I can still remember the prayer book my parents gave me when I was about eight years old.
oking back now I wonder what I made of the material in the listed Ten Commandments, explaining that a big sin (aka a mortal sin) was something awful like eating meat on Friday or murdering somebody.
Friday abstinence from meat was, to some, the hallmark of a Catholic in those days. I recall one of the illustrations showing a boy stealing a cake from his mum while his guardian angel looked horror-struck at this scene of grand larceny.
The commandment that gave me most anxiety was the ban on coveting my neighbour's wife. I asked my parents what "covet" meant. They said that they would tell me when I was a bit older. I am still waiting.
Meanwhile I continued to kick balls into my neighbour's garden while trying not to covet his wife by accident.
One other possible sin was mentioned - that of preventing my servants from attending their religious duties on Sundays.
By and large I have concluded that the author of my prayer book knew as much about children as I do about Babylonian cuneiform script.
Jesus said that we should all be like little children. Many of us are familiar with a picture of a scene with Jesus surrounded by golden haired little darlings and such words as "Suffer little children to come unto me".
The truth is that children can be horrors. I have many memories of my childhood. While I never coveted wives, oxen or asses, I made up for my 'virtue' with a fair amount of moral decline. Bullying is commonplace and while my generation showed its spirit of revolt by enjoying a crafty fag behind the cycle sheds, now knife crimes by the young are commonplace with a marked absence in the criminals of remorse.
Jesus taught that we should be like little children. Clearly he did not mean that we should resort to violence. What has happened is that we have confused 'childlike' with 'childish'.
Being childish is fun if we are children.
Leapfrog is a fine game for the young but together with other childish games should be avoided by those of mature years.
However, 'childlike' is a quality displayed by children when they realise their own limitations and appreciate their dependence. Among adults, for example, there is a strong urge to DIY. DIY may be fine when it comes to fitting a new ball-cock but not recommended when it comes to salvation.
We need help.
The world has been shattered by news of a cyclone in Burma and an earthquake in China, both with heavy loss of life and appalling damage, and some are attributing the disasters to God as if he is a short-tempered and cruel despot.
The childish adults are more than likely to see him as such.
The childlike will see how we can help without delay.
I managed to get the reputation of being somewhat worse in my treatment of children than King Herod. This was because I suggested that handing a hymn book to toddlers was asking for trouble.
The average comment from the mini hymn books users was 'delicious' as they ate the book (a bite with me?)
I also fell foul of parents when I tried to dissuade children from lighting every candle in sight in the church and leaving them in dangerous positions.
When I have been reminded that Jesus welcomed little children and that I should do the same, I explain that I prefer children whose parents occasionally use the word NO in their dealings with them.
Parents are more childish than their children when it comes to their behaviour.
In our dealings with God, one teacher would begin prayer sessions with the words: "Dear Lord, as you know… and proceeded to remind him of what he knew, at great length in case he had forgotten... again childish, not childlike.
One parishioner asked that I pray that her sister would fail her driving test as no one would travel with her. Her failure required no divine intervention.
The lady in question followed the Lord's rule of generosity when she drove - her left hand did not know what her right hand was doing.
And finally, on the theme of childhood... I heard of some children who used to play near a cemetery.
They watched funerals and soon picked up the basics and played at funerals in their gardens. As the 'coffin' was lowered they were heard to say: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and into the hole he goes."