Monday, January 23, 2012

Middle Ages Wisdom for Parenting Today

Since we are studying the Early Middle Ages I thought I'd expand my reading in order to better teach the kids as we progress through the centuries.  I'm therefore reading Thomas Cahill's Mysteries of the Middle Ages.  While I don't agree entirely with his interpretation of the motives behind some of the early Christian leaders of the Church, I do find his tracing of the actual history to be fascinating.

Jumping ahead to the twelfth century, Cahill introduces us to Hildegard, the child of a pious knight and his pious, well-born wife.  "Hildegard was eight years old when she was left for life with an anchorite named Jutta von Sponheim, who lived alone in a cell attached to the abbey church of Saint Disibod."

Hang in with me here— there is a point to all this.

According to Cahill, this practice of offering a child as a "living oblation" had its roots in the ancient religious rituals of the Greeks and Romans, pagans and Jews.  Children became living offerings devoted to the service of a divinity.  In Scripture we see this in the story of the child Samuel, who was given to Eli at a very young age to be raised in the service of God.

As bizarre as this may sound, the description given of the life of an anchorite goes even further.  An anchorite was a person, most often female, but occasionally male, who went beyond the withdrawal from the world chosen by average monks or nuns.  An anchorite was actually— literally— closed off from the world by being bricked up into a permanent cell built into a wall of an abbey church or cathedral with a slit or screened window that allowed her (or him) to view the sacred services without being seen by others.  "While the rest of us went about our worried lives, they prayed for us continually, speaking always to God on our behalf."

I'm not sharing all of this in order to deliver an opinion on the merits of such a practice, but rather, to share something which Hildegard later wrote concerning the heart of faith which such a lifetime commitment required.

"In Scivitas, the book by which she is best known, Hildegard would counsel parents on the utter necessity of obtaining their child's consent before offering him as an oblation.  "If you offer a child to Me," says the voice of Jesus,
      ...and that offering is against his will because you have not sought his consent to it, you have not acted rightly; you have offered a ram.  How?  If someone offers a ram at My altar without binding its horns strongly with ropes, the ram will certainly run away.  So also if a father or mother offer their child, who is the ram, to My service, but do not honor his will, which is his horns, by assiduous care or supplication or entreaty or diligent exhortation, which are the ropes that bind him, since by all these the child should be brought to consent in good will; not having been proved by these tests, he will certainly run away, physically or mentally, unless God guards him by a miracle.
      And if you, O human, confine that child with such great strictness of bodily discipline that he cannot free himself from the pressure of his will's repugnance, he will come before Me [at the Last Judgement] arid and fruitless in body and soul because of the captivity unjustly inflicted upon him without his consent.  Then I will say to you, O human who has bound him:
      I had a green field in my power.  Did I give it to you, O human, that you might make it put forth whatever fruit you wished?  And if you sow sand in it, can you make it grow into fruit?  No.  For you do not give the dew, or send forth the rain, or confer fresh moisture, or draw warmth out of the burning sun, all of which are necessary to produce good fruit.  So too, you can sow a word in human ears, but into his heart, which is My field, you cannot pour the dew of compunction, or the rain of tears, or the moisture of devotion, or the warmth of the Holy Spirit, through all of which the fruit of holiness must grow."

Such wisdom from the heart of a woman raised on God's Word and prayer.

We are given children on trust from the Lord, that we may raise them up to serve Him.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverb 22:6) 

Each of our children are unique and there is no single mold into which we may fit them.  Raising them up to the Lord is manifestly the most confusing, difficult, heartbreaking, and glorious occupation any parent ever undertakes.  We are responsible to God and to our children to do all that is within us to accomplish this high calling.  And yet it is beyond us entirely if the Lord does not, "give the dew, or send forth the rain, or confer fresh moisture, or draw warmth out of the burning sun, all of which are necessary to produce good fruit."

What I may have planned or imagined for my children; how their walks with the Lord ought to look, how He ought to deal with them— for their good and His glory— may not actually be how He has planned for them to walk, or how He will deal with them, or how He will reveal His glory through them.  My part is to continue with, "assiduous care (and) supplication (and) entreaty (and) diligent exhortation" and prayer, prayer, and more prayer.  I also need to remind myself on a daily basis to commit them to the Lord, and to earnestly seek His wisdom and guidance in raising them unto Him.

"As for me, I would seek God,
 and to God I would commit
 my cause, 
Who does great things and 
marvelous things without number..."
-Job 4:8-9

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