It's not an unfamiliar snapshot of life with a young child, especially when sitting with their parent who is busy grabbing a few things at the grocery or, in my case, trying to listen to the sermon: two chubby hands reach over to the cheeks of their parent and deftly turn that parental face to meet their own. Eye-to-Eye. Heart-to-Heart. Some twenty years ago our daughter, Brooke, did this and then reverently whispered, "Mommy, do you feel It?"
I still remember in my body what Brooke alerted me to. That thin place when the Light finds us and we are exposed in Love. Having felt it at the births of our children and at the bedsides of dying patients as a young nurse, there that elusive holy presence was and I would have missed the shared moment if not for a two-year-old claiming my attention because, surely, God was in that place.
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me" (Mark 9:37).
This oft-referenced gospel passage is the quintessential narrative, perhaps even a tableau, of Jesus' love and radical respect for children. It paints a lovely picture and the message functions today as an anachronistic "sound byte." Can't you just image it being re-Tweeted and mega-posted to Facebook and Instagram if someone caught Jesus placing a child among them on video?
If we fast-forward to the circumstances of today, certainly persecution and vilification weigh heavily as they did for Jesus in the Roman Empire. Factor in the omnipresent media and very little unplugged time for First World-ers. If Jesus was turning to Jerusalem for the last time and stopped to "circle with" his followers, where might that be? Starbucks? Burning Man? The shores of Lesbos?
Wherever the location and whoever assembles there, I believe there is a lovely, limpid spaciousness when Jesus is "in the house." Those personal and communal moments when we know our Life and Light is present summon an unexpected kairos that requires the crossing of an elusive threshold in the midst of our daily busyness. With Jesus, even in moments of stillness today, our limbic selves settle and allow for a radical loosening within. The ensuing porousness, even if just a slit of an opening to the "holy possibility" plays hide and seek with us throughout our ordinary lives.
Children are porous beings whose deep desire to be known allows them to barrel forward and then stop on a dime when they sense that something is worth stopping for. "Mommy, do you feel it?" And we are called to make an instantaneous choice in that moment:
Accept the unexpected invitation and enter into the deep pool of stillness and swim until it finds its natural end.
Send out that one, last text.
How we choose matters!
Children seek adults whose unspoken message is to be still and trust as we await and explore what God reveals to each of us, uniquely and together. We share with them the experience of having been a child once. We bring a longer history of playing hide-and-seek with God's steadfast presence, experiences tempered over time and life that leave us a little tougher and a little less porous to God's delight and companionship. Our Jewish brothers and sisters call this klipah, the outer husk that covers our unique divine spark.
Perhaps we experience and witness children as uniquely attuned to the Light because their klipah is so very permeable and it reconnects us with that time in our own lives — experiences often before we had language to describe the God we knew, the one who knits us together in our mother's womb, and the God who knows every hair on our head. The God who finds us in times of concentrated abandon, times of deep play. True play is voluntary, pleasurable, absorbing, and done for its own sake. Play is children's work as Maria Montessori taught, and play is the time where the Holy One surprises us in delight. Play is not optional or frivolous; it is essential for us all at every age.
Dollars to donuts, your earliest experience of God was not in front of a screen or while you were multitasking. When our Godly Play circle of children is deeply connected, experiences shared of God are often in places of beauty and calm, when the child feels loved, safe, and free. They describe space and quiet where a shift occurs that enables them to "be still and know that I am God." (My words, not theirs.) I find myself wondering how children today will learn the art of "being still" when faced with so little time to play deeply?
As adults, we are called to delight in the porous presence of children and the ways they play with and know God. Ways that seem to slip by our older, tougher husked spirits. But, I believe that God is calling us to cultivate practices and places, as well as our deep selves, to foster and model lives that allow that still small voice to speak in a busy, troubled world so that we are always and ever bearing witness to one another — children of God at every age — that allow us to stop and turn to one another and ask, "Do you feel it?"