Sophomore Coner McFarlin was one of four Upper School students who served as trip interns to assist with the 4th grade trip to Williamsburg during our school's Interim week. In addition to "live Tweeting" highlights of the trip, the interns were asked to write a reflection on their Interim experience. Here, Coner makes connections between a puzzling bit of scripture, the story of Moses and Pharaoh, and mindset. He finds a new appreciation for the experience of being in Williamsburg with children and what its preservation means for our students and for our nation.
A couple nights before attending the Williamsburg trip, I remembered this bible verse, and how puzzled I am by it:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” Matthew 18:1-5
The more and more I think about what Jesus means when he says to “take the lowly position of [the] child” the less and less I understand.
There are so many admirable aspects of childhood: innocence, fearlessness, a lack of permanence, and all of these I see when I look at the 4th graders on the Williamsburg trip. Which of these was Jesus referring to?
Of course, there are some aspects of childhood equally observable in the 4th graders that are not as admirable. Surely Jesus didn’t mean to be like a child in the sense that I should be rude to my parents or complain about my feet hurting as I have occasionally observed the 4th graders do. Still, in each one of them there is some ingredient of childhood that I feel I do not have.
Williamsburg itself is impressive and what these kids make of their experience there is unique. Williamsburg is a town consisting of seemingly ancient practices, men and women dedicated to preserving a way of life which has come and gone. No iPhones, no televisions, everything is authentic to the 17th-18th century time period.
While we were there a new building was just starting to be built, and to accomplish this the brick maker was making thousands of bricks in the brickyard, the way they did it back then. Blacksmiths were hammering out nails for the construction, the shoemaker was providing shoes for these staff members to do their jobs, and the cooper had just made a new container for the shoemaker to hold his supplies. In this way, life in Williamsburg is so much different than our lives today.
There is an intimacy between man and nature that stems from the colonial style of work, where each man had to do most things him or herself. This way of life made more out of less, and I felt connected, more connected than I ever have on any social media.
It is this simplicity that in its own way reflects the innocence, fearlessness, and lack of permanence that is present in these children. So what did Jesus mean when he said “take the lowly position of this child”? I believe it has something to do with this lack of permanence, the simplicity. It is the thing that allows a 4th grader in Williamsburg to get into an argument while trying his hand at making barrels, and then, a minute later, realize his wrong and immediately apologize to his entire group (and to me, too!) It is the same lack of rigidness that allowed members of the House of Burgesses to, despite their feelings towards England, vote with their gut for what the people wanted.
I am also reminded of the story of Pharaoh and Moses in ancient Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened against letting his slaves go free; he was so sure that his beliefs were right that no amount of plagues or curses were going to break his will towards keeping his slaves.
This is the same rigidness which takes up in my heart when I lose an argument, or embarrass myself, and choose to be prideful instead of humble. It is that instinct that destroys all growth. It is that instinct which is not present in these children, for the most part.
There is, of course, no ideal child and each of them are different, but it is there in each one of them. Nevertheless, we should all strive to be childlike in the sense that we cannot let pride interfere with seeking truth, because if we do not take the lowly position of the child, all of our seeking truth will be fruitless.
Williamsburg has not only left its mark on the childhoods of our 4th graders, but also on the childhood of our nation. It is perhaps one of the few places left on Earth that reflects the simplicity of an earlier time, that is devoted to this simplicity and actively practices it. And it is so amazing, there is nothing like it.
Photos by Coner McFarlin & Kelley Wolfe