"IT is important to realize that his earliest apprehension of religion and of the Church was of something alive and glowing, woven into the very texture of his happy home life."
Phyllis Dent: Such is the assertion made by the author of the Life of Edward Stuart Talbot, [first Bishop of Southwark, London, 1905] and no better keynote could be sounded as introduction to this chapter on the parents' part in the child's spiritual training.
Much time might be spent in proving, from work done in school and parish, the impossibility of carrying out the task of religious education without the contribution to it which is essentially that of the home, but, in this short chapter, we must take it for granted that all are in agreement on that point, and so are ready to give their whole attention to the study of the philosophy of life which lies behind it, and to the question of the practical ways of going to work when they try to act upon it.
Conduct grows out of belief. Belief determines what we shall do on any particular occasion, and it is never a waste of time before making practical plans to think over this simple philosophy, which enables us to get clear in our minds what it is which we are trying to do when we set out on teaching religion to children and giving to them spiritual training.
The Archbishop of York [William Temple], in his book Nature, Man and God, has criticized a philosophy which asserts "I think, therefore I am." [Descartes] He says: "No; I experience, therefore I am." The difference between myself and the stone is that, if I hit the stone, I feel and the stone does not. The difference between something that is alive and something without life is a difference which we recognize when, in connection with a living thing, we use the word "experience."
Experience has reference to something outside us to which the living creature responds: the sunflower responds to the warmth of the sun and turns round; the Saint responds to an inner touch of God sensed by that something in his nature which is attuned to God and he immediately "forsakes all" to pursue his search for the Object whence the touch came. The living creature experiences, but it is evident that in the midst of the great Reality, which is "God and all that God has made," some tiny creatures have powers which respond to only a tiny fraction of that Reality and some have powers which respond even to God Himself.
"What is man that Thou art mindful of him and the son of man that Thou visitest him?" Surely we may search for an answer to this age-old question. It will be a long search, but the Christian is walking in a Great Light. The Father seeketh such to worship Him and we gather, from our Lord's teaching, that man is a living being endowed with powers of apprehension and response which enable him to experience, not only the impressions made on him by material things, not only impressions which come from the impact of one created mind upon another, but also the impressions which come from the approach to him of the Eternal and Living God.
This fact forces us at once to face the question, What do we mean by the "education" of a human being? Can one human being do anything for another in connection with these gradually unfolding powers of apprehension and response? In considering this question we see that education is really a process, which results from the thoughtful planning of environment.
If a plant is placed where the sun and rain can nourish and stimulate its powers of growth, it is receiving its education. It puts forth its sensitive tendrils and has the experience for which its nature was intended. If an intelligent dog, besides receiving all that its body needs, is allowed to share in man's companionship, then it puts forth its sensitive mental powers and has the experience for which its nature was intended. If a child of man is surrounded by those conditions which suggest the Presence of a Greater Reality and stimulate those sensitive powers of the spirit which are intended to reach out to Him, then that child will enter into the experience for which his nature is intended: the "end of man is to know God and to enjoy Him for ever."
It is at this point that the practical questions of a parent are bound to come pressing in. What are the conditions with which we must surround a human being if he is to grow towards the experience of God which is his right? Can one human being supply such conditions for another? How does man's whole nature, working as body-mind-spirit, act in relation to God? Or, in other words, how can his body-mind be trained to act in the service of his essential spiritual self?
In a very real sense the questions sound more complicated than their answers. There is always a great simplicity where the things of God are concerned, though that simplicity is so profound that it leaves nothing of our whole being untouched. God's answer to the problem of human education is the plan of family life. As a plant needs an environment of sun, soil and moisture, so a human child needs living, thinking, loving beings into whose way of life he may grow. We cannot remember giving to our children actual lessons on how to speak and how to admire and how to choose; they grow up naturally into our culture - that is, into our ways of admiring and choosing and speaking. And so it is in the things of God; spiritual education begins as a result of a child growing up naturally into the life of a group of believing and worshipping human beings: a group, that is, of human beings who are aware of God and try to respond to Him with their whole being. There is no other way of beginning religious education.
