Ashlyn and I recently attended a Columbus Clippers baseball game with my cousin and his family. It was fun to take in a ball game on a summer evening and enjoy America’s favorite pastime; but there was something else that I enjoyed even more: the kids. We had four kids with us. They didn’t pay much attention to the game, save for a few times when a potential home run ball came our way. They were much more enamored with the bouncy houses, splash pad, online games, and outshining one another with their impressive yoga moves.
But after the game, we enjoyed an additional treat. As soon as the players left the field, all the stadium lights shut off and the fireworks began. Suddenly, the kids stood at attention and slowly moved their bottoms to the ground. They fixed their gaze upon the sky and opened their mouths as the fireworks thundered and flowered above us. The quartet offered the usual oohs and ahhs, but my favorite part when my niece exclaimed repeatedly: “It’s a miracle!”
Her excited words made me laugh but they also made me pause and think. I smiled and said to myself, I want to see the world like that.
No, I don’t want to toss aside science or live as if “ignorance is bliss” or function in what Saint Paul called “childish ways.” But I want to notice good and beautiful things in the world and pause long enough to say: “It’s a miracle!”
I’m not necessarily a big kids person. No one ever thought to ask me to volunteer for child care or teach 1st grade Sunday School. And I’m okay with that. But I do enjoy and care about kids. I even admire some of them. Working in a public library means I have a fair amount of interaction with the kids in my community. They crack me up when they “say the darnest things” and they break my heart when I catch a glimpse of the pain and chaos that permeates their home life.
This summer I really enjoyed our summer reading program. Our youth librarian moved on to another job so we had a gap in program leadership that I helped to fill. So I spent June and July doing sign ups, facilitating programs, checking in/out/shelving/pulling so many youth and young adult books, and even hanging out with the kiddos for the final pool party.
Through all the book bonanzas, pool parties, and baseball games, I was reminded of something unusual and profound that I don’t often think about: the child-likeness of God.
Not only does God care about children as precious and vulnerable members of the human family. God also delights in how children teach us essential things about God. I know of no one who has written more about this than the brilliant Christian author G.K. Chesterton:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until [they are] nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
God is young, vivacious, delight-full, and childlike. We are the ones who have sinned and grown old.
I want to learn from my little friends how to be holy and grow young again. I don’t want to lose my sense of wonder at the ordinary miracles that surround us. There are plenty. As Chesterton also said: “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”
This view of the world enriches our spirits and offers guidance for our spiritual formation, but it’s not just about our personal growth. When we fail to see the world as sacramental and enchanted, we risk a movement toward exploitation and violence that all too often guides our economics and politics.
In his book, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, agrarian author and farmer Wendell Berry argues against the contemporary trends that reduce life into purely materialistic and mechanistic terms. “To reduce the mystery and miracle of life to something that can be figured out,” he asserts, “is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it and put it up for sale.” When we take away the spirit within us that looks at nature and neighbor and exclaims “It’s a miracle!” we take away the wisdom that teaches us how to relate rightly to one another and how to make right use of our world’s resources.
When we preserve and affirm that sense of wonder, awe, and reverence, we discover our true place in the world. We are better able to know ourselves, our Creator, the natural world, and our neighbor in a deeper, truer way. We know them “intimately, particularly, precisely, gratefully, reverently, and with affection.”
If we are to truly know, steward, love, and develop our rural places, we need to learn to see our places and people with fresh eyes of wonder and possibility. Our land is not wasteland. Our communities are not worthless dots on the map to somewhere better. Our congregations are not just shrinking circles of the “frozen chosen.”
If we can learn from our youngest neighbors and look again with eyes inspired by the child-likeness of God, maybe we will see the beauty and goodness of our people and our place. It’s a miracle!
Photo credit to Marc Wells.