Inspiring Children

Chalice lighting
At times, we feel our joy has dissipated
At times, we lose a sense of wonder and joy at the world’s loveliness
At such times, the spark of delight and awe seems to have gone
May the light of this flame rekindle our wonder and our joy
May we leave today with a new sense of the potential of everything
May we renew the spirit of the child within

Message by guest speaker Marta Pacini
A couple of weeks ago I went to my friends’ house for dinner. Their daughter Rosie was refusing to go to sleep, and although my friend Jane, her mother, briefly convinced her to go into her room and get into bed, they both came out again only a few minutes later, with Jane muttering that she wasn’t going to ask me anything, and that if Rosie had a question for me she’d have to do the asking herself. The thing is, Rosie can be quite shy, so for a couple of minutes I looked and listened expectantly as she slowly convinced herself to drag some words out. When she finally did, her question turned out to be “Will you please read me my book?”.

I have seldom been asked a more pleasant question. You see, at the time of this dinner party I was slowly getting over an illness, and the cold and the dark were definitely not helping. On top of that, I’d been feeling sad and stuck in a rut for quite some time, and one of the reasons for that was that I really miss working with children like I used to. So when Rosie asked me to read her a story she might have thought that she was asking me for a favour, but I told her in no uncertain terms that she had done me a favour too.

Seeing a little girl get excited about my visit and about the possibility that I might read to her felt like a blessing. In the reading we've just heard, Tess Baumberger is waiting to be born again into “bright, spring-scented air”. And as Winter Solstice approaches, I suspect many of us are, too. We are facing cold and dark days, and it is easy sometimes to feel like winter will never end. But we are also getting very close to Christmas. I am not surprised that the early Christians chose to celebrate a festival of birth at the time of the Winter Solstice. Like the spring that we long for in the dark of winter, the arrival of a child into our family and our community literally brings us new life.

For the past three months, here at New Unity we have been exploring different sources of inspiration. Today I want to talk to you about children. Specifically, I want to tell you about our children; about some of the wonderful children that we have here at New Unity. I have been fortunate to spend time with many of our children through volunteering for Bright Lights. And I have learnt that they are truly inspiring.

So here is a story about our children. Once upon a time, I volunteered to lead the older Bright Lights group when Jasmine was off sick. It was during the time when we were exploring science, and Jasmine had come up with a wonderful plan to make volcanoes. We took a bit of clay, shaped it like a mountain, and poked a hole through it to make it into a volcano. Then we added a mixture of water, baking soda, washing up liquid and red food colouring. After that we all sat expectantly as a bottle of vinegar made the rounds, and as soon as the vinegar hit each volcano we burst into giggles at the sight of the eruption. Well, I said each volcano, but I’m afraid that when building my volcano I poked the hole through a bit too well. As a matter of fact, I poked so well that I ended up making a hole through the paper plate on which my volcano was resting, and all my lava spilt out onto the table.

So when it was my turn to pour vinegar into my volcano and make it erupt, it obviously didn’t have much of an eruption at all. I thought I’d just laugh it off and pass the vinegar swiftly on to the next person, but the children had other plans for me. Immediately, they each grabbed a teaspoon and rushed to spoon some lava out of their volcanoes and into mine, so that I could have my own eruption too. For those of you whose children were in that group, I hope you’re proud. As the volunteer of the day, I certainly was. I hope that you find the children in that story as inspiring as I did.

But where does this leave us, as grown-ups? As Christmas approaches, I am sure we will have plenty of opportunities to hear all about Jesus the innocent child. And Jesus aside, children are very often portrayed as the embodiment of innocence and goodness, as opposed to us wicked, corrupt grown-ups. I don’t believe in this characterisation. I have seen children do some pretty mean things, too. Just like I have seen grown-ups do the kindest, most selfless deeds.

We heard earlier about Natalie, the 13-year-old who volunteered to take her cat around a nursing home to comfort and cheer up the patients. I wonder where Natalie learnt her kindness from. Maybe she was born kind. Maybe there is a genetic component of kindness just waiting to be discovered, and Natalie just happens to sport that as part of her DNA. But Natalie’s mother, who told that story on her blog, has made it her career to think, write and speak about making love the centre of her life and of her parenting style. So perhaps that’s another possible explanation of why Natalie turned out like she did.

There have been psychological studies suggesting that babies have an inborn instinct towards helping others. That’s great news. But I don’t think it’s great news for babies or even children. I believe it’s great news for all humans. I don’t think children are often good, inspiring or kind because they are children. I think they are good, inspiring and kind because they are human.

What I think does make a difference is the fact that children are slightly newer to the world than the rest of us. Unless they have suffered trauma, and many children sadly do, life just might not have had the time to thwart their hopes and disappoint them like it often does with many adults. So if you ever feel stuck, maybe like you need a new perspective or a solution to a problem, I suggest you spend some time with children. Volunteering for Bright Lights can be a great way to do this. Children are new to life. They will give you a new perspective on it.

But the great thing about children is not that they are different. It’s not that they are special. The great thing about children is that they’re human, just like the rest of us. If children can be kind, so can you. If children can be generous, so can you. If children can be wonderful, so can you. I believe in good. And I believe in you. Be more like a child – by which I mean, be more fully human.

May it be so.

Closing Words
At this strange and special time of year
With its deep darkness and sparkling lights
With cold winds and warm embraces
With the story of the rebirth of hope around us
May you regain your own child-like spirit
Growing again in trust, in wonder, in delight, in hope, and in love
May it be so