This natural plan of the family is carried on into the region of that which we call the "Kingdom of Heaven." In baptism every child is born into the spiritual Family of God and into the life of this Family he must grow. If his human family is a cell of this greater one, if his parents are consciously living and acting as themselves members of it, then the conditions of a good beginning are fulfilled; if, however, the parents fail at this essential point, then other members of the Church must step in and try through school or companionships in a parish to supply the need. But this will constitute a second best. Without "life after [i.e., according to] the spirit" in the home there can be no satisfactory religious education for the child.
With the good beginning in the home in our mind, we must face the question of method, and it is here that the "spiritual" and the "common sense" approach which, in the judgments and actions of the Lord Jesus were for ever "joined together", have by our foolishness been so often "put asunder." The beginnings of religious training are utterly natural and are opposed to anything that savors of precocity or "hothouse" childish piety. Such developments would be dangerous in the extreme. Just as the child learns everything else by "seeing" and "doing" with utmost spontaneity and enjoyment, so he must learn the beginnings of his religion. We know of no approach to the spirit of the child except through the natural avenues of the senses and activity, and if there are things in which a little child finds especial joy and deliciousness, to those things, if possible, must religion be conjoined.
Before a child knows what things are, he sees and handles them; before he can talk to his father he is with him, his unconscious mind is registering impressions of joy, happiness and the delight in doing long before he can rationally explain or choose.
Part of the strength of the religion of the Jew in the time of our Lord was that, as a child, he lived it rather than learnt it. Every great Temple festival had its reflection in the home, and these home doings must have been "such fun" to the nature of a child. How a child loves sitting up to supper! This yearly treat in the home of a little Jewish boy was connected with the great day of the Passover. If a child sees something novel or does something fresh, he is stimulated to ask questions. That he should say "What mean ye by this service?" was the psychological reason for his sitting up. To see something, to do something, to ask a question and to get a satisfactory reply - this is enjoyment to a child. Thank God if the whole process is connected with religion - that is, connected with "that which binds him to God."
Consider, too, the fun of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the whole family had to camp out-of-doors. Think of the excitement of the boy of twelve, who has counted the years until the great one comes, setting off on an outing with all its accompaniments of adventure and newness and young companionships and all in the Name of his God.
"Something to see," "something to do" in the name of religion. Let us consider each in turn.
The question of "something to see" involves the controversy about outward expressions of our faith - pictures, statues, "prayer-corners" in the night-nursery, oratories or chapels in our houses. There are plenty of wise educationists who testify to the value of such outward expressions. Baron von Hügel has said that the beginning of the religious sentiment of most human beings can be traced back to the sight in childhood of some statue, book, or beautiful picture.
[G. K.] Chesterton in his autobiography tells a quaint story about himself which is to testify to the enduring power over the mind of some small or apparently insignificant thing which a child sees over and over again in early years. He says in looking back on outstanding childish experiences: "One thing I can remember seeing with my own eyes was a young man walking across a bridge. He had a curly moustache and an attitude of confidence bordering on swagger. He carried in his hand a disproportionately large key of a shiny yellow metal and wore a large gilded crown. In the castle tower there was a window out of which a young lady was looking. To those who object that such a scene is rare in the home life of house agents living immediately to the north of Kensington High Street [in London], I shall be compelled to admit it was the permanent scene of a little toy theater which was our proud possession. That one scene glows in my memory like a glimpse of some incredible Paradise."
Why cannot we remember this imaginative and romantic side of a child's character when we want incidents connected with his early religion to "glow in his memory"? We have managed, perhaps, to surround the event of the Nativity with such joys, but why not the other great days of the Church's year? Few things entrance a child so much as a model representing not a thing, but an event, especially if he has been allowed a hand in building it up.
