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The Mystery of the Child.

THE MYSTERY OF THE CHILD By Martin E. Marly (Eerdmans, 2007)

Don't think of The Mystery of the Child as another how-to parenting book. Martin E. Marty, one of America's foremost religious commentators (and author of Context, a newsletter published by the Claretians), is no fan of mechanistic handbooks that imply "that the child can be understood, explained, and somehow cut down to size, and thus will turn out in ways that will please adults with their various cultural preconceptions."

Of course parents have to protect, nurture, instruct, and guide their children. But even more, Marty asserts they have to be attuned to their child as "a subject and object of wonder." In other words, parents, teachers, pastors, and other caregivers need to recognize that each child--like each person--is a mystery, and they need to be open to that mystery. They need to let the child bloom in her or his unique way.

But this work of philosophy, theology, sociology, psychology, and history doesn't stop there. Marty argues that a key attribute of children is their receptiveness that, in the words of theologian Karl Rahner, takes "the form of trust, of openness, of expectation ... of interior harmony with unpredictable forces." In this way, the child represents all those, such as the poor and social outcasts, who are receptive because they are vulnerable, marginalized, and powerless. What's good for the child is good for all at the edge.

At his book's deepest level, though, Marty plumbs the meaning for grown-ups of what he calls Jesus' "dreadful and ... promising call" in Matthew's gospel: "Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (18:3). He argues not only that adults shouldn't control their children, but also that they need to learn from children how to be open and receptive to life and to God.

The call of Jesus, he writes, isn't to leave childhood behind, but to incorporate the freshness, vulnerability, and wonder of a child through all of one's years.--Patrick T. Reardon
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved.

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Author:Reardon, Patrick T.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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