Starting Point
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Issue Date:  September 3, 2004

Starting Point


With the days of summer waning, our family took a trip to the northern shores of Michigan. Though I would have much preferred to stay in our condominium’s heated pool, our son Brendan was drawn to the sandy beach a few yards away.

One morning, while I was relaxing in an Adirondack chair, Brendan waved me over to play. Recalling my own summers at the beach, I thought he wanted help building a sandcastle. With the eyes of an architect, I surveyed the scene noting where the walls should go, the best place for the drawbridge and, a necessity for all castles, how deep the moat should be.

I never got very far though. As soon as I would start building, Brendan would run his bulldozer through and knock everything over. Frustrating my pleas of “Wait, wait” and “Not yet,” his smiled emerged. He was having a great time.

My desire for permanence was battling his desire for impermanence. Also, he just wanted to have some fun. Along with most adults, I was focused on building a grand structure to stand for all ages (or at least for the day). Brendan wanted to play. In the end, thankfully, he won out.

How the church needs children. While we adults focus on things characterized by permanence, children practice impermanence and play. The church sees its buildings, ministries, theologies, liturgies and other traditions as fixed and unchangeable. Children, however, remind us that change is a fact of life. As Cardinal John Newman once said, “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Or as the bard of Ecclesiastes says: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another one comes, but the world forever stays. … There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them” (1:1-4, 11).

Children invite us to ask what remains in the face of impermanence. Looking at Brendan playing in the sand, the only thing I can say is love. Everything else just washes away.

Mike Daley teaches theology at Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

National Catholic Reporter, September 3, 2004

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