A corner of the night nursery, the place of prayer, might be the suitable place for such a model. It changes with the changing year. The Crib and the Shepherds give place to the little eastern house and the Magi. The Garden of the Resurrection built with stones and moss and many real flowers gives place to the Mount of the Ascension, and for the rest of the year there should be scenes from the lives of the Children's Saints, of whom perhaps the greatest is St. Francis. There must be nothing ready-made about such models. They must be talked over and planned during the Sunday lesson. Figures to paste on cardboard and then cut out must be chosen from among the many pictures which a mother should always have in her portfolio. The moss and flowers should be gathered or bought by the children themselves. One young family was entranced for weeks by the slow building up of the model of their parish church. Each week saw something added in the way of furniture or decoration, and many were the lessons in Churchmanship which went with the project.
Much care must be taken about pictures. Those of inferior art which nevertheless help the child to get clear ideas of Eastern life and so of the historical reality of the Incarnate Lord may be shown in the course of the telling of a Bible story. They should be freely criticized by the children, who will always agree that "the painter did his best when he tried to draw the Lord Jesus, but it was impossible to make Him beautiful enough." Such pictures should never have a permanent place on the wall. If sacred pictures are hung in the nursery, they should be the conceptions of those great artists who seemed to catch a glimpse of "Him who is invisible." Allegorical and mystical suggestions of truth are readily accepted by the spirit of a little child.
A cross or the crowned crucifix beloved by the early Church is better for a child than the modern crucifix, though there is little ground for the rather sentimental fears some parents have lest their children should be repelled by the picture of the Crucified Lord. The first suggestion to a little child on seeing it should be that "the Lord Jesus is stretching out His arms to take everybody in, and even when they hurt Him and tried to kill Him, they could not stop Him from doing that."
The story of Good Friday for a little child is the story of how people tried to stop the Lord Jesus from loving us. They took Him away from the crowds so that He could not teach them, so He taught the poor thief instead; they tied His hands, but He asked to be allowed first to heal a wounded man; at last they stretched His hands out on a cross, and He said: "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." And He is still doing it.
But to the child "doings" matter even more than "seeings." "Ought I to take my little boy to church?" Certainly not, if by "taking him to church" means taking him to a long service and requiring him to sit still. But "taking him to church" may be a most entertaining proceeding from the age of a very few years. Mother and son go into church to "look at things" when there is no service going on, and then mother kneels to pray while her child plays about in the aisle. A nurse used to take the vicar's little girl out for walks in a country village, and very often they visited together the Father's House. A child's instinctive tendency to imitate is very strong, and after a time the little one left her games and knelt down by the nurse's side, copied her actions, and wanted to be told what to do.
The beginning of the child's prayer life is essentially an activity. One of the favorite questions of a young mother is: "When shall I begin to teach my little child to pray?" This question should be met by another: "When do you intend to start teaching your little child English?" The second question suggests the answer to the first. If father and mother kneel down by the child's cot long before he can notice consciously what is happening, the child grows up in the midst of this event: "Mother and father speaking to Someone whom they love and cannot see." The suggestion is strong and fruitful, and is legitimate, as are all other suggestions so long as that which is suggested is believed as vital Truth.
The danger of the mental mechanism in connection with which we use the words "suggestion" and "suggestibility" lies in the substitution of it for other methods of training. The child is a rational being, and as soon as we can possibly do so, we help a child to see the reason for the actions which we "suggest" so that he may chose to do them of his own free will. If a child vehemently refuses to "say his prayers" we tell him plainly that to force him to do so would be like forcing him to kiss his mother. The kiss is a sign of love, and if there is nothing for the kiss to express it is better not given. But the mother misses something. It seems in line with the teaching of our Lord about "joy in Heaven" to teach the child that the Love of God causes Him to miss something if we forget our "good morning" and our "good night." But the child must choose to give it.
Perhaps a quotation from a Christian philosopher will link this simple suggestion with the theory of character training which results from our conception of God. "It is not without significance that He, whom we believe to have been God Incarnate, thought of the power over stones and bread and mountains as lying in His hands, but of men as those into whose hands He was to give the power over Himself." (Leonard Hodgson, Essays in Christian Philosophy, Longmans).
