Last Sunday, due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up leading the singing at our stake conference. And one of the songs we sang was “I Am a Child of God.”
There we were, a couple thousand folks from ages 3 to 103, singing a children’s song together. You won't see that on "American Idol."
I’ve said before that adults singing children’s hymns is not only charming but also spiritually electric. It can recharge your batteries.
Fortunately, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found, have an abundance of youthful serenity and grace — even at the leadership level. (Remember when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve compared the hair colors of kids today to snow cones?)
The “kingdom of the world,” of course, sees spiritual childhood as innocence or naïvete, even immaturity. The worldly wise feel we’re somehow stunted, locked in adolescence.
But in the “kingdom of the spirit,” it is that same childlike quality that leads us to trust, hope and practice charity. It gives us a light heart in a crippled world. It is an active ingredient in our faith.
Examples of that abound.
For instance, "The Book of Mormon" musical is not the best source for learning about Mormons. It is, however, a good source for learning how many people see Mormons.
And the creators of the show see us — especially the missionaries — as little children. We might even want to tell them "thank you," if they weren't so condescending and superior about it.
In the production, Elder Price pouts because he doesn’t get called to Orlando, where Disney World and SeaWorld can be found. His companion, Elder Cunningham, lives in a fantasyland of his own making.
And both of them talk like characters from an animated Disney film.
People will tell you the musical is “sweet.” What they really mean is the elders are precious — the kind of young men you want to hug and pat on the head.
But then audiences, for the most part, can’t appreciate the spiritual side of being childlike.
They only see boys acting and talking like the animals in “The Lion King.”
Mormons aren’t the only ones who see being childlike as a gateway to God, of course. Gustavo Gutierrez, perhaps the bravest and brightest Catholic writer today, sees “spiritual infancy” as literally life saving. He links it to the line in the Sermon on the Mount about the “poor in spirit.” Spiritual poverty, he says, simply means to become a spiritual child — a person who has nothing, knows he has nothing, and knows he must be dependent on God to provide.
In the mind of Gutierrez, the poor, children and good Christians all live similar lives.
(Gutierrez, by the way, stood up against government death squads in Peru, so don’t call him “precious and sweet.”)
In the end, we live in a muddled and muddy era today. Many people have become jaded about religion, politics and other institutions. They project a kind of world-weary cynicism and speak with cheeky irony about ideals and most everything else.
But listening to my stake sing “I Am a Child of God” together helped fortify me against such attitudes.
The spiritual innocence and childlike grace that others mock in Mormons and other believers are really an inoculation against the sour negativity of the world.
In fact, if you can believe Gutierrez and the young men and women in LDS badges, that childlike grace may be more than an inoculation against a cynical society.
It may actually be the cure.