It is clear to Millar as she watches, the child wants not just a lick, but an ice cream. Perhaps the parents don’t see this, perhaps they do, but they carry on with their walk. The child, utterly defenceless, deploys her only power. She sits down on the path. The parents smile as they look back at this ‘cute’ demonstration, but walk on. Eventually the child is forced into conforming. Their parents are their only security in the world. She gets up and follows. Coerced into conformity.
Try and imagine what it must be like for that child? Perhaps we dare not?
As we grow older, and more powerful we learn other ways, apart from sit-down protest to try and live our unique life, struggling against the continuing desires of those who wish to conform us to their world.
Until eventually we get to a point where we are the adults and others the children
I remember vividly my early years as a High School teacher. School as for so many of my peers had been itself a violent experience and so I’d learned ‘the rules’. Through an amazing encounter with a pupil though I saw into the world of the child, and learnt something of the violence of my own behaviour which I’d at first absorbed but now was displaying. I taught in a tough inner city school and my class were youngsters for whom school was a constant battle. They didn’t meekly conform and fall into the lines of someone else’s narrative of what life was about.
One day, a girl approached me in the classroom, Helen Boland was her name. Of Irish Catholic extraction, she spoke her mind very freely :). ‘Mr Kyte’, she said, ‘you shout a lot’. Perhaps these were the four most important words anyone spoke to me as I learned to teach. They sunk deep. I’d grown up being yelled at by adults, parents and teachers, and now I was exerting my Power. The very violence that had made me terrified as a very small child, then shudder as I got older, then make me fall into silent shame, had now passed into the ordinary. It was how I the powerful person got my way, through violence.
I thanked Helen, and I do so again.
It’s a lesson I carried into parenthood, I’m still learning 23 years on. I ‘suffer’ from a loud voice. I know my own children have felt the force of this, although I’ve tried to keep myself from raising it, it is already too many decibels. A family ‘joke’ was, ‘you’ve never heard dad shout’, until one day I did, to my shame.
Unless you become like little children, you’ll never see the Reality of the world. Its sheer Violence. Experienced by many as the wallpaper of control, raised voices or as one uses their advanced knowledge or ‘power of speech’ to overwhelm the one still incoherent. I could go on. This might sound like hyperbole, but viewed through the truthful lenses of a small child, I wonder. I think that as children we experience this all too well, it’s why Jesus’ offer to us is so terrifying.
‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’