With the development of the rational mind comes the asking of questions. It is noticeable that even with the little child these concern often metaphysical truth and the deep searchings of man's heart. For this reason parents are frightened of a child's questions, and in refusing to deal with them, often give the child a morbid feeling of discomfort and frustration where this side of life is concerned. It is a temptation to spend a good deal of time on this subject, but space allows only of a few words of general guidance.
A child's questions should be answered by the truth as far as we understand it ourselves. If our expression of it leaves the child with a look of bewilderment that may sometimes be all to the good. He readily responds to the idea that even the grown-up is a child of God and can answer only some of the questions about Him, and the fact that the answer given is a true one, and not one intended to "fob the child off", means that his thoughts are set on right lines.
We are not in Edinburgh the moment we enter a train which is bound for that destination, but we are "on right lines," and the chance is strong that we shall ultimately get there. With children and growing boys and girls a very simple analogy drawn from human relationships is better than logical reasons and verbal explanations.
"Why was it wrong of St. Peter to deny our Lord when he had to?" This question shows that the child misinterprets our Lord's warning to St. Peter as a sort of "fate" or "fiat." If your mother knows you so well that she warns you that you may act in a certain way, she is not making you do it, and perhaps her warning will help you to "look out." St. Peter went to sleep and did not "look out," and then the wrong thing happened.
After the story of St. Peter released from prison, a child of eight, having gathered from the story that the power of prayer means that it is powerful to get us what we ask for, demanded: "Then why did not the Christians pray for St. James [the first martyred Apostle]?" After such a question the wise teacher would remind the children that Christians taught by our Lord would begin their prayer: "Our Father which art in Heaven, Thy Kingdom come," and no doubt the followers of Christ gathered in that upper room began like that. "O Father, we want your work to be done everywhere." Then they were comforted when they remembered that death is only going somewhere else to go on with God's work. God was caring all the time for James as well as for Peter, and the prayer of the Christians for both of them was heard and answered.
There is no idea that this is a complete philosophy of prayer, but the child may, as a result of the conversation, begin to think on right lines.
"I have prayed for a bicycle, mother; why doesn't it come?" asked a boy of about nine. He had strong faith in the efficacy of prayer, and here was a grand opportunity for the mother to have a real talk on God's methods of helping us. One object in our life here is that we shall grow in courage and self-control and the spirit of adventure, and no good teacher ever does for a boy what he can do for himself. If a boy says to his master: "Please get this sum right," the master answers by showing the boy how to do it himself. So if we ask God for things like bicycles He shows us how to work towards getting one. This often means for a boy real lessons in self-control - putting away birthday and Christmas money for a long time, perhaps working hard to earn some money, etc.
Perhaps one of the most alarming questions for the mother of a young child is the one which inevitably follows on the telling of a story. The child listens to the story of Christ healing the leper and asks: "Mother, is the story true?" That is plain sailing. But the same question follows the telling of the "Sleeping Beauty," the "Pilgrim's Progress," the "Prodigal Son."
Much harm has been done to the spiritual side of the child's nature by prevarication at this point. He is able to glimpse at a very early age that some things are true in a sense which, in certain ways are different from, but even more real than, the "truth" connected with earthly happenings.
"If Father Christmas is not true, how can I know that Jesus Christmas is true?" was the rather agonized question of a child of five who discovered that no flesh and blood old Father Christmas came down the chimney. Many future mental adjustments depended on the mother's reply. She was, to use her own phrase, "floored" for the moment, but taking the advice of an experienced teacher, she went into the matter with her child so far as he was capable of going into it with her. There is no doubt that her effort was in the direction of the right lines of thought already referred to.
"When we tell the story of the Lord Jesus being born in Bethlehem we are telling about, something that happened, just as your birthday happened five years ago. His was long ago, but we could get into a ship and then into a train and visit the little town to which the shepherds ran when they heard the joyful news. When people thought about that wonderful Birthday they knew that God had given a Gift to His world - to you and to me.
