Over lunch, Rebekah and I are swapping insights and questions related to the book of Job (1) across the kitchen table when Annie - heretofore oblivious to us and playing on the floor - rises up, grabs her stuffed moose, and sends him to the refrigerator for "Bible study." We pause. Moments later, Mogs (the moose) is sent across the kitchen to enroll in "another Bible study" with Annie's over-sized stuffed Tiger. We pause again, keenly aware that there's a fine line between imitation and mockery and that children exploit the ambiguity of that line like no other. We wait. Harmless, good-faith imitation this time (or so it appears).
Now I get that, as a priest, this is in one sense stuff to expect - it "comes with the territory." Even so, neither Rebekah or me had mentioned the Bible - only our confusion at Job's friends and all the fuss they get. To be sure, a while back, Rebekah did host what amounted to a Bible study at our house, but I don't remember using those words to describe it, mostly because Bek was looking for some freedom from the old-school connotations 'Bible study' suggests. But who did she (or we) think we were fooling? Not Annie. The roving moose with the Bible, sitting alongside the tiger, was proof.
I marvel at the ability of children to determine what is important to their parents. Not what the parents want to be important to their children (or what the parents want to be important for themselves!) but what is actually, factually, already important to the parents. Children are savants in this respect. Augustine, among others, liked to remind Christians that we do not necessarily know ourselves best of all. And this seems strange but hard to deny: that the One who knows me best of all is not me. Or as Merton put it: "Nor do I really know myself..." In this tradition, the role of holy friends can be to help us gain a distance by which we know ourselves more truly. (2)
Who would have thought that children are these kinds of holy friends? Little, godly mirrors by which we learn what is actually, factually, already important to us. And of course this can be encouraging, but undoubtedly humbling, too. I once heard a preacher say that if you want to know your priorities, look at your checkbook. But what if the truth was even more readily at hand?
Most to the point: what do I think is actually, factually important to me? And would my children agree?
(1) In the context of a read-the-Bible-in-one-year reading program we're both doing.
(2) As a friend told me once: "If I knew what they were, they wouldn't be blind spots, would they?"