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... an inspirational read


Overheard in a supermarket recently:

“I see you have started your Christmas shopping. I’m not doing Christmas this year. Now that the children have grown up there is not much point is there? I guess I shall have to wait until I become a grandmother, because it is only when there are children around that Christmas makes any sense”!

Martin E. Marty’s

The Mystery of the Child

  Sr Kathleen’s review of Martin Marty’s book therefore comes at a very apposite time, when so many of us have our attention hopefully on the Christ Child and all the Hope that his arrival into our world manifests. In drawing our attention to what sounds like a riveting book for all of us who have been children (and maybe some of us still are at heart) we can use the opportunity to be connected to the mystery not only of childhood itself but also to the mystery of the Incarnation.  

This book is one of a series written as a result of a research project at the University of Chicago. The series is based on family life in the widest sense and addressed to an American audience. The Mystery of the Child draws on Christian resources and those of the other Abrahamic faiths.

This book has so much to offer everyone, not only those who have a direct relationship with children, parents, grandparents, teachers, carers and so on, but anyone interested in the realm of the child.

The child as mystery is basic to Marty’s approach – a child created by God and made in God’s likeness. It’s with this priority & from this viewpoint that all aspects of the subject are explored. The excellent early chapters dealing with the day-to-day practical issues, the provision of care and management control and so on, are never allowed to eclipse the underlying mystery, the uniqueness of each child, their openness and responsiveness, their dependence and trust and sense of wonder. A certain sensitivity is required and a too heavy reliance on control is seen as a possible danger both for the true development of the child – and indeed for the carer, should the desire to control dominate.

In a later chapter, ‘Wonder in the provision of care’, Marty draws heavily on the writings of theologian Karl Rahner, who sees childhood not as a state applying to the early years of life, but rather as an essential element running through the whole of life. Christ’s words ‘Unless you become as little children you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven’, showing the importance of the childlike qualities of openness to change, receptivity and wonder, are all needed for the full development of the person into adult life. In the very last chapter, ‘The abyss of Mystery, Postscript and Prescript’ Marty connects the child with all the ages of life, right to the end, to the call to change and to become as children (he uses the world ‘childness’ to denote the qualities of childhood, not in any way to be confused with ‘childish’).

Throughout the book Marty draws a host of writers from all times and all places which makes this a very ‘rich’ book, one to have by you and to return to often.

M.E. Marty’s The Mystery of the Child was published by William B. Eerdmans in 2007.

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