Earlier today, I was at one of our regular local clergy gatherings. As we prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist, someone noticed that we were sitting near the children’s area of the church. Naturally, comments followed, as the hosting clergy jokingly invited the rest of us to–if need be–connect with our inner child by making use of the colouring books and other such activities.
While the suggestions were offered in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it has to be said that adults embracing what were one exclusively child-dominated activities seems to be a growing trend. Amazon.ca offers a whole selection of “adult colouring books.” But perhaps more telling is the business which is making a lot of news in recent days: An adult preschool opening in Brooklyn, charging between $333 and $999 for a month-long program in arts & crafts, napping, and show & tell.
It seems at least some pundits and social commentators are troubled by this apparent infantilization of today’s grown-up population. Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick recently shared her thoughts on the subject, critiquing “Preschool Mastermind” as yet another sign that (particularly American) adults of late refuse to “grow up.” She states: “You see infancy in its politics (relentless folksiness, speeches for simpletons), dress (jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps), cuisine (food in cutesy rounded shapes), identity (life tracked on Facebook, with high school being the peak), and pop culture (movies about comic book heroes).”
Perhaps it is my own predilection for comic book movies (I just rewatched Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend … I’m hooked on a feeling!), or my tendency to only ever be seen in jeans when not in a collar … but I took a certain offence to Mallick’s comments. Perhaps offence is too strong a word. Perhaps it is more accurate to find the “grown-up” world her column advocates to be … undesirable. And, frankly, I might go so far as to say that spiritual maturity is not necessarily reflected in personal maturity. At least not in every situation and as those who look askance at adult colouring books or super hero movies seem to suggest.
It has to be said that throughout the Gospels we do not exactly see Jesus rolling his eyes at grown-ups trying to be more like kids. Quite the contrary. What does Jesus say? “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as them” (Mark 10:15). We are called again, and again, to embrace our faith and to approach God precisely as children. But what exactly does that mean?
If there is one thing I have learned from the last 18 months of parenthood is that the emotional life of a child is honest and open — in all of its lows and all of its highs. A child can express joy and wonder in a way that is completely open and honest. Children show love. Sure, children are emotionally unstable narcissists who need a firm guiding hand. But they are also totally without a compromising ego. They show pure delight, without worry of what others with think. They aren’t concerned with appearance or being “cool.” What would life be like if all of us grown-ups permitted ourselves the freedom to take wonder and joy in the world around us? What if we all permitted ourselves to like things (un-ironically)? What if we allowed ourselves the vulnerability to be genuinely loved and to genuinely love others? That strikes me as a pretty good world to live in. It might look a little bit like the kingdom of heaven.
I like to think that most days I do a pretty decent job of pretending to be a grown-up. I keep on top of my bills. Like many people I struggle with the balance between commitment to my vocation and my family. I dare say I have a degree of emotional and intellectual maturity. But I would be incredibly sad if I ever let those markers of maturity stand in the way of letting in a healthy dose of immaturity from time to time. Sometimes that immaturity means watching Farscape all the way through for the 5th time (my love of which knows no shame). Sometimes it means taking giddy delight in discussing the intricacies of Eucharistic theology. Sometimes it means laughing with my own child.
At the end of the day, I probably agree that adult preschool is a kind of silly idea. But maybe we need “adult preschools” and “adult colouring books” (as bizarre as they might seem) because we have forgotten how to live as children in our everyday lives. Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is not how we can be more “mature” and more properly “grown up”, but how real maturity means knowing when it is time to let ourselves be “immature.” Remembering to whom the kingdom of God really belongs.