This was the second of three stories I recorded this week for Pancake Day 2012, with a theme of who is our neighbour.
People were bringing little children to Jesus that he might touch them - but the disciples spoke sternly to them. The disciples spoke sternly - that is to say, they were sending the people away. My voice carried a sternness, my gaze a rebuke, and I swept my hand strongly, palm upright, between where I imagined Jesus and the people to be as a 'stop'.
My immediate feeling with Jesus' indignation was to insert 'Oi!' into his rebuke of the disciples! In the end, the 'Oi' dropped out of the telling, perhaps because it felt distracting, or too comical, or too much like eisegeting Australian culture into the story. I carried the feeling of the 'oi' into my expression of Jesus words - Let the children come to me.
And as I spoke the rest of his words, I entered his character a little more, and played him inviting the children in between the phrases do not stop them, pick up a child and lift him above his head, and I would look at the camera as he spoke, for it is to such as these that the kin-dom* of God belongs, take a baby from the mother and hold her in his arms, back to the camera, Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kin-dom of God (looking back at the child now for a moment) as a little child (and back to the camera) will never enter it. Then I played Jesus handing the baby back, and looked at the camera again for the final lines - and he took the children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them (with a smile).
It felt important to enter the character of Jesus and cross the line into acting just a little in this story, for a number of reasons:
I was telling this within a theme of who were Jesus' neighbours, so I wanted to bring the children in as neighbours, as characters present in the story. It is Jesus who brings the children into the story, into the picture, so rather than only having the narrator tell the audience that this is what Jesus did, communicating the meaning of this by showing Jesus welcoming the children felt more effective.
In some ways, this story isn't about the children as neighbours, but about how we are to enter the kin-dom of God - with the vulnerability of little children who rely on their parents with a dependence for their lives. However, here's something that occurred to me as I was reflecting on the story: if we do not welcome others - vulnerable, unseen, seemingly insignificant human beings like children were, and often still are - we can not learn from them. In this story, Jesus welcomes the children, and invites the children to teach the adults something very important about the kin-dom of God - that we are to remember our vulnerability and deep dependence on God for our very lives. How many times have our 'children's talks' in gathered worship taught the adults more than the sermon? How might 'children's talks' become opportunities for the children to more explicitly and intentionally share with adults? This is something I am hoping we will explore in my congregation in coming months - to have adults share with the children (and adults) something of their life, their work, a hobby, an experience, that implicitly or explicitly shows their faith & life lived out; and to have children share, as a group what they're exploring in sunday school, and as individuals, what's happening in their lives. Perhaps we can thus learn and grow together, through relationships of vulnerability, sharing of who we are, how to live God's way of love in the world.
I often find myself deeply engaging with Jesus when I tell his story - imagining what he might have felt, feeling the indignation at children being turned away. I couldn't feel his indignation, which is there in the story, and not show it. My instinctive 'Oi!' was a deep connection with his feeling here, with the emotion in the story. Storytelling is a gift because it connects with the emotion and invites listeners to connect with the emotion. When we feel something we know more deeply than anything we know cognitively. And by allowing myself to feel his indignation, I understood the value he placed on those children, and how, when looking at them, he was reminded of our relationship with God. His love for the children, his love for the adults, moved him to urge the disciples to look at the children, and understand God and their relationship with our Divine Parent.