[ABCOG disagrees with the following rationalization, and recommends avoiding Father Christmas entirely.]
So every year on the Birthday of the Lord Jesus we feel as if we want to give gifts to each other in memory of that First Lovely Gift. A feeling about giving comes into my heart and into your heart, and it makes us want to give presents. That means that in every home there are lots of presents. It all seems so real that we make a picture of the `lovely feeling about giving' and we call him Father Christmas. We all help to make him. When we want to buy toys for a child in the hospital we send the toys and then we say: `Father Christmas visited that hospital.' So Father Christmas is `true' for always he always comes. We shall always have the feeling of `I want to give' because we cannot forget the true story of Jesus on Christmas Day." Of course, the child gets only a glimmer of what you mean, but every sunrise begins with a dawn.
So the children grow up and we must see that in their religion they are really conscious of doing so. "I grew up and my teacher didn't" was a remark made by a boy of thirteen when asked why he had left off coming to school. One of the disasters of grown-up life is a result of the failure of the teacher of religion to realize what growing up into the things of God really means. This growing up must be considered in connection with the worshipping spirit and the enquiring mind.
How shall we train the growing human being in the ways of prayer?
In training a child in any sort of activity the goal towards which we are directing him must be kept in mind. It does not matter that the goal is distant, we cannot hope to help him to reach it unless we know what it is, and in what direction we must move in order to get to it. For this reason the study of the nature of the soul's activity in prayer must come before we begin prayer-training. When the child is between six and seven he often becomes shy and is less eager to put his natural petitions and thanksgivings into words.
One child going through this stage remarked: "I've said my prayers to Nanny and now I am going to pray." It is of course wise to respect this mixture of shyness and self-dependence and to leave the child to pray by himself. A natural danger of such a proceeding is that the child may drift into laziness or blankness and the mother fears that nothing is happening.
Remembering the love of the child for doing things the wise mother may turn the occasion into a great opportunity. She may suggest to the child the interesting occupation of "making a book of morning and evening prayers." Many children have used such books, and have used them regularly over quite a long period. There is fun in the making and fun in the using of what we have made, and that kind of fun which is really a delight in activity ought to be linked very early in the child's mind with the things of God.
The best way of going to work is to go out shopping with the child himself, letting him choose the size and shape of the book he likes best. A beautiful picture, perhaps a Christmas or Easter card, is chosen for the outside of the book, and then, in connection with a prayer-lesson, the work begins. On the first page the child prints the word "Prayer," and underneath he writes names for the different parts of prayer - Thanking God, Praising God, Telling God we are sorry, Asking for other people, Asking for myself. Then he heads all the rest of the pages with the names of the different days of the week, and gradually, as the making of the Prayer Book proceeds, different words are chosen for the "Praise" of each day, and names of different people are put under the heading of "Asking for other people" and different suggestions are put under the heading of "Asking for myself." In choosing acts of praise the child may hunt in the hymn-book for favorite lines of hymns, or he may copy out phrases from psalms or canticles.
Of course, the words which we suggest that he shall use must express ideas which are real to the child and which he may connect with life as he knows it, yet we must "avoid the foolish application of a wise principle, and while using natural and homely words we must not leave out those which are `glorious to the imagination.'" This means that we must teach the child to use some of those words and phrases which have enshrined for all ages the worship of man's soul, and which he will recognize afterwards with a friendly feeling when he meets them in the services of the Church.
The following suggestions illustrate this principle. Under the heading of "Praise" the child may pick out favorite verses from Psalm 104: "O, all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord," or from the Te Deum: "All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father Everlasting," or from the glorious worship of the Liturgy: "Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we glorify Thee," or words from the Divine Praises: "Blessed be God. Blessed be His Holy Name. Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man."
