Many years ago I abandoned the Church of the New York Times in favor of the Church of Teaching Sunday School to 6-9 Year-Olds, where we discussed Why We are Here and What It’s All About, not because that was the curriculum but because those things were, and will always be, very much on the minds of 6-to-9-year-old children.
Children of that age still believe in magic and miracles, but they also have very specific questions.
Yes, the children in my Sunday therapy group wanted to know things like why Mary and Joseph weren’t married, and why Jesus didn’t get grounded for being very disobedient to the old people when he was 12 and preaching in the temple, because when we go upstairs to church with our parents we aren’t supposed to make noise or talk or be disrespectful because God is watching us, and we are supposed to behave so we don’t end up on the naughty list without Christmas presents or a go-to-heaven card.
Also, they wanted to know whether Israel was on the African or Asian continent, which I
may possibly have definitely had to look up.
But my favorite, of all time, ever, was when one of the children asked whether or not Jesus was a Christian. “Well, no,” I said, surprised by the question, the way stupid adults are almost always surprised by wise children. “Jesus was a Jew.”
“Oh, man!” the child responded, “I was hoping he was Christian just like us.”
I adored these young friends. They were fond of saying that no one was is perfect, not even Jesus. They’d have told you that was the point, actually, that no one will ever be perfect.
They’d have been quick, also, to tell you that being kind matters. They’d also remind me, and anyone else close enough to hear it, how good it felt to be forgiven, like especially when you had written “butt” on your brother’s drawing and then regretted it, but he still gave you his extra cookie.
But the time I loved very most of all was when we examined the mystery of life and death.
There was (is) a very specific presentation for this work, typically done around Easter time – though the first time I did this work with children was when one of the children experienced a sudden death in her family. The lead time on preparation was about two weeks, so we did the work while the event was still recent but no longer raw.
The work happened this way:
Two weeks before the presentation, I planted a few well-soaked wheat seeds in a small pot filled with potting soil.
One week before the presentation, I planted a few more well-soaked wheat seeds in another small pot that was also filled with potting soil. By this time, the seeds in the first pot had sprouted.
The day of the presentation, a few more well-soaked wheat seeds went into a third, similarly prepared little pot. By this time, both of the other pots had little seedlings in them, the first one obviously with taller seedlings than in the second.
Having prepared the pots for my young therapists, we gathered around in a circle on our prescribed Sunday morning. Once everyone was settled, I read (as is part of the work) (and no, this isn’t going to be a Bible study lesson…) John 12:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, that unless a grain of what falls and dies in the ground, it will be left alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
And then we looked at the plants, and the children dug out the seeds and seedlings with their wonderful little fingers as they considered what the words might have meant.
And since you’re unlikely to do this work on your own, in your spare time, I’ll spare you the big reveal: In the pot that was planted two weeks prior to having little fingers poke around in it, the seeds had almost disappeared, having fed their new growth and being no longer needed.
This revelation was like a magic trick, to all of us. Where did those dead seeds go?
As I’ve written, recently, I no longer teach Sunday school, partly because of an ill-informed bureaucratic edict but mostly because I’ve never been fully on board with the construct of organized religion.
But the children, and this one work in particular, have been on my mind in recent months, and in recent weeks particularly as my daughter and her friends laid a young schoolmate to rest. That, with the backdrop of reading that one in every 500 Americans has died from Covid-19, has put thoughts about life and death on center stage.
And now, today, we are at the start of the actual wheat harvest season.
This is the time of year when I still default to the rhythm of the calendar, including the calendar of my Why We Are Here and What’s It All About group that would start meeting right around now, after the start of the academic school year, but well before the beginning of the glitzy Advent and Christmas seasons.
This is the time of year when I think about beginnings and endings: The beginning of a school year; the dwindling down of the calendar year.
This is the time, right now, after the fall equinox, that leads to the dark days of winter, when it will become hard, at times, to hold out for spring.
Spring comes, perhaps, from what’s relinquished in the fall before.
And so, whether you just closed out the High Holy Days, did a Mabon meditation for balance, or celebrated St. Matthew’s feast day, maybe today, at the turn of the seasons, is a good time to consider: What seeds need to fall to the ground, lie in the dark, in order to sprout new growth?
This post is 44/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.
I gave up the church or the church for the church of the second line. Now I have to figure out a new church.
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Maybe the church of a house full of dogs and children? Or maybe you’ve started a church of your own and just don’t realize it yet.
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Or, maybe the church of the retired?
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Lovely in every way. Thank you, Jennifer.
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