In the film “Finding Neverland” there’s this great scene; it’s opening night for the play “Peter Pan,” and the theatre is packed except for 25 seats kept in reserve by the author, James Barrie, played brilliantly by Johnny Depp. Dustin Hoffman’s character is the play’s producer and financier, a Jew named Charles Frohman, who nervously paces in front of the box office because of the 25 empty seats.
Minutes before the curtain goes up, 25 orphaned children ages 3-13 walk single file down the sidewalk and into the theatre. Depp’s character strategically places the children throughout the audience of snobbish adults dressed in evening gowns and tuxedoes… sneering as the children climb over them to take their seats.
The thing is, the author knew his audience of adults would struggle to see the meaning of his play. They needed to have their eyes opened and the gears of their imaginations lubricated by the laughter of these children, who would instantly perceive its meaning.
We were blessed to observe a similar scene in the streets of Jerusalem during Yom Kippur and Sukkot or Tabernacles. The Prophet Zechariah saw this vision when he wrote, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Old men, and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.” Zechariah 8:4-5
When you reflect on your childhoods, have you ever wondered why they were so long compared to other animals? Perhaps because it takes years for the genius of childhood to imprint upon our hearts and memory… that playfulness and wonder in adults are just an echo from our childhoods that foreshadows and anticipates our destiny. Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16). Evidently, child-likeness has immense value in the Kingdom of God.
On the Jewish calendar, we just completed Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement ,and next week begins the week-long party known as Sukkot.
To me, that these feasts follow one another is symmetrical and poetic. The Day of Atonement reminds us that the slate has been wiped clean, things have been made right with God… or, as St. Paul taught us, God has reconciled us to himself and no longer holds our transgressions against us.
I don’t know about you, but that energizes me. It makes me almost giddy, like a child, when I think about it. Can you picture that feeling you got on the last day of school, knowing you had three full months of summer waiting for you? Day’s filled with baseball, swimming, lakes, boats, popsicles, campfires and s’mores? Do you remember the feelings that electrified your body as a child when you woke up on Christmas morning?
To me… in yet another example of God’s amazing redeeming genius, when properly understood… such amazing forgiveness and deliverance actually generates a response to itself… like a reflex… a design feature. The Day of Atonement, after a brief pause… to let the weight of what’s just happened to sink in… is followed by the week-long celebration of Sukkot, which beckons us not simply to a weeklong celebration with our families, friends, and strangers… but to a more childlike life, a life filled with freedom, lightness, and wonder.
A child lives now… in the present, utterly absorbed by its mysteries. I think the point of childlike play, and games is that they are pointless… they’re done for their own sake. My memory of how I played as a child is probably like yours. We lived without yesterday or tomorrow… we lived in the moment. I think it may well be as close as we’ll get on earth to what it will be like in paradise.
Isn’t this the miracle of childhood? Could it be because no other moment exists except now? I think it not only alludes to what paradise will be like, but it’s also sort of like God’s signature, isn’t it? After all, He did say his name was, “I am that I am.” The One who is the eternal present tense.
When was the last time you went out into the streets, ran, skipped, or found some other way to play and laugh?