Have you ever considered how amazing the process is by which we learn language?
Somehow, just by the process of hearing, we learn to speak.
As parents we talked to our children from the time they were born. (Actually, we talked to ours the moment we found out they existed.) Those cute little disruptive balls of humanity had no idea what we were saying but we talked to them anyway.
We told them who we were.
Mama loves you.
We told them who they were.
There’s Daddy’s little man.
We introduced them to people.
Go see Grandma.
Not a word was understood by Daddy’s lil’ man but we sure wanted them to know of our love and we
wanted them to know who their grandparents were, along with the countless other family and friends we named.
And what did our babies do?
They soaked it all in. It didn’t mean much in the beginning but it didn’t take long before the weird sounds we made got connected to real tangible things and understanding began to dawn.
The process happened almost unbidden, with no noticeable effort made to learn the ins and outs of language, the subtle nuances of the tongue growing up unconscious with the maturity of the child.
We don’t question talking to our children or question this way of learning speech. And we don’t dumb it down. I mean we don’t require them to give us the chemical break down of water just because they’re thirsty and in need of a drink, but they do ask for water and they know it will quench their thirst. And at some point down the road they’re going to learn about the chemical make up of water.
The language of the Church, what they are called to believe should be taught to them in the same unbidden fashion.
The liturgy of worship, it’s call to come before God, to realize we can’t go before Him unclean, the answering confession of our need for forgiveness, the way the Word and sacraments nourish us…this is where the foundation is laid for a righteous vocabulary.
No, the infant or toddler or child in the pew may not fully understand what is being said on Sunday morning. But they are learning who their people are. More importantly they are learning who their God is and what He expects of them.
We shouldn’t underestimate children’s capacity to learn, to be shaped and formed, by our church services anymore than we should underestimate their ability to learn and speak language. They are perfectly designed for the task.