At one point in my life I was a voracious reader. In my elementary school days when public schools and Pizza Hut teamed up to form the BookIt! program to encourage reading (and childhood onset obesity, apparently) I was an avid consumer of both pizza and books. I was reading several grades above my level and tore through books on a daily and weekly basis.
Then something changed: my family got a computer. We were one of the first families I knew who had one and I was certainly one of the first children I knew to have internet in the house, even before my school pals knew what it was. Over time and especially towards my teenage years my book reading dropped off. I would still read, but my appetite for books was diminished. An hour or more of bed-time reading each night was supplanted by computer games and the internet. Computers were especially tempting for me because they spoke to the tinker-side of my personality, I could manipulate them and use them, spent endless amounts of time doing and learning different things, I could open them and look inside–they fascinated me.
More and more of my life was consumed by computers and now, at 27, I feel as though I have a crippled attention span and ability to focus on things like reading. I often feel as though my imagination has suffered as well.
Today I spent the morning watching the six year old boy that my Wife cares for each day. I was writing a sermon while he watched something on the iPad but I was glad when he interrupted me to help him with a craft. He wanted to make a staff that one of the characters in a show he watches holds and uses as a weapon. We found toilet paper tubes, construction paper, glue, and tin-foil and set to work.
We found a picture of the character and used it as our reference, just as I remember using my Sesame Street book of different types of houses around the world to be my blue-prints for my cushion fort in the living room. Just like I remember from my childhood, for this young boy we weren’t building a look-alike staff made from paper tubes we were building the actual staff. Though my cushion forts in no way resembled my favourite house in the Sesame Street book, in my eyes the cushions disappeared and there stood a house.
Later on this evening I remarked to my wife how amazing it is to be around children when their imagination is at work. I recalled that of all the crafts I ever made one stands out above the rest. My summertime babysitter Natalie one summer had us make a model replica of my house out of a milk carton. It’s now been at least 20 years since that day I can remember where on the kitchen floor we sat to make it, what volume and percentage the milk that was in the carton was, and what it looked like in the end.
Of course it looked like a milk carton with crudely cut-out pieces of construction paper glued to it but I remember it being such an incredibly accurate scale model of my house. We weren’t building a model we were building a house.
Christ’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel rang especially poignantly while I mulled all of this over with my Wife, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
It’s a verse I’ve read many times before but has never struck me until now, both because of it’s oddness and because of the perspective I was given on it after playing around with tape and toilet paper tubes today.
Little children believe. Little children see things truly, unencumbered with the adult world that fogs the vision of the true image of things. The imagination of children is alive, real, and there’s no doubt that what they imagine is real.
What if we saw as children? What if we were able to look around us with the eyes of children at our Father’s world and see it truly with the sort of imagination and awe that allows a child to truly see a house in a pile of cushions, or truly fight a dragon that is actually a tree stump with a sword that’s actually a stick?
I think Christ says this because the innocence of children; that innocence is what allows for the enchanted and beautiful (and true) vision of the world we were gifted with as children but struggle to hard to maintain, and often lose, in our adult lives.