I see God in symmetry.
I see God in our make-believe.
I see God in our grand attempts
to make something beautiful before life ends.

Those were the words that accompanied me yesterday morning as I sat down to weave my tangled thoughts together into today’s sermon.

i see God in irony,
in fragile heirlooms within children’s reach.
i see God in our damaged good,
but you see God in ways i wish i could.
you see God in ways i wish i could

These words, these beautiful, searching words of longing and hope were penned by Chicago-based composer Ryan O’Neal.

The song is called “Sight,” and throughout, the composer snaps together disparate pieces of his encounters with God. Written in the days after his daughter was born, O’Neal shares:

Though just a sketch at the time, I’d hold [my daughter] in one arm, and play this song on the piano with my free hand, working out the progression and melody…

As O’Neal tells the story, the whole song didn’t come together at once. It came together in fits and starts, moments of inspiration and clarity alongside long stretches of deep struggle – not only with the lyric, but also with the music and how it would finally be arranged.

Was it for piano, for Rhodes, for guitar?

In the end, it became clear to him that these simple notes needed to be sung, proclaimed by the raw power of the human voice.

Saturday morning I had this song on repeat. I’ll readily admit that as I played it over and over, the song, like this week’s scripture passages, drew my eyes towards God, and the disparate ways in which God reveals God’s self through unlikely circumstances. Through unlikely prophets. Even children.

It was Maundy Thursday, and we were all gathered here in the Cathedral to dwell in the last day of Jesus’ life, as he offered a new commandment to us, his friends.

Love one another as I have loved you.

Jacob and I went up together for the foot washing.

Love one another as I have loved you.

He’d already been wandering up and down and moving around the Burrard side of the church for quite some time. By wandering, I mean running and jumping and hanging off the handrail, with all the expected chaotic, kinetic energy of a three year-old.

We went up together, and he demanded, in strict contravention of our practice at the Cathedral that both feet be washed…But then, this is the kid who, at his baptism splashed himself with a handful of water to make sure the job had been done right.

Nobody seemed to mind.

Afterwards, we gathered back at our pew on the edges of the church. We participated, as we were able, in the service. Throughout it all, Ericka and I took turns answering Jacob’s barrage of questions, talking him through the liturgy, inviting him into the inner-sanctum of our most sacred story, a story of life and death, of darkness and light, and ultimately of brokenness and healing through Jesus’ self-sacrificial love.

Love one another as I have loved you.

As the altar was stripped, as the linens and ornamentation left the chancel as Peter and Ellen attended to the bare altar with dignity and grace. Shocked, reverent silence took hold and I became transfixed on this act of patient care.

Out of the silence broke a voice, my son’s own voice:

I don’t want Jesus to die.

My trance was broken by the ache it revealed. And then, quietly, sadly, repeatedly, he leaned in to Ericka and me, asking again and again:

Why did Jesus have to die?

In that moment, my heart broke. In that moment, he spoke God’s words to and for me. In that moment, he knew and felt and experienced, and then bravely vocalized a God-filled word.

I don’t want Jesus to die.

And then, several times each day, well into Eastertide, we would revisit the same conversation. “Papa, why did Jesus have to die?” And each day, each night, I found myself searching over and over for words that might illuminate the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for my distraught pre-schooler.

The truth is, I struggled to respond. Not that I didn’t have an answer. I had entirely too many. Yet so many of them, when spoken aloud, sounded hollow, rehearsed, and stale.

We can offer the most coherent and convincing theological proofs, yet in the absence of a deeply wrestling heart, our words mean nothing.

Herbert Slade, a priest of the Society of St. John the Evangelist who died in the last days of the 20th Century wrote these words:

Jesus communicates with his emotions: he weeps, he loves, he laughs, he is angry, and he is inspired with unquenchable hope. Our images of him must therefore be alive with all these emotions and our response to them must be correspondingly emotionally alive.

Jacob didn’t have to go to seminary to speak a prophetic word. He didn’t require confirmation class, let alone a fully formed vocabulary to call me deeper into the practice of Christian faithfulness. All that was required was that he give voice to the statement and accompanying question welling up deep inside him.

I don’t want Jesus to die.

Papa, why did Jesus have to die?

After a few months of silence on the subject, these questions surfaced again one evening last week as he was drifting off to sleep.

This may be a question born out of a child’s three-year old wrestling heart. But it’s not just his question. It’s a question for me. It’s a question for those of us who have grappled with our own complicated responses to the pain and the hope of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

It’s a question for those of us who grapple with our own complicated responses to the traumas present in our lives, and the lives of others.

And it’s this honest questioning that has led me, in turn, to a deeper, more honest, more vulnerable wrestling with God. That’s the place where the best prophets take us.

All of which leads me to wonder: what led the young prophet Jeremiah to say, “I do not know how to speak, for I am merely a child”? Was it something within him? Was it something about the culture and community of which he was a part? I wonder where he’d heard it before:

You’re just a kid
Wait until you’re older
One day you’ll understand

Were these messages explicitly taught, or were they perhaps caught in the implicit and unspoken ways Jeremiah’s community operated?

What is it about our communities of faith that empower some voices, and disempower others? And how will we, in this Cathedral community know when God has put words in the mouths of young people?

And when they speak, how will we respond when they deliver God’s words of repentance and hope, yes, even words of deconstruction alongside words of new life.

How will we, at Christ Church Cathedral, pay careful attention to the voices of the youngest prophets in our midst?

For all of our progressive attitudes, we Christians can still silence the voices of young people implicitly and explicitly. It’s not limited to grumbling when they seemingly make too much noise in church, but also when we spuriously refer to young people as “the church of the future,” or in any other way deny the fullness of their humanity, and the fullness of their membership in the body of Christ, today.

I return to the probing, searching text of Ryan O’Neal’s composition, to a verse in which his lyrics meditatively focus on the life and witness of his young child:

without instruction, without obstruction, you believe.
without container, or dualistic framework,
you see the Holy Ghost in broad daylight
and i see the reflection in your eyes.

And sometimes that’s all there is to it. Sometimes all we can do is see the reflection of the holy in the eyes of another. Sometimes all we can do, is grasp at the deepest reality of God’s grace and mercy through the reflective eyes of a child.

There are times we encounter God more directly and with more intensity. Yet all too often, our search for God is, as O’Neal suggests, more “like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, and realizing we’re short most of the pieces.”[1]

It’s a wonder, then, when someone walks over to the table we’ve been hovering over for hours, days, years, and connects multiple pieces whose connections we just couldn’t see from where we had been standing.

We can know all of the answers, practice all of the customs, revel in the beauty and richness of the Christian tradition and still sound as sharp, off-putting, and hypocritical as the leader of the synagogue in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.

black or white or vivid color,
after a while, it all runs together.
our stained-glass means nothing without light.

Without love in action refined in the crucible of deeply wrestling hearts, our belief in God, our testimony to our children, and our witness out in the world is nothing more than incoherent noise.

And yet, God still speaks. We need only to listen. As a parent, I get the difficulty of listening beyond the noise. There are times I get caught up in the slog of helping and nurturing, of encouraging and correcting. In a Christian community like our own, we might become preoccupied with so many other aspects of church life that we don’t stop to listen to our youngest members to see what God might be saying in, and to, and through them too.

But God is speaking. And God still speaks today, putting words of repentance and words of hope in the mouths of children. Words that comfort the afflicted and that afflict the comfortable. We need only to listen and to respond with God’s help, to hear the prophetic words on their lips, and to respond in praise to the God we see reflected in their eyes.