Under the heading of "Asking for myself" the child may be encouraged to write down ideas of his own and also to copy out the kind of prayer which appeals to this age because of its emphasis on the activity of the senses. "God be in my head and in my thinking: God be in mine eye and in my seeing: God be in my mouth and in my speaking: God be in my hands and in my doing: God be in my feet and in my going: God be in my mirth and in my laughing."
A suitable hymn-book is very necessary both for the child's use in making his Prayer Book and also for his general use in home or school worship. During these early years of boyhood and girlhood we want to avoid hymns which concentrate on the feelings or attitude of self. The hymn should be objective, turning the mind of the child to God Himself, to the works of God or to the happy activities which fill his days and which through praise and thanksgiving may be connected with the love of God.
Such hymns may be familiar to readers under the names of their first lines: "It is a thing most wonderful"; "Jesu! good above all other"; "O Son of Man, our hero strong and tender"; "God became man that we might learn what a man should be"; "For the beauty of the earth"; "All creatures of our God and King"; "O Father, we Thy little things"; "I believe that God the Father's power made the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea"; "Firmly I believe and truly"; "Let us sing to Him who gave us mirth and laughter." These and other good hymns are contained in The Church and School Hymnal, and are set to good modern music.
Much of the interest of the making of the Prayer Book will be concerned with finding the right sort of pictures with which to illustrate it. Figures and scenes may be cut out of Christmas and Easter cards, or out of the beautiful postcards issued by "The Challenge," and other societies. Some children like to draw pictures themselves, and some like to illuminate the capital letters of their main words, and in other ways emulate the example of the monks and nuns of older days.
It stimulates a child to make this effort if we take him to a museum to see some of the old books of prayer, and if we explain to him the motive which led to such painstaking work.
By means of conversation and lesson, the mother or father who is training the child will help him about different ways of praying, as well as about using different kinds of prayer. As he makes the book he gets used to the kinds of prayer which we have called Praise, Thanksgiving, Telling God that we are sorry, Asking for others and ourselves. He is also, as he uses the book, practicing praying in words - his own simple words, or the glorious worship words of the ages. We can lead him on from this to very simple meditation.
A natural and most interesting method of doing this is based on Ronald Sinclair's book, When We Pray, which sets out in a simple way the method of prayer of Studdert Kennedy.
Show the child a picture in which he recognizes some incident from the Life of our Lord. Let him notice the difference between this picture and the kind which he connects with the cinema. This one does not move. Each figure remains still as the artist has painted him. But can we make it move? Could we make it move with our thoughts? Let us try. Then read aloud to the child verses from the Bible describing the incident of which the picture is one scene. "Now can you see the picture moving? What do you see our Lord do? What are His friends doing? Can you hear anything? What is our Lord saying?"
Our next exercise would be to try to "make a picture" with our thoughts without looking at anything at all. We read a few verses from the Bible. We say to ourselves, "Where did all this happen? Do I see a town in my picture or a country road? Houses or trees? What are the people doing?" etc. The child will very quickly fall into the way of making this mental effort; it is fun, it calls on the same sort of activity as some of his loveliest games.
Then comes the building of this into his life of prayer. We explain to him that sometimes when we are making in our minds a picture of something that happened in the Life of our Lord, and the picture is "moving and speaking" in our thoughts, we feel as if we are actually there. We are there really. Our Lord is quite close to us. What shall we talk to Him about? If we have seen Him heal someone, we may think of something that wants mending in our own hearts; if we have seen Him blessing people, we may think of someone whom we should like Him to bless now. And so the mental effort becomes a spiritual "stretching out" and the child is exploring a new region of adventure and love. (See "Fellowship of Marriage" papers by Phyllis Dent in Mothers in Council.)
When we study the questions asked by the growing boy and girl we are bound sooner or later to face the demands of doctrinal religion. There are people who imagine that the formulas of the Church are words invented by ecclesiastics to baffle our minds, and they plead: "Let us go back to simple Bible teaching." Such people have never considered the relationship of language to thought and the part which it is bound to play in the handing on of knowledge.
