The Wisdom of Daniel: Sacraments

I was playing over in my mind and reflecting again what my son said the other day about sacraments.
He was painting an abstract/symbolic picture of ‘a battle between warm and cold’. He’s always been very sensory, very huggy, and treats the warmth left behind by another person when they get up out of a sofa or out of bed as something to be treasured, almost revered, because for him, the person has left something of themselves there, of which warmth is the sign.
Anyway, he was painting his picture, and started to talk about how I was warm, and I pointed out that my hands and feet are often quite cold, but that I was warm inside.
He then said, ‘Yes, like a sacrament.’
We unpacked this a bit, and what he meant was that there is an inner warmth in a person you love and who loves you that is somewhere between spiritual and emotional, and that our outer bodily warmth is a sign of that, but not the thing itself.  I said to him that that was pretty profound stuff.  He said to me, ‘I didn’t make it up, you told me about it last year when I was doing communion preparation.’ As it happens, I do remember telling them about the classic definition of a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’ but I don’t remember applying it to people.
He went on to talk about how this works in holy communion:
‘When you drink the wine, and it feels warm when you swallow it, that’s the outward bit of the sacrament, and the inward bit is the warmth of love. That’s why you’re like a sacrament.’ 

He’s always felt very strongly that unless he’s had wine as well as a wafer, he hasn’t really taken communion properly, and now I know why – it seems from this conversation that, while for many of us, the idea of bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ can be almost ‘abstracted’ from the physical elements, for my son, in his multisensory spiritual world, it is the warmth of the wine, rather than the fact that it is red, or simply the idea of it, that enables it to function sacramentally.
He’s done this before, I now remember. Once when he was much younger, maybe four or five, he came running in from the garden with a big juicy strawberry in his little hand. He held it out to me, eyes like saucers, and said, ‘Mummy, I thought of you as I picked it. Eat it, mummy, can you taste the love?’
I realise that my son is unusually articulate about this kind of thing, but I’m also pretty confident that his experience is not unique. Time and time again in engaging with children (often much younger than my son) I am both inspired and challenged by the way that they can effortlessly and holistically engage mind, body and spirit in the processing of experience, and playfully hold together material and spiritual and emotional reality in a way that many adults find so hard.
Undoubtedly, children can do theology. To be honest, if often feels as if children are natural theologians, and their experience of church can either nurture that innate ability to experience the divine, or crush it.  Lord, let my kids always be in a church that honours what they bring, that welcomes them to participate fully, and that engages with the senses as well as with the brain.

4 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Daniel: Sacraments

  1. As someone serving a Curacy in a very Eucharistic setting after most her life low church, I have struggled (far more than I expected or wished) with both receiving and presiding at this sacrament, because my overly pragmatic brain just tells me it’s bread and wine, nothing special. I know there are other things contributing to this, but in the meantime, I shall take your sons words, and mull them over as I share in the Eucharist. I may also use some of this in the Confirmation prep I’m currently doing.
    Thank you for sharing something so special.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – please do make use of Daniel’s ideas both in your own reflections (he certainly gives me plenty to think about!) and in your conversations with others. Often, I think, we get given a pre-packaged explanation of how things in church work, and are not given enough opportunity to explore and appropriate them for ourselves – I have sometimes found the leading confirmation classes is a good opportunity to step back from the theological and liturgical formulas that I’ve inherited and experience what God does afresh (whether in the Eucharist or in any other church practice) – often children and young people or those new to faith ask the kinds of questions that I’ve forgotten to ask!

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