On Giants' Shoulders

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Wisdom of Children

Yesterday on the way home from Massachusetts I listened to a most depressing account of why some people reject the Christian teaching about life after death. One of the most intriguing parts of an otherwise pretty sad presentation was the admission that belief in life after death is in effect the default position. Children, absent teaching on the matter believe firmly in life after death. That belief has to be taught out of them.

It reminded me that Jesus admonished us to become as little children because the kingdom of God is made of such as them. It also made me very sad because of something that happened at the home of my hostess on Friday night. At dinner the family joined hands as if to say grace. When I bowed my head, instead of grace they began singing Oats, and Beans, and Barley Grow. Their little girl explained to me afterwards, "We don't pray." This is a very nice family, they clearly love and respect each other, they have nice things, they do kind things for other people. They are creative and involved in all kinds of activities, but they don't pray and their little girl was most aware of the fact.

I like a lot of the points that Chesterton made about children. He knew that young children knew more than grownups some of the time. He learned that both from his own childhood and from the teachings of the Church. He knew the importance of fairy tales, the importance of play, and the importance of being like a little child. There are few worldly treasures that many of us can hand on to our children and grandchildren. We live in a culture where handing on those worldly treasures has taken on paramount importance. Chesterton would join Jesus in warning us that we need to become like the children and lay up treasures in heaven, not because we despise the beauties that God has given us on earth, but because we know that to lose the ultimate treasure is the biggest tragedy of all.