Many answers which we give to the questions of older boys and girls are bound to be doctrinal assertions - that is, they are answers given in the words which have been carefully chosen to express some real human experience of God or some truth about Him which the rational mind of man has been allowed to discover by his thinking.
We can never get a right attitude to Christian doctrine without examining the natural processes of man's thinking mind. From the moment when a man's sensitive body becomes aware of material things his mind registers impressions and he begins his life of experience. As a spiritual being he appears capable of contact with the Divine and some of the happenings of which he is conscious he describes as "inward." As his powers of mind develop he uses all such experiences as material for thought. As he uses his thinking powers he seems to discover truth unrecognized before, and immediately he seeks the best words in which such a discovery may be expressed.
A scientist as a result of investigations in the material sphere is led to a long process of thought. This results in scientific discovery, and he next looks for his formula, that is, for some language understood by scientists which will express what he has found out.
The same process happens in connection with man faced with the Supreme Object of his search. Let us watch it going on in the lives of men and women who walked about the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem with Jesus of Nazareth. They were Jews, with the Jew's sense of the majesty and "high-and-lifted-up-ness of God." Then after a time they found themselves giving to the Man from Nazareth just that very thing which they dared to give to no one except to God. Yet they felt no conscience pricks. Events followed swiftly one on another and soon the Jew found himself at the Feet of Jesus saying: "My Lord and my God." What is he to say to the horrified Hebrew and to the astonished Greek? He has discovered that in Jesus "God hath visited His people," but in what human language is he to express his discovery?
Long periods of the Church's history were spent in real mental sweat as men tried to find words in the Greek language which covered their experience. Far from the leaders of the Church inventing difficult words to baffle people's minds, they spent a long time in hard mental struggle trying to find words which would really express the glorious and amazing facts which God has revealed about Himself.
The language in which we clothe a truth about God is, and must be, the language of human life, for we know no other. This means that the words can never convey the whole and complete truth. We may get a true glimpse into the Being and Life of God, but when we look for words in which to describe it, they cannot help being true and untrue at the same time.
The best illustration of this is suggested by Baron von Hügel quoted above. He claimed that just as a dog has a knowledge of us which is vivid but not clear, so our knowledge of God may be the most vivid experience of our life and yet it is not clear. A dog getting a true glimpse into our life says, when we go to our chief meal of the day: "My master is gnawing his bone." There may be no bone on our dining-table, and it is untrue to say that we gnaw. Nevertheless the dog has told the truth about us. The dog's conceptions are unstretchable to the fullness of truth about us, as our conceptions are unstretchable to the fullness of truth about God.
A parent who discusses the intellectual difficulties of his boys and girls with these considerations in mind, and who is willing to "go into" things with real sympathy and to share generously his own ways of thought, will do more to build up his child's faith than all the set lessons which the teacher gives.
If parent and child develop the habit of discussing the deeper things of mind and spirit during the more prosaic years of boy- and girlhood, the relationship of naturalness and confidence is more likely to stand the strain of the years of early youth.
Parents must expect during those years an apparent revolt against many customs and even holy conventions which expressed the religion of childhood. Some older boys and girls claim that they are giving up religion, that they cannot believe and have outgrown the Church. In some cases this period represents the effort to cast off what may be the religion of another because of the dire driving necessity of finding a religion of one's own - it is the laying down of the treasure in order that it may be looked at from a different angle and then grasped with a new sort of sense of possession, or it may be a period stretching over years, which often tries the faith and hope and love of the parent who feels that his patient training of his child in the things of God has been waste.
That which God will not and in a true sense cannot do for the being to whom He has given a degree of freedom we certainly must not try to do for those human children who may be ours, but who are actually more certainly their own. Our life is ours to make it His. Their life is theirs to make it His. But the making of that choice must be their own making, and even if we have to give up hope that we shall ever see them choose of their own free will that which we feel is their highest good, we must still keep "hands off."
"All souls are Mine" is the claim of our Father, and into His Hands we commend them as we stand aside.
