Learning from Children (and Street Musicians)

It’s a 10-year-old story, but it’s as current as today’s news. For it’s a story about the human condition — about our busy-ness, our need to always be somewhere, and how sometimes, in the process of rushing from one thing to the next, we miss the grace of the moment that is right in front of us.

At 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, 2007, at a Washington DC metro station, a guy pulled out his violin and began playing. For 43 minutes, he performed 6 classical pieces as over 1,000 people streamed by. Hardly any of them stopped to listen. No surprise there; DC commuters experience street musicians all the time.

Except, this was no ordinary street musician. This was renowned violinist Joshua Bell, playing his $3.5 million Stradivarius.

There was a lottery ticket dispenser near where Bell was playing, with as many as 5 or 6 at a time waiting to buy tickets. Not once in Bell’s 43 minutes of playing did anyone in the lottery ticket line so much as turn around to look toward Bell.

The Washington Post, which got Bell to perform, reached out to 40 of the commuters, and asked them if anything unusual happened on the way to work that day. Only one of them immediately mentioned Bell. To the other 39, it was just another commute, just another day of getting to work and doing the next thing.

But there was one group of people who always wanted to stop. Without exception, every time a child walked by, he or she tried to get the grown-up they were with to stop and watch. But every single time, the adult scooted the child along.

Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children (Mark 10.14). In the next verse, he goes even further, and says: only those who become like children will enter the kingdom.

I’ve frequently thought about what this passage means: What is Jesus telling us to become? Certainly, children are vulnerable in a way that many adults are not; they are dependent on the care and provision of others. This would have been even more evident in Jesus’ day, as children were not revered and valued as they are today. And so, to be a child is, by definition, to need others to help you along the way. And so, clearly, one element of Jesus’ call for us to be like children is to assume a position of vulnerability, need, dependence, and trust.

But the story of Joshua Bell shows another element. As someone has pointed out, children have a different view of time than adults. We grown-ups spend much of our time thinking about time. What time is it? How much more time do I have to be doing this particular thing? What time is my next thing? How can I better manage my time? And then there’s the phrase nobody wants to be accused of: Stop wasting time.

I understand that for some Africans, there is a phrase they say to Westerners who come for a visit. You have watches. We have time.

Maybe that’s another lesson children teach us. Kids, especially younger ones, don’t wear watches. They don’t worry that they’re gonna be late. They are more open to what opportunities are available right now. I mean: Why rush to the next moment when THIS moment has a guy playing his heart out on the violin?

If the invitation of Jesus is good news (and it is), then it can’t be just more of the same. It can’t be just more stuff to do; more obligations to attend to. It can’t just be a longer to-do list. It must be something more.

Something more that our children help us see. That God’s got the next day covered. And the next thing. That when we rush madly through life, we often miss life. That’s it okay to stop — to stop and receive; to stop and enjoy this moment, this gift of life, this gift of grace.

So, what are you missing by always rushing? What are you not receiving because you’re so busy going and doing? Where is it time to stop and hear the gentle whisper of God; the very music of creation? Maybe it’s where you least expect it — like on a subway stop in the form of a street musician who just might be a glimpse of grace and wonder that it takes the eyes of a child to see.

 

 

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