Monday, January 28, 2019

Overreading Nehehmiah

Lots to see here for even the littlest!
Sunday's first reading has provoked some interesting exegetical conversation about the presence of young children within the sanctuary,
In the square in front of the Water Gate, Ezra read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. Nehemiah 8:3
Fr. Michael White reads this passage to support excluding children from the sanctuary, falling clearly on the side that the Mass is entirely a rational experience and those without the intellectual capacity to understand (presumably including those with dementia or other cognitive deficits) should be provided for in other ways, e.g. by investing in strong children's programs. Worship should be serene and uninterrupted by the messy realities of everyday life.

White mocks those who sit where their children can see, "as if they’re looking." Certainly my experience in a church which does not provide differently for children, or those otherwise unable to "understand," is that children are far more attentive to what is happening on the altar than you might think. The three year-old boy next to me who joins in the prayers of the faithful, the little girl dancing to our song — Alleluia — or my own son, who on hearing the opening to the second reading, "St. Paul's letter to the Romans" leaned over to say, "Rome, I've been to Rome." He was 4. Father White might spend a few weekends sitting incognito in the pews somewhere to see where children are looking and what they are doing and how parents are investing in their formation, and then revisit the issues he takes up in his essay.

Listening to the reading this weekend, I was struck by who was in the assembly. If all the people, the men and the women alike were there, who was home with the children too young to understand?  I had visions of houses with infants abandoned in cradles and toddlers wandering the streets. Perhaps the meaning to be wrung from this passage isn't that we shouldn't bring children into the church until they are old enough to understand, but that they are old enough to grasp out for and onto God from the very start. For are we not to love and worship God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.  Frankly, it's more than any of us can understand.

H/T to Fritz Bauerschmidt at PrayTell, "Suffering the Little Children"

1 comment:

  1. Love the sounds of children in church!