My daughter and I looked at our garden each day, peering closely into the dark earth. “Do you see anything yet?” she asked, her voice hopeful. “Not yet,” I replied. “How about you?”
Each day in spring began with this ritual of staring into the ground, waiting and watching. And when it finally happened, when the first sliver of green issued from the ground, it felt like a miracle. We dance around the yard. We took pictures. We were amazed.
I didn’t help her connect this event to Advent-tide when we watch and wait for Jesus.
We didn’t discuss John 14 and how grains of wheat fall into the ground and die before emerging again.
We didn’t talk about baptism, dying to Christ like this seed and waking to new life.
My daughter is five and her world is concrete. God is a powerful man with a big beard. The Bible stories are true or false, fairytales or real. Metaphors and parables are nonsensical because a thing is what it is, nothing more or less.
It’s this way for most young children, and even some older ones. That is why this period of catechesis in the lives of children shouldn’t try to do too much. I think of the goal of religious education at this juncture as story acquisition. We are trying to tell stories that will be memorized, retold, acted out in play time, shared around the dinner table. The stories of our faith are a kind of building block. Eventually children will begin to differentiate from the faith of their parents. Eventually they will build something with those blocks. They’ll ask difficult questions, make connections to other stories, and understand how these things all fit together.
I had this brought home to me last Sunday when a seventh grader came up to Children’s Time (we do something called Pew Projects, which I’ll write about another time, and he wanted one. So did several adults in the congregation). To help them think about the kingdom of God as mentioned in the Matthew 13 parables I asked the children to show me what their faces would look like if they found treasure in their garden or a string of pearls at the playground. The response from the small children was excitement and surprise. My seventh grader, though, responded by saying that he would be skeptical. Where did they come from? Who would have left these here any why? It was a reminder of the spiritual development that happens between being six and being thirteen.
Someday our children will be able to dig deeper into these stories. Someday they will think through the complexities of hermeneutics and application. One day my daughter will connect the feeling of seeing that first whispy bean plant stretch into the light with her own baptism, her own waiting in Advent, her own experiences of seeing life emerge out of death.
But not now. Right now we are learning and wondering. And that is enough.