When I was teaching high school and, later, working in religious education with teenagers, I always referred them to the first letter of Timothy, a young disciple of Paul, specifically to the line that said, “Never let people look down on you because you are young, but see that they look up to you because of your love and faith and purity.” This morning I find that line (1TIM 4:12) – although translated a bit differently as “Let no one have contempt for your youth…” – as a call to all of us who are older to give more than a passing glance to young people whose journey to adulthood has likely been much more complicated than mine and to seek the good that may sometimes be hidden in them.
Another of my memories from those days of parish religious education was the shift in translation of the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit” taught as they prepared for the sacrament of Confirmation. Most welcome was the change from “fear of the Lord” to “wonder and awe in God’s presence.” That made so much sense to me. I believe that the sense of that gift was always “God is so big and I am so small” but rather than conveying a duty to cower in the face of that huge presence, we are called to bow in wonder to the majesty and beauty of God. Perhaps that awe is most easily seen in small children for whom almost everything is a cause for wonder.
Lest you think I am lost in a reverie of by-gone teaching days, I was drawn to think of all this in connection as I read Psalm 111 today, which says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This reminds me that I need to nurture that sense of wonder and awe in young people, listen to them for growing insights about the workings of God in the world and find wisdom where it is birthed in them. We generally hear that wisdom is a virtue not characteristic of the young. While it is true that experience is the best teacher of wisdom, I would advocate for attention to what they can teach us older folks of newness and fresh perspective, and pray for them as they will be the ones to change the world.