From preschool on, we respond to our education in ways that teach us a lot about who we are. We struggle through some subjects – abandoning them the second we complete whatever they require of us – but meet ourselves anew elsewhere: find our intellect and even our emotions awakened and invested. The latter subjects – the ones that awaken us – become a part of how we move through the world. The others are left largely behind. Science, math, language, geography: it’s all offered up, and we get to choose what we carry forward. What carries us forward. This is arguably the best part of our formal education system: that it forces us towards at least nominal well-roundedness while making space for particular curiosities to come alive. It’s just right for our human community. One body, many members.
What works well amidst a diversity of intellectual pursuits, however, falls arguably short when it comes to the development of a thriving spiritual life. A relationship, in community, with God. This is true for reasons the earliest Christian thinkers understood: because to know God isn’t a matter of learning about God. As Robert Louis Wilken observes in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, even our earliest theologians sought to understand God intellectually only because God was already known to them. Wilken writes: “unlike other forms of knowledge, the knowledge of God begins with God’s movement towards human beings, what in the language of Christian theology is called grace” (19, emphasis mine). There are delightful, if daunting, reasons this is true: that we can’t discover God in just the way we might discover gravity or mathematical formulas. And this, at last, is why we give ourselves over to the liturgy.
We give ourselves over, but we don’t ask that of our kids. With kids, I think we worry. We worry that it will be over their heads. Or that it might bore them. We worry that they won’t want to keep coming if it asks too much of them. And they know how to do school, so our turn in that direction makes sense. We teach them about God and hope the knowing will follow.
But we can’t teach our kids God. Not in the typical Sunday School ways, not alone. If we want them to make space for the Holy Spirit, we have to show them how to worship. We have to take them seriously. We have to create a space that is just right for them to encounter the Lord and then, sometimes, get out of their way.
Wilken goes on to say that early Christian thinkers:
prayed regularly, and their thinking was never far removed from the church’s worship….their intellectual work was always in service of praise and adoration of the one God (25).
We know this. We love Bible study, but we need the Liturgy of the Word. We need the Eucharist. We need the stillness and the ritual and the restlessness that we sit through until it passes. We worship, and we see God in one another. And we are made more whole. For some of us, this is enough. For others, it awakens a desire to learn. But either way, it starts and ends with praise.
If Church School is offered primarily as an educational experience, and a child doesn’t connect intellectually with the body of knowledge imparted to her there, she will likely do what we all do when we bump up against a discipline that isn’t our thing: walk away from church as soon as she’s able. But if we let our children in to the mystery of worship, we will have made space for their knowledge of God.
This is why at St. Luke’s, and in other parishes throughout the country, we’re moving away from Church School and towards child-centered worship. Why we sing, and pray, and read the Gospel gathered around an altar: our small church in the round. Why we often exchange the Peace together, taking the time to look one another in the eye. Why we follow the Revised Common Lectionary and learn about the Books of the Bible primarily through our slow, steady exploration of them. Why we ask of our children what we ask of ourselves: to be still through the cacophony in their heads, through the distractions and the restlessness. To be still and know.
As Paul teaches us in his prayer for the Ephesians, we see God not through our eyes, but through the eyes of our hearts. And that, if you were curious, is what led to the naming of this new Formation blog. Paul prays:
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe (Ephesians 1: 17-19).
I pray that the space of this blog – and the space of our St. Luke’s Children’s Chapel – may serve us all as we seek to know the hope to which we’ve been called. Whether you’re a St. Luke’s parishioner or not – a parent or not – I’m glad that you’re here. Near or far, it is a great privilege to share in this work with you.