“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3
City children who know crosswalks, traffic lights and concrete may have a hard time understanding the reality of shepherding. How can we bridge our distance from biblical metaphor and allow visual concepts a place amid the symbols of their hearts?
We call on the trimmings of our time and place to make sense of incoming information. Many children will filter the word sheep through a reservoir of memory, perhaps made of bold graphic versions of sheep and brightly coloured shepherds on the printed pages of Sunday School Bibles; perhaps a cotton ball or two may come to mind.
A teacher once asked me at a young age, “Have you ever looked into the eyes of a sheep?” I had not. I had sailed, climbed trees, and once at a birthday party I had eaten cake with coins baked inside. But I only knew sheep at a distance or through the eyes of another.
We rely on our context to decipher new information; all the contexts that we have previously inhabited, all the times that we have lived through. These contexts can be as varied as the hues of jellybeans in a jar. Can you guess just how many colours?
When we present the images of the Gospel to a child; when we talk of shepherding, bread, water, darkness and light—if we listen to the response of children, we must prepare to discover many particular histories. These will be histories, like our own, without guarantee, histories in development, histories that are walking alongside growing comprehension.
We read it, share it; we wrestle, sculpt and wonder the Word into knowledge. Shared collectively, our own particularities transfigure the Word into newness again and again. That is how the Word lives.