Working with children on the writing of poetry has led me to ponder the ways that most of us become exiled from the certainties of childhood; how it is that the things we most treasure when we’re young are exactly those things we come to spurn as teenagers and young adults. Very small children are often conscious of God, for example, in ways that adults seldom are. They sing to God, they talk to God, they recognize divine presence in the world around them: they can see the virgin Mary dancing among the clouds, they know that God made a deep ravine by their house “because he was angry when people would not love him,” they believe that an overnight snowfall is “just like Jesus glowing on the mountaintop.” Yet these budding theologians often despise church by the time they’re in eighth grade.
In a similar way, the children who un-selfconsciously make up songs and poems when they’re young—I once observed a three-year-old singing a passionate ode to the colorful vegetables in a supermarket—quickly come to regard poetry as meaningless and irrelevant. I began to despise mathematics when I sensed that I was only getting part of the story, a dull, literal-minded version of what in fact was a great mystery, and I wonder if children don’t begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them. If we teach children to reject their epiphanies, then it’s no wonder that we end up with so many adults who are mathematically, poetically, and theologically illiterate.
from The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
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