Monday, November 30, 2009

Little Bodies, Grownup Spirits

For this posting, I turn to a journal entry of 21 November 2008 and append additional comments at the end.

In relation to 3 Nephi 26:14, 16 (in the Book of Mormon): Children are born with grown-up spirits–these having been nurtured and instructed in their pre-earth-life existence. But these spirits have to contend with physical and mental faculties which do not at the outset have the development necessary to enable the mature spirits to think and speak and act as they would if not confined to these cramped quarters (their bodies expandable with time and effort and nurturing and instruction but presently rudimentary).

In the above scriptural reference, Jesus enables little children’s spirits to think and speak beyond the capacities of their developing faculties: “And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children...and he did loose their tongues and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things.” And then this: “even greater things than he [himself] had revealed...and he did loose their tongues that they could utter.”

Think about that. The savior had told his apostles in Jerusalem that they would do greater works than he had done. Here young children utter greater things than Christ himself has revealed on this occasion. (I like this willingness to let others say or do greater things than he has said and done–what a wonderful example for leaders, parents, etc. What a lesson in humility and absence of self-serving.) Verse 16 adds this astonishing note: “...even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things.”

Welsh writer Leslie Norris, in his short story “The Waxwings” (published in his anthology “Sliding”) presents a seven-year-old boy who has a wonderful experience with birds–cedar waxwings. His mature spirit appreciates the beauty and marvel of the encounter beyond the capabilities of his seven-year-old faculties of self-expression: The birds “were so brilliant that the boy cried his delight aloud....their colors, oh, the colors. Their heads held crests of chestnut, a black stripe ran dramatically through each eye, their bodies were tinged with pink, the incredible tails, short and thick, were tipped with a band of yellow as bright as summer. But it was their wings, carrying them boldly through the trees as they ate like locusts, that the boy saw most clearly. Strongly barred with black and white, the secondary feathers looked dipped in vermilion sealing wax, as hard and shining as sealing wax. He thought they were like hundreds of candles sparkling through the trees.”

This is what he observed, thought, and felt. But when he returned home, he could not share in words his experience. His physical and mental faculties were not sufficiently developed as a seven-year-old. His mother “saw with compassion the small boy standing before her, his face bewildered and frustrated by his inability to express the significance of his journey, the marvelous vision of the waxwings. She saw the puzzled tears form in his eyes. ‘Oh, Mam,’ he said, ‘my boots is hurting.’ She put her arm around his shoulders, and smiling, led him indoors.”

What a disparity between his mature spirit’s perceptions and his immature body and mind’s ability to express those perceptions! Bear that in mind when you hear children’s repetitive testimonies in LDS church meetings. Often the repetitive nature of their expressions may hide a mature spirit’s feelings, thoughts, and perceptions that the child cannot make his or her immature faculties express.

I know that as a preteen, I felt more than I could hope to express in my frequently borne testimonies. I remember one occasion when an adult bearing his testimony after mine said something like this: The boy says he knows that the gospel is true. But he doesn’t really know it yet. The time will come when he will know what he now just says he knows.” Something like that. I thought then and I think now that he was wrong. I did know and feel with real conviction the truth of what I expressed and was incapable of adequately articulating.

End of journal entry. I sent the above off to my daughters and received this interesting reply from one of them:

"What a good way to start Sunday morning! Thanks for sending that. We have a little boy in our ward [local LDS congregation] who bears quite the interesting testimonies about seeing God. The first time he did it, his mother came up to kind of steer him another way but the next time, she just patiently let him finish. Whether he does actually see God or is just trying to express something else that has happened in the only way he can, his spirit comes through loud and clear.

"When I think back to how I felt as a teenager or even as a primary age kid, I don't think I know any more now than then that I am a daughter of Heavenly parents and that Jesus died for me. I may have a bit more of an understanding about the whole thing but no more sure testimony than I've always had.

"The kind of silly (to me at the time) comment that a missionary in Kentucky made about babies squirming so much because it's hard to fit that adult spirit into a tiny body may not be so silly after all." So went my daughter's apt comment.

And I myself will make another addition to this entry. A brief article in our church’s publication, “The Ensign,” contributes an additional insight into the capacities of children–of their grownup spirits inside their developing bodies. The article, in the December 2009 issue of the magazine, is titled “Why Do I Need to Be Here?” A harried mother, in line for desperately needed prescriptions for her two children is dismayed when her daughter of 19 months breaks free from her arms and runs off toward an older man sitting with his head in his hands, obviously quite distraught. the child pesters the man, refusing mother and older brother’s efforts to make her leave him alone. She takes off her shoes and hands them to the man. Raising his head and even smiling he puts them back on for the girl and then embraces her, “kiss[ing] her on the head.”

He then explains to the mother that his wife has recently passed away and, more recently still, he has learned that he himself has terminal cancer, for which he has come to get medicine. He had been pondering and praying as to whether it was worth struggling on instead of short-cutting the dying process. He had not even ended this prayer when the girl showed up and started seeking his attention, “calling him ‘Grandpa.’” “Now,” he said, “I know why I need to be here longer....I need to stick around for my grandkids. They need me.”

Here is a case where the child is not given amazing words to utter but is given a prompting to do something extraordinary. We learn that up to the point of her wiggling free from her mother’s arms she “had been especially clingy.” Both she and her brother had been miserable with “strep throat and ear infections.” So her action, if characteristic of her normally (as it may have been) was clearly not in keeping with her present state. Yet she performed it doggedly. Her brother could not pull her away. Her mother’s commands went unheeded. “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” asked the barely adolescent Jesus of his mother when she found him with the sages in the temple. Well, this child too was about her father’s business and just as impervious as Jesus to the anxieties of loved ones.

I’m not suggesting that she had any understanding whatsoever of why she was drawn to the man–other than his reminding her of her grandfather or of grandfathers generally. But the Lord nevertheless had a work for her to do and she seems to have felt impelled to carry out what had come into her mind or the feeling that so strongly enveloped her.

I am reminded of a passage in Matthew in the New Testament, chapter 21, verse 16: Jesus “said unto him [one of the chief priests who encountered him in the temple performing miracles] Hearest thou what these [children] say [verse 15 “the children crying...and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David”]?....Have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”

Perhaps we should regard our children with greater respect. Who knows what their cramped spirits might say if their physical tongues were loosed?

1 comment:

  1. I like these stories a lot. When I read things I wrote as a kid, it's pretty clear I had a good understanding of some things that I've since forgotten. That's one of the valuable things to me about my journals. Even the 14-year-old version of me can teach me a few things.