Two vital needs for the development of religion in the home are the spirit of inner quietness and the spirit of adventure. Sometimes these seem opposed to each other, but they are not really so.
When our Lord took possession of Peter's boat that, from it, He might teach the multitude, He said to Peter: "Thrust out a little from the land." This is the command which He gives to us when He takes possession of our lives and offers to teach through them. The thrusting out from the land for us means the deliberate pushing away of that clutter of small demands and engagements which prevent our spending a reasonable period of our day mentally and spiritually alone with the Source of our life and the Object of our love.
Experience has shown that there is no life where such a thrusting away of demands apparently specious and lawful is not possible. People earning their living with an eight-hour day, in charge of invalid and home as well, are in their hundreds putting aside thirty, sometimes even sixty minutes of their day for this period of rest and worship.
In the past we were taught that contemplation was a spiritual activity of the saint - the favoured few. Now our masters in the spiritual life are suggesting it as a first step. When a child sets out to learn about some object of the material world he is asked to begin his learning by concentrated looking. We give him time to "stare." The "staring" time is the fruitful time in any object lesson.
When we begin our prayers we begin by allowing ourself to be with God. We may feel that such words as "contemplate," "gaze" and "look" are too complete to use as a description of the feeble pushing out of our apprehending powers in the direction of God. But that does not matter. "Come ye apart and rest awhile" is possibly the best way of expressing the command to a busy mother, but if that alluring command is to be obeyed, there must be an effort to respond to the more insistent and stern injunction, "Thrust out a little" from that shore which represents the pressure of domestic affairs.
"Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught." Here is the command which calls out our adventurous response. The word "adventure" means the going out towards a goal in front of us.
Present-day education calls loudly for this spirit. We seem to risk so much if we refrain from commanding or over-suggesting our children. It seems safer to push them along towards God than to allow them to "make haste slowly." It is far easier to take refuge behind the excuse of English shyness than to talk naturally to our growing children about the things of God.
It is a real adventure to make up our minds to put ourselves to school in the things of God and ask our vicar or some wise friend to guide us in some course of reading which will enable us to answer their questions and to put them on to right lines of thought.
There are some in these days who connect the very name Christian with something that is back-looking and old-fashioned. Such people have never studied Christianity or perhaps have never met a real Christian. To conclude with a quotation from a spiritual teacher of our own day:
"Never was there a laboratory of the scientists in which so many experiments have been tried as in the Catholic [i.e., Universal] Church of Christ. Those who refer to her as conservative or hidebound are poles apart from the truth. She is for ever experimenting, and what she retains is seven times refined in the white-hot crucible of experience."
As we experiment in our own life of prayer and in the work of training our growing boys and girls we are bound to suffer from the process connected with that "white-hot crucible," but the adventure is worth while, for in its "going out towards" it has no lesser goal than man's Highest Good, his True End, his Utter Satisfaction.
"Thy Kingdom come in our time and in our world. Thy Kingdom come in me and through me and by me and in spite of me."
If we have enough self-control to set aside moments in the day for stillness and praying, the Kingdom of God comes in us, and if in us, it will shine forth and take possession of other lives through us, and this happens apart from our own plannings and anxieties.
But as the Kingdom of God comes within it captures the imagination and intellect and we shall find ourselves thinking out a more excellent way for doing our work. This effort of the mind is lawful, and as a result of it the Kingdom of God comes by us.
Can we add to our prayer "In spite of us"? Yes, truly we may long for it to come in spite of our feebleness and mistakes, in spite of our forgetfulness and the tiredness that comes so soon. The Kingdom of God came on Calvary in spite of man's resistance even to the slaying of the Divine Son on the cross, and the cross itself became the means of victory.
Thy Kingdom come, then, in me and through me and by me and in spite of me, and to that prayer let all parents and teachers say "Amen," translating that old conventional Hebrew word as the One Woman of whom Humanity is humbly proud translated it: "Be it unto me according to Thy Word."
From a chapter in "The Recall to Religion", written by Phyllis Dent, London, 1937 (BR50.R3)
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