They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." Mark 9:30-37
No doubt a gaggle of children hung around the grandmas, aunties, and mothers supporting Jesus out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). But the children hold little interest to the Gospel writers except here.
Did Jesus play and joke with the children? Did he listen to their dreams and nightmares early in the morning? Did he commiserate with the injustices and frustrations of childhood, and, particularly, life on the road? Did he allow himself to see life through their eyes? Did he tell them special stories? Did he allow them to climb into his lap and fall asleep at nap-time? Did he slyly reverse the power dynamics over children with a word here, a wink there, a protective or loving gesture? I'd like to think so.
“Whoever receives a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
On the one hand, this welcoming may offer the chance to recover the suppressed child wasting away inside your gloomy heart (Meditation One). Perhaps it means meeting the true self inside the madness of child's play like Rumi's wise man (Meditation Two.)
But welcoming the child always means awareness and rescue of the child in danger and reform of systems that perpetuate that danger. William Sloane Coffin said, “To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”
Meditation Three invites us to avoid the danger of sentimentality, and to look at structures of injustice. Further, your meditation may take you toward consideration of refugee children around the world and on our borders, as well as child soldiers, victims of child trafficking, exploitation, war, preventable diseases, climate disaster, domestic abuse and neglect.
Please pay attention to Bonhoeffer's comment (The Last Word).
Ever childishly yours, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) The Devil’s Triumph It is the devil’s greatest triumph when he can deprive us of the joy of the Spirit.He carries fine dust with him in little boxes and scatters it through the cracks in our conscience in order to dim the soul’s pure impulses and its luster.But the joy that fills the heart of the spiritual person destroys the deadly poison of the serpent.But if any are gloomy and think that they are abandoned in their sorrow, gloominess will continuously tear at them or else they will waste away in empty diversions.When gloominess takes root, evil grows.If it is not dissolved by tears, permanent damage is done.
-St. Francis of Assisi1181/82-1226 quoted in The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, Dorothee Solle
Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of today. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its soul; it is to live in a nutshell and to count yourself the king of infinite space; it is
'To see a world in a grain of sand, And a Heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour;'
it is to know not as yet that you are under sentence of life, nor petition that it be commuted into death.
-Francis Thompson 1859-1907 from the essay “Shelley” in the Dublin Review, July 1908 inner quote from William Blake
It is beyond dispute that a child, even before it begins to write the alphabet and gathers worldly knowledge, should know what the soul is, what truth is, what love is and what forces are hidden in the soul. It should be the essence of true education that every child learns this and in the struggle of life be able more readily to overcome hatred by love, falsehood by truth and violence by taking suffering on itself.
Christ Blessing the Children, Nicholaes Maes, 1652-53
Meditation Two (Insight)
Stay Playfully Childish
In a poem by Rumi, a young man seeking advice asks to speak to someone wise. The villagers point to a man playing stick-horse with children. “He has keen, fiery insight and vast dignity like the night sky, but he conceals it in the madness of child’s play.” During their conversation the young man asks the wise man why he hides his intelligence. The man answers, “The people here want to put me in charge. They want me to be judge, magistrate, and interpreter of all the texts. The knowing I have doesn’t want that. It wants to enjoy itself. I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time I’m eating the sweetness.” The following words are from the middle of the poem.
Knowledge that is acquired is not like this. Those who have it worry if audiences like it or not. It’s a bait for popularity. Disputational knowing wants customers. It has no soul. Robust and energetic before a responsive crowd, it slumps when no one is there.
Chew quietly your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay playfully childish. Your face will turn rosy with illumination like the redbud flowers.
-Rumi 1207-1273 translation by Coleman Barks with John Moyne The Essential Rumi
Meditation Three (Integration) A Flea Against Injustice
(3 separate quotes)
We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance; between good politics and good policy; between professed and practiced family values; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so.
The inability to get health care because people lack insurance, kills, less traumatically, and less visibly than terrorism, but the result is the same. And poor housing and poor education and low wages kills the spirit and the capacity and the quality of life that all of us deserve. (2001)
You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.
-Marian Wright Edelman b. 1939
The Last Word
The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945
I find Nicholaes Maes’ Christ Blessing the Children humorous because the children are oblivious to the occasion – notice the child lifted above the crowd going limp with resistance.
The child in the foregroundrepresents the state of my soul. The hand of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Light, the Word, the Good Shepherd, the Gate, the Resurrection and the Life, The Paschal Lamb, son of the Queen of Heaven, son of the Most High rests upon my head, blessing me. But I'm attentive to some movement in the crowd, another child's misbehavior or clowning. Or I'm absorbed in my own daydreaming, usually of more interest than what's happening to me or around me.
But who can blame me for this? I'm a three dimensional being, a mere child in the ways of wisdom, and the Holy One reaches to me from behind time from the eternal present. How can I possibly know how deeply I am blessed?
In the following Rumi poem the poet acknowledges this same trait of distraction. However, he wakes up and realizes his place as an honored guest, playing the music of his life for his Host.
Not for a Second
For sixty years I have been forgetful, every minute, but not for a second has this flowing toward me stopped or slowed. I deserve nothing. Today I recognize that I am the guest the mystics talk about. I play this living music for my host. Everything today is for the host.
-Rumi 1207-1273 translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, The Essential Rumi