Saturday, April 19, 2014

Heaven's Gate

“Except you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
                                                                 —Matthew 18-3

The mirror is daily testimony that linear time is real, that life will write its story on your face and gravity will pull you downward. But inside my spirit is perpetually five-years old and just why is that? Partly because my daily serious work is playing games— singing, dancing and clapping games. And playing them with real five-year olds as well, who remind me of my own child nature and encourage it to come out and play.

Yesterday, I was having a marvelous time in my preschool class when eight alum high schoolers showed up for a visit and peeked in the window. I could feel them watching the kids and exclaiming, “Oh, aren’t they cute?!” and I don’t blame them. That’s how we see it in our culture. But “cute” downsizes the complexity and dignity of the little ones, dismisses them with a backhand complement. And when a tantrum-throwing toddler defeats a crowd of adults, it ain’t exactly cute!

So I waved the high school girls in to come join us and within five minutes, they were making tree shapes for the preschoolers to peek out from behind in our “Cuckoo” game. And then skipped around the room themselves and hid behind the preschooler trees. From there to some clapping plays, 5 and 15-year olds joined as partners and then all of them doing some chicken struttin’ around the room on the B section. Keep in mind that these high school girls are stepping into adulthood, figuring out the dating game and pressured on all sides by the cool code of the teenage mentality. And yet perfectly willing to jump in and make tree shapes and dance like chickens.

I believe our school can take some credit for that, giving kids constant opportunities to keep in touch with all the younger children still living inside of them. Our Middle School Cool Code is to be exactly yourself and never be shy about being silly, expressive, quirky, joyful if that’s what you’re genuinely feeling. No need to wrap it up in protective secret clothing and only let it out when your bedroom door is closed. And as teachers, we’re modeling this as we freely display our own childlike selves in front of the children. Especially in music class.

The children in our school our wonderfully innocent in the way that children can and should be. Not naive, because our kids are smart and savvy and we don’t protect them from wholly from life’s travesties, especially as we initiate them into the responsibilities of social justice. But an innocence that, as Rachel Carson puts it, “preserves their sense of wonder.” We publicly proclaim it in our opening water ceremony as we speak of the first-grader’s beginner’s mind— fresh, curious, open to possibilities. That kind of innocence. The kind that allows 9th graders the freedom to jump into a preschool music class with both feet and splash around in those refreshing waters.

I agree with Jesus here. Heaven is not a place you go to if you are compliant and obedient to religious authority. It’s a place you enter every day that you keep the inquisitive, curious, wondrous mind and heart of the little child alive and exercised. Thanks to the 9th grade alums for reminding me yet again.

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