A Child Can Lead Us

Over and over this summer I’ve experienced the ways children bring us into an awareness of the presence of what is holy. Whether you spell Spirit with an ‘S’ capital or lowercase, children slip into ours hands small and treasured and take us wading. They splash us with the serious and the surprising.  With their imagination, their wonder, their fears, and their curiosity, they draw us into the fluid waters of what is mysterious and enough.

Sometimes they ask us questions that encourage us to find words for what we has gone barely examined within us.

Sometimes our language for these potent and mysterious things is different than that of their parents. How do we offer our hearts to children’s questions in a way that weaves the ways parents and grandparents see what they encounter? How do we use words with valence enough for diverse views to flow and meet in those waters of mystery and Spirit?

Early this week my middle grand-daughter, her parents, my father (Great Babba) and my husband (Babba John) and me (Amma) travelled to the small island where my father was born to be part of a memorial gathering for my uncle. It was a beautiful time of reconnecting, remembering, honouring, and laying to rest a beloved man. At such a time a three year old has questions. I hoped a story might help and it did.  Perhaps it will help you too as you ponder big questions alone or with a young companion.

One morning Maya got up and remembered it was a special day.

It was the day she was going on a boat with her mommy and daddy, her Amma and Babba John and her Great Babba.

They were going to ride the boat to an island where Great Babba was born in a big house.

They were also going to spend some time in a small building called a church. A church is a place where people go to be together and talk about the biggest love, some people call this love God. Some people have other names for this love. That’s okay.

Maya got dressed and drove down to the place where they would take the boat. She looked at the big ropes that tied the boat to the place where it rested. She talked to the man who drove the boat. Her Mommy and Daddy and Amma and Babba John stayed close to her. Riding the boat was an adventure.

When they got to the island, lots of people, walked to the church. Remember what a church is?

Great Bubba rode on a golf cart so his legs wouldn’t run out of gas*. Some children rode too. In the church, Amma sang a song about someone who keeps people safe and lots of people told big stories. There were also little stories called prayers. People tell them to the biggest love that some people call God. We try to see how quiet we can be when people say prayers.

All these stories and prayers were about someone Amma calls Uncle Earle. He was Great Babba’s brother. He lived for many, many years until it was time for him to die. Uncle Earle had a big smile and happy eyebrows. He had a kind heart and loved ice cream. There are lots of stories people want to tell about Uncle Earle, and so we might be in the church for a long time. It’s okay to read or colour or go for a walk while people are telling their stories.

After all the stories we’ll all have ice cream together.

Later we’ll go to a pretty place outside where we’ll tell some more stories. We’ll hear the wind blow, but not too hard. Maybe there will be a little rain, maybe some sun. Amma will tell stories, short ones, the kind called prayers, and someone will lower a very special box of Earle dust into the ground. Earle dust is something like the most beautiful grains of soft sand on the beach or the brightest dust from the stars in the sky. Wrapping the special dust up and putting it in a safe place makes us feel sad and glad at the same time.

When we are done, we’ll make a little hill of stones that we’ve brought, one for each of us. Maya will have a stone too.

Then it will be time for Maya and Daddy and Mummy, Amma and Babba and Great-Bubba to get in the boat again to go back to their Cape Breton house. We’ll have supper together and someone will tell a little story to the greatest love, that some people call God, and we’ll all be very quiet (which is sometimes hard to do) during the little story called grace. We’ll do the best we can. Whatever happens it will be okay. We’ll talk about the boat ride and all the things we saw. We’ll be happy to be together.

We were happy to be together and now we hold hands around the table for a minute or so at meals. We are quiet (or almost) and both Maya and Great-Babba and all of us in-between find a way to come to gratitude from the various places where we look at life.

If it’s time for you to be exploring the mystery of death with the child in your life you might want to check out Cry Heart But Never Break
a beautifully written and illustrated picture book about how death comes and how love lingers.

Don’t forget to share.

About Catherine Smith

A retired minister with the United Church of Canada I’ve grown up in church, been ordained and served communities that are small or in transition. I’ve seen firsthand just how powerful these experiences can be in helping to foster meaningful connections with others and the Other, the mystery that holds us all. My greatest hope is that my writing and this website will help you live well in the big questions that face all of us in this beautiful, aching world.


  1. Rev. Susan Girard on August 18, 2023 at 9:01 am

    This is very beautiful and touching and profoundly simple yet so deep! Love it!

    • Catherine Smith on August 18, 2023 at 8:40 pm

      Thank you, Susan; I’m glad to hear from you.

  2. Alice Finnamore on August 18, 2023 at 8:29 am

    Love this story, Catherine. Hugs.

    • Catherine Smith on August 18, 2023 at 8:38 pm

      I’m so glad, Alice. Blessings ~

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