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Welcoming Children, Boisterous and Gentle

People came to the special meeting in their own God‐given way. Some Quakers stumbled in, refusing any help from family members accompanying them. Others babbled in high, soft voices as unconsciously as speaking in tongues. One came in purposefully, and with a steely lower lip sat apart from her family. Some wore smocked dresses and lacy socks; others wore faded jeans, holey T‐shirts, and tall sneakers, untied.

This human amalgamation, full of gibberish, was peculiar even in the lineage of unprogrammed Friends. It was a meeting for the welcoming of new babies in the meeting. About 60 people filled the benches, half of them under 12: crawlers, snufflers, peepers, and a tiny 2‐month‐old puffball.

Jared, two and a half feet tall, handled the occasion like a circus master. He circled around the inner square of benches like an airplane curving in for a landing.

Children gathered with a rousing song, “This Little Light of Mine.” Next, names were said in that ancient method of greeting those in the circle. Dozens of eyes set themselves on each child: one murmured Emily, then one rang out Justin, then a silent one gave a downward glance and a tucking‐in of the chin until his father spoke for him, “Keith Westwood.” The invisible baton of God’s love touched every head.

Ed offered his name, hesitated, then looked down and around the room. His one‐year‐old was no longer on the bench beside him. What now? How could the little cherub fly out of sight in an instant? Ed craned his neck in and around the Quaker pews. The toddler had capered over to a complete stranger, smiling proudly at his unbridled adventure.

“So who’s this?” the stranger inquired, the graying curls bending down to the short, flat head sprouting a cap of flaxen down.

“It’s the baby Jesus,” another member suggested. The room bubbled with laughter.

Julia’s tall body swept up from the bench. Speaking for First‐day school, she proclaimed this a day of joy and largess. She seemed a celestial mountain amongst clattering shooting stars at her feet. Gifts of large, red books were presented to the zero‐, one‐, and two‐year‐olds by the seven‐, eight‐, and nine‐year‐olds. The books were a huge success: the two‐year‐olds craned their necks to look, more interested in reading their neighbors’ books than the ones in their own laps. The one‐year‐olds tried wielding the flat rectangles like boulders. The newborns stared widely at everything but the books. The newest born shut out the commotion with a nap, no doubt able to listen better to the Light Within when he went inward.

We settled into silence. We were praying. Many were making noises. Julia invited us to tell stories to each other. One story was of a Jewish boy who played the violin beautifully before serving in the military in World War II. On his return from duty he put the violin to his chin but couldn’t move the bow across the strings. His soul couldn’t bear the music after the horrors of war. Decades later, as he retired, he was looking for new interests. So very gingerly, when alone in the house, he repeated the motion of putting the bow to the strings, with much force of will. Slowly the bow stroked one note after another, music issued forth and so his heart was mended. In what ways do we take time to revive ourselves as parents?

How do we learn from that of God in our children? Sometimes they shout at us to stop, and listen. Sometimes they scamper about the day and we need to figure out the lesson. Tess shared how since Sam was born she’s had trouble regulating sleep, eating, and cleaning— the basics. But she noticed that Sam has no qualms with knowing when to eat or sleep or get clean (a rarity). So we relearn old lessons: reordering our priorities. How to keep close to our nature? Spirit, do you give us children to teach us lessons, better than any physician could instruct us?

Patti was waiting for her second child to emerge this month. She sat in the welcoming meeting, arms akimbo, arranging Greg’s squirming fat legs. Greg’s head doggedly tried to settle in her lap—her nonexistent lap. Patti posed queries about how life would change for her and Greg when the baby made its debut. Greg was already a talking baby and a walking baby and clinging to Patti—the second child was not even born. How do you share your mothering between two children, one an infant, when the first has had a monopoly on you for five years? Edward said that after the birth of three children he’s amazed at how love only multiplies exponentially after another is born.

Beth shared how her boys zing her with hopes and teach her of God in unexpected ways. While she was pregnant her three‐year‐old boy, Rob, told her that he hoped to get a baby sister because, “I’m already a brother.” When the child was born he was a boy; Beth explained carefully to Rob that this was their family; she wasn’t having another child—no sisters will be coming. Rob replied with aplomb, “You can’t say that, Mom. Only God knows that.”

Gina exclaimed that her children ask her the best questions. Her four‐year‐old asked her, “Mommy, do bad guys love each other?”

Louise told a story about her childhood prayer. When she was small she used to pray before bedtime. Once she said, “God bless Grandma, God bless my dog, and bless my enemies.” Her father asked her, “Louise, who are your enemies?” She solemnly replied, “Those whom I haven’t met yet.”

Tough queries, tender proddings, and startling endearments come from our youngest ones. Has your meeting taken time to honor them with the whole meeting? How do you celebrate the gifts children offer meeting? Take a minute to peer openly in the eyes of a one‐year‐old. What do you learn about the Life‐force (which some call God)? It may inspire you to drop your fishing nets and follow a lamb.

Elizabeth Claggett-Borne is a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Mass.).

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