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Speaking to the Soul: The Little Children

Speaking to the Soul: The Little Children

Week of 5 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) // 128, 129, 130 (evening)

Exodus 7:8-24

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6

Mark 10:1-16

I can’t read today’s gospel without recalling St. Augustine’s interpretation of the “little” children that Jesus welcomes. In his famous “Confessions,” Augustine insists that Jesus commends nothing about the nature of children. Augustine believes that Jesus recognizes and affirms not the virtues or attributes of children, but only their small physical size, which Augustine takes as a symbol of humility. Augustine’s dismissal of children is rooted in his understanding of sin as a force that utterly corrupts human nature.

Augustine has a very grim take on infants and children, and he interprets their behaviors as illustrations of the sin that afflicts us all. For example, Augustine sees infants as violent, since their small limbs strike at people who refuse to grant their every demand. Their violence is restrained only because they lack the strength to complete it, not because they lack the will! According to Augustine, infants are also unaccountably jealous: they resent and want to deprive their very own brother of nourishment, even when their mother has plenty of milk to go around. From our earliest days, then, humans are captivated by senseless violence and needless envy.

Augustine has no time for childish innocence. Thus, he can’t comprehend what Jesus might mean in today’s gospel when he tells his stern disciples, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Not only does Jesus welcome children, but he encourages his disciples to be like them: “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

There are many aspects of children that we could embrace if we are to receive the kingdom of God: their vulnerability, their awareness of their need to be loved, their assurance that they are worthy of love and nurture, their transparency and awareness of their emotions, their determination to make connections, their fearlessness of their own creativity. But Augustine’s negative example reminds us that to welcome children, and to become like them, we might need to surrender some of our conceptions of sin itself.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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