Alive (with guest appearances by Jesus, Big Foot, & Joseph Campbell)

Today I had the opportunity to sub in for the Pre-K through 2nd grade Sunday School class. This group is a revelation in so many ways. I could have just watched them casually interact for at least the rest of the morning as they vacillated between total shyness and unfiltered commentary with no middle ground between the two.

We were working with the story of Jesus returning to the Nazareth, returning to where he felt most at home. I compared this to their own futures, if or when they return to Ashland for a visit…

Miss Katie: So it will be like in 15 or so years when you come back from college to say hi!

Thing 1: Jesus went to college?

MK: No, but I mean he had spent a long time away from where he grew up and-

Thing 2: Why do I have to leave home?

MK: Well one day you might want to go to college or-

Thing 1: Jesus didn’t go to college so why do I have to?

MK:…did someone say “snack time”???

Eventually we got to our project. The kids’ bodies were traced on mural paper and they were supposed to draw how they show love to others. For instance, if you call someone when they’re feeling sad, you would draw a phone in your hands. Or if you send a card to wish someone a happy birthday, you would draw that! Like the Jesus: The College Edition conversation, we sort of went around and around and around with this too so eventually I instructed them “just draw yourself doing something you like to do!” And of course, once I untangled the terms of the assignment their pint-sized creative juice boxes began to flow.

The youngest little cherub in corduroy said he needed help because he likes “making people feel better” but didn’t know how

to draw love. Another drew herself with lips because she likes giving kisses. One of the older boys drew himself as a hairy monster because apparently he has a plan to capture Big Foot. His monster traps may not be where the love is but his humor is right on point.

I’ve always tried to go back to my childhood to figure out the next step to take in my adult life and today’s activities pointed out a major flaw in this strategy: I usually think back on what I wanted to be or do when I grew up rather than where my heart was in that moment as a child. The question isn’t “what did I want to become?” but “what did I love doing then?”: What did I look forward to? What made the hours fly by? What was it that my parents had to drag me away from for dinner? And instead of going back to when I was 8 or 9 how about what made me feel alive when I was 5? When I was unbounded and couldn’t see the difficulty posed by dual careers as a Broadway star and emergency veterinarian. (I know, right? What difficulty??)

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Another piece of this is to look at everything through the lenses of your five-year-old self. Don’t imagine the career of a park ranger as what you know it to be now (and yes! this was on my list too…) See it as what you knew it would be like then: wandering around the outdoors all day and talking to bears. Whether or not this is the reality of the dream doesn’t matter. What was it about being the bear whisperer that seemed so extraordinary?

Too often we dismiss the imagination because we don’t see what good it could do or how it could get us any closer to the rabbit we’re chasing now in our big adult, real-world life. So what if we gave ourselves permission to do a little exploring of our past lives as more imaginative beings? What would that be like?

And so what did you dream of becoming? A cook? A jetpack wearing firefighter? A teacher? A tap dancing astronaut? I think that as children our natural desires respond to the greatest need in our world, the need for people who feel alive and are not acting out of the debt of dead limbs.

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
–Joseph Campbell

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