Never stop being a child

We sometimes think being a child is something that happens between the ages of three and thirteen, and then it’s over. We’re no longer that child when we become the adolescent and then the adult. We read Erik Erikson’s stages of human development, and think that when we have completed the childhood tasks of trust, autonomy, initiative and competence, we leave them behind. Or we look at James Fowler’s influential stages of faith, and think that when a teenager begins to name their own belief system, they have entered the ‘synthetic-conventional’ stage, and the ‘intuitive-projective’ and ‘mythic-literal’ stages of childhood no longer have any sway in their life.

The truth is that we carry each stage with us: it remains important that as adults we attach to people with trust; that we continue to approach tasks with a sense of initiative and personal responsibility. In our faith-life, we continue as adults to find riches in the stories of our faith taken literally and simply, and continue to draw strength from the community’s understanding of God, even as we deepen our own understanding of who the Divine One is.

Hainz Streib's Styles of Religious Development

Hainz Streib’s Styles of Religious Development

That’s why I like Heinz Streib’s ‘Styles of Development’ in which he shows how different styles of being religious dominate as we develop, but the earlier styles continue underneath – as his diagram illustrates.

Our childhood lives in our heads. In my thirties, I was a school chaplain. I deliberately remembered my feelings as a farm boy sent to boarding school to empathise with the boys in my care.

In my forties and fifties, my childhood memories crowded my dreams forcing me to make sense of my present life through the symbols of my past.

Now in my sixties, I am grandpa for four little kids and I recall my childhood to understand the dynamics of parents and children and grand-children, and work out what I can contribute to their flourishing.

If our childhood is still part of us, then we should continue to honour it. We need play. We need nurture. Who we are now is built on the foundation of our childhood, so reflection on our childhood helps us understand ourselves.

The characteristics of childhood like its openness are also vital for our relationship with God.

We need to keep being children. As if we could stop…

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The children of Nazareth

The Franciscan Missionaries Serving the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae Sanctae) have been excavating the ancient village of Capernaum for nearly a century. The archaeologist currently in charge is Father Stanislao Loffreda ofm. Their main interest is in the house of Peter, which became a house church (domus ecclesia) in the first century AD, and later an octagonal church. You can read about the site here.

Saint Peter’s house and the village layout also reveal a little of what life would have been for Jesus growing up in the neighbouring village of Nazareth, where archaeology has been limited by the density of current occupation (see this article). At the time of Jesus, however, Nazareth was a tiny hamlet, much smaller than its neighbour Capernaum.

It is unclear from the New Testament whether Jesus had brothers and sisters. There certainly were other closely related children growing up in the house where he lived. Each house held more than two parents and their immediate children, but the excavations show that these houses were not huge. Maybe the individual compounds were home to four or five adults and eight or nine children.

The children would have been able to run through the narrow streets formed by the high walls of the houses.  All the adults of the village would like have known all of the village children, so their behaviour was probably fairly restrained! They would also be required to help in tasks in the home and in the fields outside the little village.

Reconstruction of Capernaum (Kaphr Nahum)

Preparations in July

Getting ready for Christmas in Australia for a child often starts when school closes for the year. It’s hot. Sometimes the day temperatures in south-west Western Australia rise to the mid-thirties Celsius in December, and the dry easterlies start to blow.

For a farm kid in the fifties, those weeks before Christmas were a time of great freedom. We were discouraged from staying indoors, and the wide open spaces of the farm were literally that. We could run, or ride our bikes, as far as we liked, and simply enjoy the gift of creation.

But there was also the excitement of preparing for guests. Some like my mother’s parents, would come only for Christmas Day, after church services. Others, like Dad’s sisters, Auntie Kate and Auntie Pix would come and stay for some days.

We expected presents. More about them later.

This year, I am beginning my preparations early: my book of daily meditations for Advent is at the printers now.  I hope it will be launched in Perth in October, but the books need to be ready in good time. I feel excited about this book. It has been a joy to write; as I reflected last Advent on the Scriptures for next Advent, I was able to wait on God for inspiration. My prayer is that what I have prepared will encourage readers as you prepare for Christmas 2014