Out of the mouths of babes . . .

Just this last weekend, we had our annual Festival of Greece at our church, Ascension Cathedral in Oakland. I got to know some really great people from the church better over the weekend, for which I’m very thankful.

There was an odd little incident that stuck with me. A lady came into the icon booth, where I was helping out (inside the windmill, if you happened to be there; I was the guy with the baseball cap on) with her cute little son, probably on the short end of three years old, at most. The top of his head barely came up to the tables on which the icons were all laid out. But he reached up and held one up and put it back down, and then another and another, until he seemed to settle on one that really struck him, which he’d hold onto, all the while his mother was there looking on, making comments on the icons, and pointing out details and things like that. So far, so good. It was a really charming scene, seeing what looked like a pious little kid looking for a particular icon, which we’d seen a few times that day already, believe it or not. And then, it turned. The little boy kept going, picking up more icons, and more of them, too many for his little hands to hold, so they were about to fall all over the place. So his mom started taking them and putting them back, telling him one was enough. At that point the kid had a little tantrum, so she bought the one icon, and then took him out and away. Later on, he showed up again, starting to have a tantrum because his mother wouldn’t buy him a particularly shiny icon of the Theotokos. She said to me, “Sometimes you just have to tell him no,” and then she took him away. I thought, “Lady, that’s not my job.” But in a way it is.

Because later, I thought to myself, I’m that kid, and the Church is that lady. I want all these things, books, crosses, icons, whatever, that I justify my desire for through their connection with the Faith. What a spoiled little brat! There’s some hungry little collector inside that wants to amass all this stuff, exquisite as each piece may be. But one aspect of this Way is gaining control of the passions, and a passion for religious stuff is certainly part of that continuum of things needing control, lest it grow completely out of control into insatiable greed. The lesson is there to be learned, if we have eyes to see.

So, oddly enough, I’ve learned a very important lesson in the least expected of times from the least expected of directions: a child not even waist high yet. Sometimes, I just have to tell my internal acquisitive little pest, “No!”

Thanks, kid, and thanks, lady.

3 Replies to “Out of the mouths of babes . . .”

  1. Amen!

    I’m definitely like that with theology books, I have so many books, many of which I haven’t even read yet. At some point it stops being a thirst for wisdom and simply becomes gluttony.

  2. You know, this may sound like a weird recommendation, but I really think this might be helpful for your problem (which I can understand): “The Book of Memory” by Mary Carruthers. She talks about the psychology, philosophy, and mechanics of memory and memory formation – which, for the ancients and medievals was the same thing as spiritual formation. I found it to be a nice antidote to the intellectually ‘acquisitive’ tendency because it emphaisizes the slower, more intentional practices like interior digestion, rumination, etc. Also ‘The Love for Learning and the Desire for God” by Dom Jean le Clerq is similar. The monastics know how to do this right – acquisition (of knowledge, techniques) set into a larger rhythm.

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