Last Sunday I was visiting another congregation in another state. The choir sang to a respectful and appreciative congregation. At the end of the anthem, which was greeted with warm and polite silence, a small voice rang out: "Yaaaaaay!" The congregation burst into laughter. The choir looked pleased as punch while the parents, no doubt, hushed the little one. I've been thinking about that moment a lot this week.
One of the things I most adore about children is their uncensored reactions to events. They restore our ability to be "wow-ed" - because we all got the message that we are not allowed to be wow-ed, once we become adults. A child's sense of wonder is a gift to the world. It makes the world brighter and shinier. It makes the world true-er. One of my grandpas, who wasn't exactly child-friendly most of the time, loved to give a baby his or her first pickle. He never tired of seeing their faces squinch up as they encountered sour for the first time. True and uncensored reactions are gifts!
I'm wondering why we believe it's necessary to teach children to curb their delight. I'm sure I did it - shushing the girls with a finger to my lips and a not-now look. It must be related to the corresponding belief that it's not ok to stick out in a crowd. If your response doesn't match that of the people around you, you will stick out. And that is bad because?
I often wish I had studied sociology so I could find out why we do these things. I didn't, but I did study Jesus. Now this might not seem like something important enough to consult scripture over, but really, I kind of like to look to Jesus for everything. Nowhere in the books of the New Testament that tell Jesus' story do I find any wallflower tendencies in him. The closest thing that comes to mind is the wedding at Cana where Jesus says that his time has not yet come. Jesus often waded in and did things that were not socially acceptable: he talked to women and children, he argued with the priests and scribes, he ate with undesirables. I'm sure his mother was mortified more than once. I don't think we can argue that Jesus wasn't being who he was created to be.
Maybe we should consider doing a little less curbing of our children. Maybe we should cheer with them when they're enthusiastic and not push them to perform when they are shy. Maybe we should focus on actual bad behaviors like being selfish or unkind but let them encounter the world from their own natural place. Let the ones who hang back and watch until they are ready to join in do that. Let the ones who hurl themselves into things do it their own way.
Earlier this week I blessed our pre-school students with a little water to their foreheads. The children had a variety of responses. Some were very matter of fact and submitted to the water like a bedtime face-wash. Others were shy and looked down. Some were silly and made faces at me when I did it, and one little boy shivered like it was a holy moment for him - so many different responses to the same stimulus. No behavior had been prescribed and so the heart responded. That's what happened in church last Sunday. A child's heart responded, and the hearts of all the adults present responded to the heart of the child. I think Jesus would approve!