One of my favourite spiritual writers is the Roman Catholic, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen has written a good number of books and, in amongst them, are a number that are journals recording various experiences and times in his life. I have just started reading one entitled ‘Gracias’ which records some time he spent in Latin America. In October 1981 he flew to Peru and from there went to Bolivia to study Spanish and back to Peru. I guess I am particularly interested because it is just about a decade later that Mary (my wife) and I flew to a different part of Latin America to spend almost three years there. In July 1991 we flew to Costa Rica to spend five weeks learning Spanish before flying on to Panama to live and work there.
But what I want to share with you is a little incident that Nouwen recounts from the very beginning of his time in Peru. There was a big Christian festival going on. The crowds were there to welcome the procession of el Seňor de los Milagros – ‘the Lord of the miracles’. Nouwen talks about how all the important people were there, the mayor, the bishops, even the president – but the people’s attention was on the image of Christ in the procession. Nouwen describes how he lifted a youngster up so she could see what was going on – “When I lifted up a little Peruvian girl and showed her the Lord of the Miracles, I felt that the Lord and the little girl were both telling me the same story: presidents, mayors, and bishops come and go, but our God continues to enter our lives and to invite children to climb on the shoulders of adults and recognise him.”
I love that image. Last night I was looking at a photo of Mary and myself together with our older daughter, Steph. It must have been about 18 years ago, because Steph was about 12 months in the picture and she is now within a month of her 19th birthday, and there she was on my shoulders.
As the verse of the hymn written by Shirley Erena Murray has it: “Like a father, you protect me, teach me the discerning eye, hoist me up upon your shoulder, let me see the world from high.”
Mark 10:14: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
In Jesus’ world women and children were without rights. They were without voice or power, at the margins. We sometimes think we have moved on and learned the lessons. But have we? Who is it that God is now hoisting on God’s shoulder – and to whom we are being called to pay attention?