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Of St. Francis, Kids, Spotlights and Lanterns

October 6, 2010

This weekend, we celebrate the life and work of St. Francis of Assissi, who is known and revered for his devotion to all of God’s creation, including the poor and outcast, as well as animals. Francis is also remembered for his Godly “foolishness.” He seems to have had an almost child-like quality that disarmed all who encountered him, even those he mocked or criticized for caring more about things and wealth and status than for God and God’s creatures.

So our church appoints the following Gospel passage (from Matthew) to be used when honoring St. Francis (which we will therefore use at our services on Saturday and Sunday):

Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

How fitting then that our main Sunday service in honor of St. Francis will also be a Kids Lead service? Our Cathedral kids will read from scripture, lead prayers and help preach about what it is that God has hidden from the wise and intelligent and revealed to infants. Connected to all that, check out this summary of a new book on the observational ability of babies, The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik:

Babies don’t have a spotlight of attention: They have a lantern. If attention is like a focused beam in adults, then it’s more like a glowing bulb in babies, casting a diffuse radiance across the world. This crucial difference in attention has been demonstrated indirectly in a variety of experiments…
Gopnik speculates that, while we often assume the inability to pay attention is a failing, a limitation imposed on infants by their mushy frontal lobes, it also confers certain advantages. For starters, it allows young children to figure out the world at an incredibly fast pace. Although babies are born utterly helpless, within a few years they’ve mastered everything from language – a toddler learns 10 new words every day – to complex motor skills such as walking. According to this new view of the baby brain, many of the mental traits that used to seem like developmental shortcomings, such as infants’ inability to focus their attention, are actually crucial assets in the learning process. Because babies notice everything, they’re better able to figure out how it all hangs together. So the next time you look at a baby, remember: They can see more than you.
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