Let the Little Children Come to Me
On January 12, 2007, famous violinist Joshua Bell took his priceless Stradivarius violin to the L’Enfant Plaza subway station in Washington, DC. During the 43 minutes Bell played, over a thousand people walked past him. Yet only seven stopped to listen to him for more than a minute. Not a single person clapped when he finished a piece—not even after he played some of the most difficult pieces of music ever written or after he finished “Ave Maria,” a well-known song that has been making people cry for almost 200 years. People all over the world pay over $100 a ticket to listen to Joshua Bell play in concert halls, but at the end of his 43 minutes in the Washington subway, he had made $32.17. During Bell’s experiment, he noticed that every time a child passed, he or she tried to stop. But an adult rushed the child along—every time—to where they were going.
The story of Joshua Bell playing in the Washington station, including the facts in the above paragraph, is captured in Kathy Stinson’s book The Man with the Violin, which I purchased a couple of weeks ago. The story of the children wanting to listen resonated with me. So often we are in such a rush to accomplish tasks and get from point A to point B that we don’t stop to listen to, think about, or look at the beauty of art.
Bell’s story reminds me of Matthew 19:13-14, when some people brought their children to see Jesus: “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.”
As a kid I loved this story. Can’t you just picture all these serious Pharisees and religious leaders standing around stroking their beards while they engaged Jesus in riddles about faith and the law? Then along come these children, restless and giggling at Jesus’ feet. I always picture him immediately smiling and taking one onto his lap or maybe poking one playfully in the belly, using the moment to make a point to his listeners. Notice that he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. The children weren’t asked to leave while the serious discussions continued. Jesus finished with the children and left the scene, closing on the note about the children. The order of action elevates the importance of the children.
This isn’t the first time Jesus used children in his teachings. In Matthew 18:1-4, when Jesus’ disciples asked him who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus “called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
Isn’t it awesome how children are valued by Jesus? My wife is a curriculum editor for a publishing company that produces Sunday-school material. One of the core values in the curriculum is building in “wondering time” for children when they are studying Bible stories. Like the children who wanted to stand and watch and wonder at Joshua Bell’s beautiful violin playing, children will live into the Bible story and wonder aloud about the details of the story. For instance, in the story of David and Goliath, the teacher might say, “I wonder how big Goliath’s feet looked,” and children would give their thoughts. Another prompt might be, “I wonder what David was thinking when Goliath was mocking him.” Children might say, “I think he was scared because Goliath was so big” or “He was probably smirking inside because he knew he had a slingshot.” By wondering into the story, children live the story. Too often parents rush children through suppertime or bedtime devotions. The children don’t get the time to pause and let the story wash over them so they can ask questions or express how they feel. Building in quality devotion time is a key feature in the faith formation of our children.
So this month, make it a goal to pause and marvel at the beauty of a Bible story during your devotion time. If you have children, allow them to stop and wonder for a while.
You can watch Joshua Bell playing in the Washington transit station here.
Ron DeBoer is a writer living near Toronto.