“Child Down!”

Pilgrim 2 001

               Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,

                  Like a weaned child with his mother;

                  Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

                           (Psalm 131:2)



“Man up!”

It’s a slogan for our time ­– a mantra for devotees of the New Machismo, followers of the cult of Navy Seals, Green Berets, and two-fisted, gun-toting TV cops.  And why not?  It’s a man’s world after all.  If you want to make your mark in it, you’d better “man up.”  Even if you’re a woman.

That’s how some of Jesus’ early followers felt about it, anyway.  At least in the beginning.  Guys like James and John, for instance – the so-called “Sons of Thunder.”  A couple of self-styled toughs who couldn’t wait to call down fire from heaven on their enemies.  Apparently they had the impression that following Christ was a matter of joining up with “the few, the proud, and the strong.”

Then there was Peter.  The “Big Fisherman.”  Don’t let him catch you whining like a little baby.  Humiliation?  Forget about it!  Rejection, defeat, and death?  No way!  A guy doesn’t get ahead like that!  When he heard that kind of talk, Peter knew exactly how to respond:  “Man up, Jesus!  When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Men love to get together and act like big men.  Feminism is largely about a woman’s prerogative to play the same game.  Pre-teens and adolescents, too, are dying to get a piece of the action.  But the littlest children know nothing of this.  Content, non-competitive, and unconcerned with “cool,” they are easily captivated by small wonders.  They react to life spontaneously and express their thoughts and feelings as the situation requires.  They are free to be themselves.

More to the point, children know what it means to trust.  They have to trust because they have no resources of their own to fall back on.  As a result, they are not above letting go and allowing Someone Else to carry them.  Like Michael Darling, the smallest and youngest of Peter Pan’s unassuming protégées, they understand intuitively and instinctively what it means to soar on wings of faith.  As J. M. Barrie describes Michael’s initial encounter with the Eternal Boy from Neverland:


        “They were all on their beds, and gallant Michael let go first.  He did not quite mean to let go, but he did it, and immediately he was borne across the room. 

        “‘I flewed!’ he screamed while still in mid-air.”

                                    (Peter Pan, Chapter 3, “Come Away, Come Away!”)  


“The symbolic association between childhood, innocence, and regeneration,” writes author Jackie Wullschlager, “is age-old, lying at the heart of the New Testament and of Christian thought; Christians worship their God as a new-born baby …”[1]  It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this observation.

When God chose to enter the world as a helpless infant, He was showing us something about the nature of His kingdom and the power by which it operates.  He was identifying Himself with weakness and incapacity.   He was embracing vulnerability and demonstrating the importance of becoming utterly dependent upon the Father.  In the process, He sacralized childhood and exalted little children to an unprecedented degree.  For as it turns out, little children have a great deal to teach us.  When it comes to the things that really count, they possess a distinct advantage over their grown-up counterparts.

That’s why Jesus never told anyone to “man up.”  On the contrary, He exhorted His followers to “child down.”  When, true to their manly inner impulses, the disciples were going at it tooth-and-nail in a dispute to determine who was “the greatest,” their Teacher threw them for a loop by pulling an unexpected stunt:


        “Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”


This, too, is a crucial part of what it means to be a Pilgrim.



[1] Wullschlager, Jackie.  Inventing Wonderland.  New York:  The Free Press, 1995.

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