This was Jesus' adamant recommendation (Mark 10:13-16) and I have always found it to be both powerful and puzzling. Yesterday I had an experience that made it even more powerful and, perhaps, from puzzling to startling.
I had the privilege yesterday of baptizing a baby in the NICU at Strong Hospital. Isabella was born at 5.5 months and weighed 1 lb. 2 oz. at birth. That was a week and half ago and she does not weigh a whole lot more than that still. As I carefully reached into the incubator and brushed her tiny head with a wet finger I heard myself saying the words and felt myself on fire.
Isabella has been given a 50/50 chance at survival, which seems incredible to me given how tiny she is. Her family has already given their heart and soul to this child and they are headed for a potentially long and hard journey. Of course our prayers are that they will get just that. Please, if you read this, keep Isabella in your prayers, as well as her parents and grandparents. Her great-grandmother is our own Carolee Conklin.
There could hardly be a more vulnerable human being than this tiny baby. She will spend the first months of her life on death's door, but also on life's threshold. Commitment to this much vulnerability requires an extraordinary amount of vulnerability itself, a living with and in helplessness, utter dependence upon others for her well-being and our own.
And all of that, it seems to me, is what Jesus was talking about. It is usually said that he was talking about trust, because children are more quick to trust than adults. This goes way deeper than trust. This is surrender, surrender to those whose gifts we depend on, and surrender to the giver of those gifts, and the one who will stay with this child come what may. It seems to me that those are the dynamics of the kingdom of God, and why we struggle with it so much.
The staff in the Strong NICU are absolutely amazing, by the way. Thirteen years ago our nephew spent time there and a pediatrician parishioner of mine in Maryland said he could not be in a better place. It's still true.