So far, I have eight grandchildren – each one to me, a treasure and a caution and a wonder. They are my little bears and I am their Gramcracker, and within this motif each one has been given their own little bear name. Emily, the first of my grandchildren, was named the Pooka Bear in anticipation of the mischief she would undoubtedly get up to. And Julian, the youngest, is named the Goose Bear because of the honking noise he made in the weeks after he was born. So yes, having grandchildren certainly has its charms, affording me a slower unencumbered pace for enjoying the delights of the childish perspective – something of which my parenting years only seemed to be able to catch a glimpse.
Innocence is the likeliest word that comes to mind when thinking of little children. No doubt, this is because we think of them as a blank slate of experience, unburdened and unspoiled by the weightier issues and concerns, we as adults must shoulder . . . and in some cases, shelter them from. But in fact, children under five are in a perpetual state of contextualizing their surroundings, every experience expanding their frame of reference, every sensation shifting their paradigm – clearly they haven’t yet developed the inevitable filters that have already narrowed our perspective as adults.
If you’ve ever listened to a four year old explaining something they’ve recently discovered, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are fully invested and present in their storytelling, each detail animated as if they were reliving their experience right before your eyes. For it is a world of wonder they live in, where the possibilities seem endless for them. So as I’m being pulled into their orbit, listening intently for the unbridled joy of expectation in their voice, I begin to suspend my disbelief, and I begin to remember, if only briefly, that every moment can be unwrapped like an unexpected gift . . . and I begin to see the world through their eyes.
So this is how I come to Mark 10:13-16 where the disciples foolishly have assumed that Jesus couldn’t possibly want to waste time on little children – but Jesus isn’t having it. Jesus takes them in his arms, blessing them – explaining such as these belong to the Kingdom of God. But this isn’t a Hallmark moment of sentimentality, celebrating the innocence of children – rather Jesus is saying that these children understand the Kingdom of God in ways that we have long forgotten. For the Kingdom of God is found in the suspended disbelief of a child-like nascent expectation of a God who gathers us into his arms.
I guess you could say that my little bears help me to remember that I am a child of God, capable of experiencing an uninhibited access to my Father’s attention. And that he wants me to tell him where it hurts — so he and kiss it. He longs to hear me explain my deepest desires, and he holds me even tighter when I begin to tell him of the things that frighten me most. Because in his presence it’s okay if I don’t know everything – actually, it’s better if I don’t pretend that I do. This is what I want my little bears to know – that the most important things in life are best understood by children, and that being a child of God really will make their possibilities endless.
This is a song lamenting the loss of our childhood wonder and innocence
written by my brother Garrison and performed by me.