Monday, August 6, 2012

Be Like the Little Children

Back when I was a catechumen, I nannied for a family with 4 daughters (now 5).
     One evening, I was standing in the living room talking to their mother when the youngest at the time (she was 2 1/2) came up to me and started pulling on my arm. She was saying something, but I don't know what it was.
     Finally, I pulled myself away from her mother and knelt down next to her to see what she wanted. She placed a grey Crayola colored pencil on my forehead and said, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." She then did the same on each one of my hands. And that was it.
     I think we can all agree that a 2 1/2 year old child is incapable of rationally understanding the concept of being a catechumen and the theological significance of those outside of the Church needing to receive the gift of Holy Spirit in order to become a part of the Church.
     Maria Montessori tells us 2 1/2 year olds are still working with an unconscious mind. They don't deliberately recall information in order to make connections between situations the same way an older child or adult capable of logical, rational thinking can (more of her discussion on the unconscious absorbent mind can be found in her book The Absorbent Mind*).
     So what compelled this little child to do what she did? How did she know my status in the Church and what was still needed? A spiritual father would be able to answer that question much better than I, I'm sure. For me, remembering this experience drives home all the more that inner spirituality of the child. It's there from birth, from conception even, as St. John the Baptist and St. Sergius of Radonezh's examples of spiritual exclamation in utero would suggest.
     To me, this mystery of the child's spirituality it is one of the greatest mysteries of our Faith. Maria Montessori wrote an entire book dedicated to what she called the Secret of Childhood*, a common theme in all of her writings. She observed the children engaging in activities, especially those with spiritual elements, and becoming completely lost to the world. In it, but not of it. Become like little children indeed.
     I don't mean to place Montessori on a pedestal next to our spiritual fathers, as if she has the all the answers to understanding and educating our children's spirituality. How could she? How can anyone, really, for that matter.
     I do believe that she cannot be matched in terms of her understanding and response to the physical and mental development of the child. However, she was only ever able to see half of the big picture of the spiritual component. What she observed is human life. God created all life, therefore I see no reason her observations can't be considered valid. However, her conclusions do not carry the entire weight of the Faith. That, in my opinion, is what Catherine has rectified in her work, inasmuch as any lowly man is able. How important that is, now in this world, for us to be able to educate all components of our children's development with constant reference to our Faith. And how beautiful.

*The Absorbent Mind and Secret of Childhood are two of Maria Montessori's classic works. I would suggest reading the Secret of Childhood if you're more interested in anecdotal explanations of her work, and The Absorbent Mind only if you're feeling very philosophical and open to wading through seeing her interpretations in light of her historical time period (1870-1952), her status as the first female doctor in Italy, the fact that she met with a lot of resistance in her work and thus felt she had a lot to prove (which she did), and the fact that her works were in Italian so we also have to consider the translator's interpretations of her work as well.

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