It is amazing and delightful the speed with which small children make friends…
Yesterday my little girl made friends with another little girl, effectively just because they were both there, and both just about as ‘little’ as each other… after introductions, the new little girl took my 2 year-old daughter’s hand, and my daughter declared, ‘we are holding hands’, and then they said ‘let’s run’ and off they went, at a trot, laughing and running to evensong in the monks’ house chapel.
Quiet discussions continued during the Reading, ‘where’s your mummy?… That’s my mummy there…’ ‘look all the ladies are standing up now’ (the ‘ladies’ being the College and Community of the Resurrection, in long black cassocks, like dresses)…
This obvious default position of friendship reminds me of my own first memory of a ‘declaration of faith’ as a pre-school child at church.
Most of my memories have a strong visual element, and in this I was shorter than the pews, shorter than waist-height to most adults, and little enough to generally have to hold hands in order not to trip over -so roughly 3 years old.
We were in church, it was quite warm and the aisle was carpeted. Up at the front, up a little step, and, presumably inside the sanctuary area, there was a man speaking… I don’t remember anything he was saying, but he seemed fairly kind and encouraging, and it was clear that he was not there to speak on his own behalf, but instead had come to speak on behalf of somebody else… then he asked a question directed at the children and young people… my mum leant down and ‘translated’ to me, ‘He says if you would like to be friends with Jesus, you can go up to the front.’
I stood for a moment and recall just what went through my head… Firstly, that he must be shy, this Jesus, to have someone else stand up and ask for people to be friends with him... then I remembered pictures of Jesus –yes, wasn’t he that little boy who was born at Christmas… he had a lamb I think… he did indeed look rather shy and quiet... and what was the alternative to going up and being his friend? I didn’t know if I’d ever officially been anyones friend before, since I wasn’t at school yet, but yes, I thought to myself, I would certainly be friends with this shy young boy, Jesus, since he wanted me to be.
So I stepped out from behind the pew and went up towards the front, where the light shone golden through the stained glass… I was ushered up onto the carpeted step, along with several other youngsters, and as I faced out… I looked round anxiously, where was Jesus, I had come up to be his friend, but there was no sign of the boy there… instead, much to my chagrin, I was given a sticker, a rubber with a picture on it, and a blessing… I went back to my seat feeling slightly cross and humiliated, I could not understand why Jesus would go to all the bother of having that big grown-up tell everyone that he wanted to be friends and then, no matter HOW shy he might be, not meeting us when we went to be friends with him.
I have a feeling my mother consoled me… and I was glad that I had agreed to be friends, even if Jesus had not been there that day… and I recall the day several years later, when I discovered with tearful horror, that Jesus had inexplicably been crucified… and realised that there were also pictures of that on the walls of the churches. That poor little shy boy, who only wanted to be friends… I wept bitterly in Sunday School.
I don’t know how long it was before I began to understand that Jesus was both child and man, had died and yet now lived… or how long it was before I finally, finally after years of Christian discipleship, realised that the mysterious God I prayed to so often in my heart and aloud, was also that same gentle boy who had called me to be friends when I was so little…
Finally we are really friends.