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The Beginner’s Mind

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

To me this passage has an important message:

that those of us who assume roles of leadership, governance, and instruction—

also need to take on the role of student.

We need to pause and listen to others, assuming that we have something to learn.

Zen Buddhism calls this “the beginner’s mind”—

Putting aside your expectations, getting curious, and opening yourself to learn

in whatever circumstances you find yourself in.

There is wisdom in understanding just how little you actually know.

In Christian terms it is called humility, and it is both a virtue and a gift.

For not knowing everything opens us to receive what God wants us to learn.

The humility of intentionally being a beginner opens us to appreciate the world around us, and to notice what God is doing in our lives instead of trying to make it all happen ourselves. It’s pretty counter cultural, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be competent and knowledgeable at all times.

Experts are admired; higher degrees and positions sought after. But there are people to who naturally have humility and the beginner’s mind—it’s children. Children are students in almost every context—on sports teams, in lessons, in school and church.

They are used to trying new things, and until we tell them otherwise, it’s ok to fail.

Consider the toddler learning to walk—there is no judgment for falling. They just get back up again. As a result, children have a great appreciation for life.

As Rachel Carson, the great naturalist, said:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.

It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” And Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom belongs to such as these.”

The natural ability of children to be open and receptive to new things—to being a beginner—

Is just one of the ways children minister to the rest of us who aren’t so natural at it.

Take Lucy and Bob, for example. Lucy was an 8 year old parishioner, and Bob was the head usher. Recently the church had been trying to recruit more ushers, as the old guard wasn’t able to do it anymore. Lucy was confident and comfortable with adults, so I asked Bob if he would train her as an usher. Bob was skeptical. After all, he had been doing the job for decades and had perfected the role, Dimming the lights at just the right time, closing the sanctuary doors, directing people to communion. But being the good sport that he was, he said he’d give it try. Lucy turned out to be a natural.

She showed up on time and straightened up the pews after worship. After a few weeks, she knew all the cues. But best of all, she and Bob became buddies.

The thing I love about this story is that both Lucy and Bob were teachers and students.

Bob showed Lucy the ropes as an usher, and Lucy taught Bob to look at children in a new way—

As full participants in the life of the church, and as potential partners in ministry.

They each tried something new, employing the beginner’s mind And what they found was joy, satisfaction, and companionship. Today is Rally Day, when we kick off our Sunday school program for a new year, so it seems a perfect time to consider the ministry of the children of this church. From a theological point of view, what Bob learned about Lucy is true for us as well: Children are full members of the body of Christ by virtue of their baptism. As such, they have things to learn and gifts to share.

You can see it right here as we are blessed when children are a part of worship Sharing the peace, answering in a children’s sermon, following along in the worship book. They remind us of why we are all here—to learn and to receive as children. But like the rest of us, children are also gifted to serve. Here at St Matthew they serve by sharing music, youth help out in Sunday school and clean up day, children serve hungry people, and confirmands visit folks at assisted living. Kids have gifts for all these things—all they need is an adult to invite and support them. And in return we as adults experience their fresh perspective and enthusiasm, We are reminded to pay attention We have our sense of wonder and hope restored.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,

That I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

We are all learners and we are all teachers—no matter our age or ability.

We are all called to listen and to speak.

And through the little ones, Jesus shows a glimpse of his kingdom

Where all give and receive, and where all have a place to call home.

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