Led by a child


Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.” ― Annie Dillard

If your heart is straight with God, then every creature will appear to you as a mirror of life and a sacred scripture. No creature is so small and insignificant so as not to express and demonstrate the goodness of God. — Thomas à Kempis

Back when my daughter was 4 or 5, I remember coming home from a long day of work. I was tired, short on patience. As I stepped out of my car she ran from the woodsy patch near our house toward me. She was shouting as she trotted along, “Daddy, look! A stick! A stick!” I looked at the dead branch, made a grunting sound and tossed it down to the ground. She gingerly picked it up again and said, “No! Look!” Then she whispered, “Come here, look.” I looked closely and there inside a narrow crack in the stick were tiny little red mites running frantically back and forth. I dropped onto the grass with her and we looked carefully together. “Imagine,” I somehow thought to say, “God made them just so you and I could see them today. Thanks for stopping me.” Then she whispered, “Look. See?”

I saw in that tiny crack spacious worlds of meaning. The Hebrew slaves, on the far side of the Red Sea, called Egypt “that narrow place.” Catherine led my soul out of Egypt that day, from narrow pragmatism to contemplative vision. Children’s hearts are freshly written in the natural law of wonder. They can be our greatest teachers if we only allow ourselves to be led.

“And a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).


Goldenrod near our house, along the edge of a pond. I left work early the other day to just walk along the lake. I prayed St. John of the Cross’ poem, Dark Night, and rested on these lines: “I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies of the field.”

This entry was posted in Faith.

5 comments on “Led by a child

  1. nos says:

    And the sparrow sang…

  2. Heidi Hess says:

    Could you please tell me where the Annie Dillard quote comes from? I’d like to read the rest.
    Thank you!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Delicious! So makes me want to leave the sky-high piles of laundry and papers and flee to the woods and never come back inside… but for now my bouquet of dry, crinkly maple leaves and a big juicy spider on the window are my oxygen tank. And a new photo of my beloved nephews smiling back at me from my desk top fill me with the wonder of His presence and His providential creation. It is good to wonder and to remember!

    So, I think it is definitely time for a cool, crisp, autumnal prayer walk!


  4. Victorious Love says:

    Your daughter’s simple awe and your willingness in the moment to allow her wonderment to poke through your world to pull you out into her reality makes my heart smile big.
    The beauty and gift of such memories of her at 4 are a deep treassure. May they always lead you deeper into the heart of God. Peace.

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