The following is a reflection from Jane Lee Wolfe, St. James, Woodstock parishioner and Director of Bog Chapel, Inc. an educational not-for-profit organization that focuses on the spiritual health and spiritual fitness of human beings, from youth through old age.
Forty-something years ago I ran children’s chapel at my parish. It was nothing I wanted to do, but the boss asked me. “It’s not in my job description,” I said like a fine bureaucrat. Whereupon I got that lecture we all get from parents and teachers about how there are some things we have to do that we don’t want to do, etc. etc. The most boring, predictable speech ever.
So Children’s Chapel it was, 3-5 year -olds. I decided I would do what I thought the children would respond to. We sang “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and “Thank you, Lord for this fine day” every Sunday. I had a piano player. One time it was the assistant organist at Riverside Church in New York, down home for a visit. I spotted him and grabbed him to play because my regular piano player was sick or something. Not there. I was frantic he wasn’t going to have time to practice. “What is the music?” he asked. “Jesus Loves me this I know.” and “Thank You, Lord, for this fine day.” “I think I can manage,” he said. And he did.
In addition to the hymns, we had one Bible lesson that was every Sunday. The same lesson. It was about Jesus healing 10 people with a skin disease and only one turning around to say thank you (Luke 17:11-19 in kid talk). How many said thank you? (Response) How many should have said thank you? (Response) Etc. Occasionally like at Christmas we’d switch stories, but mostly we stayed with the thank you story.
There was a prayer time, but the children were only allowed to listen to God and thank. No petitions. If there was a petition it had to be carefully turned into listening or gratitude. “God is saying I can ride my bike.” “Thank you for knowing I want a Pokémon for Christmas.” “God says I love you,” “Thank you God for taking care of my sister who is sick.”
Then we’d say the Lord’s Prayer, our only bow to tradition, which everyone managed to memorize, and leave singing “Thank you, Lord, for this fine day, two verses over and over.
Two years ago I ran into a man who had been in Children’s Chapel. He said he was still listening and saying thank you. “Thank you,” I said to God. “Good for you! Right on!” I said to the man.
The point of all this is to say that listening and gratitude begin early. They are natural in little kids; the assignment doesn’t seem in any way strange or challenging. Normal. And it is normal. If we learn all this later, as adults or old folks, it takes almost no time at all for it to seem normal. You, too, can be 3-5 years old and grow up from there.
Jesus said to the guy who turned around and said thank you: “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”
The other nine with skin disease were healed, don’t worry. They had to show themselves to the priests in response. But the faith of the one who said thank you to the healer set him on a different path. He could go on his way right away. His faith, his gratitude, had made the difference.