© by Fenwick Broyard
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them just like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and God bends you mightily
that the arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as God loves the arrow that flies, so God also loves the bow that is stable.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, “On Children”
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2:17, New International Version Bible
Reflection: (after a telling of Matthew 14:13-21, of five loaves and two fishes feeding thousands)
I imagine most of you will be familiar with a different rendition of the story I told to the children. Anyone who’s ever that story will know that mine was a far cry from the traditional reading. In the traditional telling, the hearer is required to believe in the supernatural. In fact, in the reading of that story that is perhaps being offered right now in a Christian church, it is believed that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes through the use of divine leaven…by which two fish and five loaves of bread became, for 5,000, a literal banquet. A child’s lunch was transformed into a feast and 12 baskets of the extras were gathered at the end.
Such are the facts that, as they are presented in the gospel according to John, and it is to us to cry “Amen” or to call out “bullshit.”
For the one thing on which we can agree is that a miracle would had to have taken place. For it is acknowledged among believers, and skeptics alike, that 5,000 can’t be fed on one lunch. Feeding 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves is an “impossible possibility,” which is a turn of phrase that I invoke in this moment to establish a parallel that I want you to consider.
You see, the “impossible possibility” is how modern theologians designate the kingdom of heaven. They are required by their faith to concede that God is able to do all things; and yet, they’ve so summarily concluded the corruption of humanity that heaven on Earth is impossible.
In all honesty, I actually love the coming together of those two words, but not because I agree with the theologians, because I flatly don’t. Rather, I interpret this two word couplet as a working definition of the word miracle. For what is a miracle except exactly an “impossible possibility?” Something that experience has suggested to be impossible that someone, somewhere has recorded as accomplished…like the feeding of 5,000 with a little boy’s lunch, or the fact that among the early Christians all need was eradicated— miracles no less impressive for being natural and having the supernatural stripped away.
For, I have to admit, that it is my belief that the miracle that occurred has been available ever since; but, it is the case that now, as it was back then, our miracles await the imagination of a child.
Khalil Gibran, the author of The Prophet and “On Children,” which is printed for you in your program, says that we, the elder among us, cannot even visit the kingdom in our dreams. In fact, for Gibran it is specifically because we are dreaming that we will never see the house of tomorrow. “For life,” he says, “does not go backward, nor does it tarry with yesterday.”
A parallel notion is picked up in the Bible, in the passage from Acts also quoted in your program. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy. Your young will see visions, your old will dream dreams.”
The young will see visions and the old will dream dreams. Significant, right? that these would be distinguished from one another. For, on the surface it would seem that they were synonymous, both being the by-products of imagination; however, there is a fundamental difference in orientation with crucial implications for the embodiment of the kingdom.
First, we have to concede that dreams are backward facing, according to the tenets of consciousness studies. For, according to that discipline, our dreams are no more than the creative rearrangement of memories in our minds. The materials of dreams are the already-happened, whose endings we creatively, and fantastically re-imagine. In other words, they are fantasy, taking place in the forgotten, and are, thereby, necessarily and inescapably impossible.
On the contrary, vision is forward-facing, because it is by it that we move through the now. It is by it that our steps are directed and through it that we forge a path for tomorrow. And it is because vision involves a piercing of of time that the youth were chosen as the recipients of its power.
In fact, it is natural that the youth speak in terms of vision because of the paucity of their palette of experience. They are ever looking forward because, with so little to reflect on, a backward glance would be a waste of good Spirit. Therefore, the emphasis of the youth is on possibility, and it is for this reason that they were gifted with vision.
And, it is according to the application of such vision that the child in our story did catalyze a miracle. For, rather than applying Jesus’s teachings backwards, or projecting them into a fantastical future, the young lad in question (fully in possession of his vision) sought outlet for Jesus’s words in the now.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” was the refrain oft-repeated by Jesus, a statement that baffled the more elder and the learned around him who sought the reinstatement of Israel.
In fact, so backwards was their thinking on the question of the kingdom that even after his resurrection, his closest disciples still asked him “Lord, shall you now return to kingdom to Israel?”
