Children's Wisdom, Grown-Up Wisdom and the Gifts of Mutual Flourishing
By Nita Gilger
It seems to me there are at least two types of wisdom: Intuitive and Depth Wisdom.
Intuitive wisdom can reside in any of us but is especially available to children. Rabbi Harold Kushner, well-known author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and other books, came to our church to speak years ago. I had the privilege of spending time with him and his wife. They wanted to tour our children's area and were particularly interested in one of our storytelling rooms which was a temple with an ark of the covenant. What a remarkable man! He was so loving, affirming, excited, and kind. When he came to my church he told this story: A little boy, age 3, had a new baby sister. One day, he told his parents that he needed to talk to "his" baby by himself. They were hesitant but allowed him to go into the baby's room alone. They left the door cracked open slightly and watched and listened. Their son pulled up a chair to the crib and leaned over the railing. The parents were about to intervene thinking he might be about to launch himself over the side of the crib and inadvertently hurt his sister. They waited. Instead, the boy said, "Baby, tell me about God. I am starting to forget."
I think we arrive on the planet with a closeness to God--that Spirit and Cosmos from which we came. It is only over time and living life that we can begin to distance ourselves from Spirit or at least try to. In the great circle of life, the two wisdoms tend to meet up. An older person, who has so many life experiences, usually develops a depth that is almost impossible to achieve without time and life events. A young child has untarnished, pure Spirit-wisdom. This merging of ages is one of the great gifts of grandparents and grandchildren or older people and young children being together. It is almost as if their collective life wisdom merges into something of deep understanding and love. Both have bodies that are changing rapidly. Both generations have some degree of trying to find their identity and place in life as new and sometimes rapidly changing stages emerge.
Children help us to reclaim and remain in wonder which is of Spirit and ever so pure. This is why I loved Children's Ministry and education my entire career. I learned and still learn so much from children. I have the sense that if I can stay connected to children, I will never become cynical. They help me to believe.
That was certainly true on all the Intergenerational Study trips that I helped to lead. On those trips we were traveling abroad to understand theological concepts and the emergence of Western Christianity through art and architecture. My job as a children's minister was to help the children understand these complex ideas in user-friendly, age-appropriate ways. Maybe I helped that to happen, but what I know is that the children were better teachers than I. They helped me to see with eyes of imagination and awe. They saw things and said things we adults had forgotten. They helped us to be in the moment and see God.
There is a gift in depth wisdom, too: the wisdom that comes from experience. The gift of our depth wisdom as adults holds and guides the younger ones among us. If we allow life wisdom and Spirit to teach us well, we have a greater capacity of non-judgement for those who are still learning. We know life can be hard. We know how to make mistakes and recover from them. We know we don't have all the answers. All of that helps us as we head toward our elder years to create an intentional flourishing. We have the luxury and gift to be patient and see the gifts of children with great expectancy, instead of demanding certain life requirements and performance. We can easily meld into unconditional love. We have a big picture view of how life works and does not work. There is a depth in our lives and an understanding, that is itself wonderful.
Intentional flourishing encourages us to be life-long learners. When my dad was dying of colon cancer after a long, courageous 3 1/2-year battle, he still had a hand-written list of 25 books that he wanted to read in his wallet. He read constantly and was prepared to read until he could read no more. He believed in always learning and being curious. Intentional flourishing also calls on us to be willing to adapt. As time rolls on we will have loss and can become more vulnerable, but we can still flourish even in those times if not because of them.
I am reminded of the words of Father Richard Rohr in Falling Upward: We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. This living into new ways of thinking is depth wisdom. It matches and complements the innocent wisdom of children, These two wisdoms are among life's deepest blessings. They are the part of the flourishing which is God's will for the world and for us.
Prayer: God of wonder and all wisdom, help us to remember who You are. And then, help us to flourish with great intention and love. Amen.