By A. Paul Feheley
This article first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.
Over the course of my life I have encountered adults for whom joy, wonder and the meaning of life have almost vanished. Often this comes from the anxieties that people face with issues ranging from financial instability and illness, to their grown children’s struggles to find employment, their aging parents’ clinging to the challenges of living alone and the painful decisions to be made about nursing homes or seniors’ residences. When these times of feeling lost occur, they inevitably have a distressing effect on people’s faith.
No one has simple answers to complex issues. Some will look to self-help books or the Internet for quick-fix solutions, but if it’s an infusion of joy and faith that’s needed, I would rather look into the hearts and lives of young children to find the answers to rediscovering life and belief in the divine. In all honesty, children have taught me more about faith than most textbooks or seminary training ever did. Two stories especially come to mind.
In one parish where I served we could not afford to buy the 14 Stations of the Cross that depict Christ’s journey, from his trial through his walking the Via Dolorosa and finally his entombment. Calling upon the talents of the whole parish, we cut 14 pieces of cardboard and labelled each with the name of the station. Adults and children both contributed, and created the station they had chosen by drawing, painting, gluing on fabric or making a collage on the cardboard.
One station in particular remains etched in my memory. A young girl chose the 13th station, in which the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in his mother’s arms. In beautiful simplicity she drew Mary holding Jesus, but he was an infant— Michelangelo’s Pietà, seen through the eyes of a child. The love expressed in the weeping Mary, holding her son at perhaps the most painful moment of her life, was palpable. Through her art, the girl showed the deep meaning and sense of loss of the death of Christ. As the hymnist so aptly wrote, “did e’er such love and sorrow meet…” (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” hymn 386, Common Praise).
A few years later, the children of another parish taught every adult in church on Easter day the meaning of faith. The children came to the chancel steps for the children’s chat. As they sat down, from within my vestments I drew out Barnaby Bunny, a beautifully crafted hand puppet that went halfway up my arm. Barnaby hadn’t been in church before, and it was the children’s task to tell him the Holy Week story. Enthusiastically, the children relived the Palm Sunday procession, the washing of the feet (or paws, as Barnaby asked) of Maundy Thursday and the crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday.
Barnaby was placed in a large box as the children described Jesus being placed in the tomb. “Is that where the story ended?” I asked.
“No, no,” they shouted. “On Easter Jesus rose from the dead.”
I reached into the box and pulled out a live rabbit. The children’s joy was overwhelming as they giggled, gasped, screamed, laughed and hooted with excitement. One child just stared, saying over and over, “Bunny, bunny, bunny.” Their reaction to Barnaby’s becoming real was simple, honest and direct. On that Easter morn, they understood that faith is about being alive, and that joy and laughter are at the heart of it. To look into the soul of a child is to experience again what faith is.
Archdeacon A. Paul Feheley is interim managing editor of the Anglican Journal.
Anglican Journal News, April 17, 2014