~by Donald Hanna
There are many things we hear related to living out a faith life that sound straightforward on the surface, but get more complicated as we dig into them. For instance, “Love one another,” or “live simply.” One wonders, is it better to buy organic food, which is less detrimental to the earth or conventional food, which is often less expensive, and then use the savings to feed the poor? These kinds of questions are what living out a faith life is about, and they don’t necessarily have a right answer. We are each born with certain gifts and talents, and it is up to us ask questions about how to use them.
One of those straightforward statements that I’ve been thinking about is, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Simple enough to say, but what does it mean? To me it seems like there are two parts to unpacking this statement:
A) What is the kingdom of God?
B) What does it mean to receive that as a child?
So what is the kingdom of God? If we think about this in traditional terms of kingdom we might imagine a king looking out from the castle wall, pronouncing, “All that mine eye doth see is mine.” The kingdom is all that belongs to the king. And as icky and male-centric as this language is, it does illustrate a point – everything belongs to God. Everything, everyone, everywhere, even everytime are God’s. It all is the kingdom of God, or to use a less hierarchical phrase, the kin-dom of God. We all belong to God as a family belongs to each other. It is a kin-dom. I am my mother’s as my mother is mine. Everything is in God as God is in it.
So then, what does it mean to receive it as a child. Really, this seems almost superfluous. I mean if God’s kin-dom is everywhere, everything, everyone, everytime, then we can’t help but be in the kin-dom, right? The harder thing would be getting out of it.
There is the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A young shepherd out tending his sheep threw a rock into a cave and heard some pottery smash. He went in and found jar upon jar of two-thousand-year-old scrolls. He told his mother about the find, and she had him bring a bunch home, which she promptly burned as firewood. Fortunately, the lad went and told the museum about the scrolls, and so they saved some of the most important archeological findings for biblical scholars ever.
I think it can be like that for us. We can have the scrolls, but they can be just firewood to us. We can be in the kin-dom without really being in it. To receive the kin-dom, to appreciate what is right in front of us, we need to approach it as a child. So now, what does that mean?
As it so happens, I have been observing children for years and have some insights about it:
*My eldest daughter, Kira, was a very outgoing four year old. We would be at a coffee shop or bookstore, and she would often come to us and say something like, “Can Emily spend the nigh?” “Who’s Emily?” we would ask, and she would point to a kid she had met 52 seconds earlier. As a child Kira demonstrated an extreme hospitality.
*My son, Asah, loves being in the garden. He loves to put plant starts in the ground, gently pack soil around the root ball, and give the plant water. He gives us a running report about how much each plant has grown from day to day. He checks the tomatoes everyday to see if there is any fruit ready for the harvest. In all of this he displays a connectedness to the earth and awe of the miracle of creation.
*When my daughter, Lexi, was eight she watched a squirrel fall from a tree and get hit by car. She ran inside, tears rolling down her cheeks, and insisted that we have a funeral for the squirrel that moment. She showed a profound sense that life is sacred.
*One of my foster children was a little iffy on tofu. We told him that he would get used to it. One evening, when we set a plate of stir fry down in front of him, he let out a little groan, but then as he took his first bite, then second, and third, his face beamed as let out an excited cheer – “I got used to it!” He demonstrated great gratitude.
*We had a guest over when Kira was five. The woman was wearing a sweater made of a yarn that had a lot of texture to it. “Cool sweater. What’s it made of? Fuzz?” In this question, and many more like them, she illustrated an insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world around her.
*And all of my children and foster children in so, so many ways have taught me love. Over and over again. Love.
Curiosity, fascination, gratitude, a sense of the sacred, connectedness and awe, hospitality, love – I believe that living with these qualities, that receiving the kin-dom as a little child, opens the world up to us. It makes it richer. It gives the world and our own lives value and purpose. As you move through your week, try and step back, and take in the world as a child. Open yourself to the curiosity that you feel. Extend a hand of hospitality like there’s nothing to lose. Look again at the back yard and see how many truly wonder-full things are growing out there. Be gracious for all of it. Love and know that you are loved. For truly I tell you, whoever receives the kin-dom of God as a little child will enter it. Now it is up to you to discern just what that means for you.
Donald Hanna is the pastor at Alamosa Presbyterian Church. He recently moved with his family from Minneapolis to a small ranch on the outskirts of the San Luis Valley in Colorado.