Gordon Atkinson, the Real Live Preacher, has published a beautiful post.
The best part may be in the comments thread, so after you read this, go there...
Children are so soft. Their skin is fragrant and pure, like baby leaves. Their minds are eager and ready, their hearts are trusting and open, and their eyes will lead you softly to the very bottom of their souls.
Children know God because God can be found in the soft places of the world. In mother’s hands and in father’s soft shirts. In laughter and at dinner and in the goose bumps that rise when lips slide across skin.
It is a terrible thing when soft, childish flesh meets the hard steel of religion. We cut through children like butter. In our collective unconscious there is a swishing sound. It is the sound of the swords of Herod’s men rising and falling on the children of Bethlehem.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Take a deep breath now, and free your mind. Do you remember when your spiritual softness was taken from you?
Did it happen at church?
What sort of church was it? Was it a brick building in the suburbs? Was it a synagogue or a mosque or a cathedral? Was it the secret church of one man’s desire, or the feral church of neglected children? Was it the cold sanctuary of science that stole your myths and left you wounded and empty and suckling at the stars? Or did you construct your own lonely chapel, like Saint Frances, barefoot and one stone at a time?
I was wounded along the way. It happens to everyone. Life is hazing. It’s one big rite of passage from beginning to end. I grew tough as leather, deeply protected, calloused, and hard. But I worked my leather with the oil of my hands and with tears and time until I became soft again. And soft, worn leather is such a comfort to have and to hold.
Now I guard children’s hearts against all religions, sacred and secular. I will throw myself at you, church man. Stay away from that child’s mind. Let her be a pagan; let her be a skeptic, a scientist, or a saint. Let her be any or all of these, but for God’s sake, let her be.
Let her be because her soul was never yours for the taking. If you lay your hands on her, she will grow hard, and still she will not be yours. But if you love her and let her and listen to her and allow her, one day she may return from the far country, fully grown and newly wise.
And soft, still soft. And strong, so strong.
To the middle sister, my string of pearls,
That’s a big heart you’re dragging around these days, and you’ve only just discovered how hard life can be.
Play the hand you were dealt.