This week, I pray for any unwitting teacher who tries this week to share Mark 6:14-29 – the death of John the Baptist – with children. How do we share these difficult Gospel stories with children? Sometimes it is as simple as planting a mustard seed. On Sundays like next Sunday it is almost as challenging as … well… I pray for the kitchen help in Herod’s kitchen. I don’t want to know.
But do horrific stories like this mean that the Gospels are meant for adults only? How well can our children know trauma? How much should they know? How much can they engage with the notion that nails were actually driven through the hands of Christ? How much do children need to know?
Recently I was reminded by a Facebook thread posted by an excellent Mennonite friend, “What did you believe as a kid?” that I actually thought I could save my beloved stuffed animals from a house fire if I would only put them into a paper bag with a nifty twist tie.
If a child is privileged enough is to grow up in a peaceful place, the notion of trauma and loss may not yet fit into their thought system. Yet, death is part of the Eucharist in which we invite our children to be blessed. Christ’s body was broken for you.
The sinking of the Titanic fascinates my 7-year-old son. I cannot comprehend his thoughts as he draws his pictures of the fated ship carefully with a ruler. I sit beside him as he watches the massive ship break apart in a National Geographic 3D representation. There are no actual people depicted – one of the reasons that I let him watch it at all. So, does he actually understand the outcome of the tragedy? His thoughts have not yet configured to comprehend the heartbreaking outcome yet.
The Titanic similarly fascinated many friends my own age when they were children. A grown friend of mine shared his old fascination with the ship and the moment when the reality of it occurred to his small self. No one on the Titanic saw what was coming, none of the disciples wanted to believe that Christ would be crucified. Even Herod seemed shocked by the gruesome request of his daughter.
We cannot choose the time that we realize the truth that life includes trauma, it comes upon us – a horrible surprise – sometimes by what we have seen, sometimes by what we hear, sometimes by following the trajectory of a childhood fascination. And when we are confronted by the truth of trauma, we must reconfigure our own thoughts to bare the truth of human brokenness and finite earthly existence.
The way in which anyone processes trauma has a lot to do with the places and they people who surround them, the care they are shown as difficult truths settle into their perception. Again and again during our Eucharist we are reminded of Christ’s trauma. The more we tell the story in the sanctuary, the more we can awe at the divine conclusion. Christ died and fully became God. Life comes from God and goes back to God.
By listening to the still small voice of love for the children in our care we will know how much of the Gospel to share with them. When we slow down enough to really hear their questions, when we study their faces as we speak, when we remember our own questions and our own thought processes as a child, then we will understand what they need to know.
With the most difficult Gospel passages, one sentence might be enough.
Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”
Well then, may the power of the Holy Spirit be at work in the hearts of those who choose to share the Gospel stories with children.