But one of them, a child, had the insight that unlocked, for a moment, a direct encounter with the kingdom.
The child watched as Jesus, repeatedly and freely, gave every single thing that he had, and he marveled that, despite this, neither Jesus nor any of his disciples ever ended up going without.
“Perhaps this magic is of his kingdom,” I can imagine a little boy’s mind conceiving. “For it is only by a miracle that you can give away all that you have and end up with more than you need.”
And so, in a gesture intended to mirror that of the teacher whose kingdom he desired to enter, the child stepped forth and in so doing revealed the key that unlocked the kingdom of heaven.
The key that Jesus had declared “good news” and said he had been sent to deliver to the poor. The key to the ethical kingdom that God had promised would ultimately reign on Earth. The key that Jesus had been empowered to deliver to humanity but whose use he could not force…The key, as simple as it was unlikely, revealed in this instance in the action of a child.
You see, the key to the kingdom was a basic principle that initiated a miracle on that day. And that principle was, that if each would give some, then never would one have to do with none.
If each would give some, then no-one would have to get by with none.
That is the lesson of this story, once the supernatural is forced to release it…that 5,000 peasants, each with insufficient provisions, combined their shortage and produced a glut. And not just here, but also in the first church, the minutes of which are recorded in the Book of Acts, in particular where it is reported that “they shared everything they had…and there were no needy among them.”
Friends, on one day 5,000 people were fed, with the first course being a little boy’s lunch. And, a decade later, thousands of early Christians managed to eradicate poverty among them, “because no one claimed anything was their own, but they shared everything they had,” and friends I tell you, when they did that, by the grace of God, there were no needy among them.
And so, given that this is also our desire, and now having debunked the necessity of the fantastic, I’ll begin my close by posing, to you, this question, “Is the kingdom ‘at hand’ or is it impossible?”
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, either way, you are right.” Meaning that our estimate of the likelihood of an outcome is a direct and unfailing predictor of its occurrence.
So, I ask you, “Which one is it for you?” Is the kingdom “at hand” or an “impossible possibility?” Are we going to hell in hand basket or is heaven possible on Earth?
Friends, we declare such things as these impossible by virtue of our instruction and our experience; and we conclude that our neighbors are not to be trusted and that giving does not mean we will receive.
But friends, this fear of ours grows in proportion to the extent that we show ourselves unwilling to give. For it is as we watch ourselves withhold our own surplus that we assume that others will as well.
But friends, I ask you to consider that what is true today was also true of the cast in this story. They, too, had fears and limited resources…in fact, exponentially more limited than we.
And yet, when Jesus stood forth before them and offered up the pittance that the child had presented, a key was constructed of those fishes and those loaves and an encounter with the kingdom of heaven was released.
For I submit, that when imagination and authority align the conditions are created for a miracle. And when the child submitted his WHAT and WHY to the HOW of Jesus’s authority, a miracle occurred that would not have happened without the innocent imagination of a child.
The boy had no presumptions that his offering would be capable of feeding the multitude, for it never occurred to him that he would be the only one who would open up his bag.
The child’s power rest in his naiveté regarding the self-interest by which we are blinded. For, by a child’s logic, which is also the logic of the kingdom, if I give all, I will always get some.
Friends, if all of us would give some then not one among us would have none. “But unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom.” For, it requires imagination to construct the kingdom from the building blocks of possibility. And until you subordinate your dreams to the youth’s visions, you won’t even get word of its arrival.
Therefore, let us become as little children, or at least align our authority with their imagination. And in so doing, let us become an embodiment of the kingdom, which is not only possible but “at hand.”
Questions for Reflection or Discussion:
- What authority (or authorities) do you hold that you could open up to a youthful perspective?
- What concerns and fears prevent you from taking seriously the visions of the youth around you? (i.e. By what arguments do you attempt to convince them of the impossibility of their ideals?)
- What is the wildest possibility for social and political relations that you can imagine?
- What, in your mind, are the primary obstacles to the realization of “heaven on earth”?