By Celia Coates
Right there, in the restaurant, sitting with my friend who was dropping bits of food from her mouth while she was talking, I was overtaken by love. Love for the small part of God that she is. It was most peculiar. I’d never felt anything like it – it wasn’t like the love I’ve felt for my own children and it certainly wasn’t like romantic love. I’d been surprised that this distinguished woman wasn’t noticing the pieces of pastry collecting on the front of her suit, but this also wasn’t about accepting her table manners. It wasn’t about anything in particular, not her personality or mine or about our friendship. It was a strong and sweeping emotion, an open-armed embrace of the glory and imperfection of being humans with a divine essence. And it captured me completely.
I experienced finding my friend dear, very dear. I was aware of loving all of the person she is, pleasant and unpleasant, and aware of myself being filled with the experience of loving. It’s hard to put into words but it was a completely new, sweet moment of illumination that seemed like an unusual gift – a brief realization of our divine true nature.
My early lessons about religion came from a Presbyterian mother and a Quaker father. I went to a variety of Sunday schools when I was growing up and I’m familiar with, but not particularly knowledgeable about, the Bible. I was an ordinary, sometime-church-going Protestant until many years ago when I found Buddhist teachings. Using Christian language or thinking in conventional terms about religion are not part of my practice, but after that sweeping moment of awareness I began remembering references to Jesus and children found in the New Testament. The passages from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke came into my mind.
Here is the story from Mark Chapter 10, Verses 13-16:
“13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God.
15 Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.’”
The words from those verses – “such is the kingdom of God” and “receive the kingdom of God as a little child” – circled around in my mind over and over.
There’s a commentary found In the Thomas Nelson Study Bible* that says,
“Every parent knows that no child is perfect. But Jesus sees in their refreshing openness to new things, their eagerness to learn and follow, a welcome contrast to adult self-dependence and cynicism.”
This may be one level of meaning of the story, but for me the verses about Jesus and the children are about far more than the lovely openness and eagerness of the young. It’s about our relationship to the divine and our essential nature that can be seen before our in-the-world characteristics dominate how we behave. Young children haven’t been in the world long enough to have covered over their true nature.
A couple of days later I found myself singing the old hymn, ”Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The lyrics were written by preacher Clare Herbert Woolston and sung to the 1864 Civil War tune, “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” written by George Frederick Root. Wikipedia says the hymn was inspired by the verse in Matthew (Chapter 19, Verses 13 – 15) that is similar to the one in Mark.
It’s the chorus that’s repeated after every verse that makes me want to sing along:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
What wonderful words for our modern times!
Here’s the rest of the hymn:
Whether you are rich or whether you’re poor
It matters not to Him
He remembers where you’re going
Not where you’ve been
If your heart is troubled
Don’t worry, don’t you fret
He knows that you have heard his call
And he won’t forget
All around the world tonight
His children rest assured
That he will watch and He will keep us
Safe and secure
Jesus is shown to love the little children, to receive and bless them rather than allowing them to be chased away as unimportant. This seems to me to be a huge teaching, one of the finest given by Jesus. It values the “child” state of consciousness that isn’t burdened by the materialism that interferes with our awareness of the divine kingdom.
I had a chance to learn from the experience of loving my messy friend that we are all God’s children and incredibly dear because of that. “God is Love” and each one of us is made of that love. As I keep trying to describe and explain what my peculiar experience gave me, I get further and further from its deep meaning. So I’ll just include a simple statement here in Christian language: God is Love. We are created by God. We are Love. It’s the essence of our nature, and sometimes we can feel that.
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Thomas Nelson: THE KING JAMES STUDY BIBLE, Full Color Edition, Copyright 1988,2013, 2017, Liberty University, p. 1564.
The image that accompanies this post is from Creative Commons Zero – CC0.