Childhood Theology

Children are little theologians, seeking and defining the gods that control the universe as they perceive it. Most of the tiny gods that made up my very own pantheon, they’re gone now. Through Knowing Better and the simple forgetfulness that keeps us all relatively sane, I ask no longer as many questions as kept my developing mind awake and wondering in the dark.

Church on Sunday was a help, but only so far. It was a mercy that I came up in the Methodist church, a denomination tolerant of the curious, forgiving and welcoming to the uncertain.

It didn’t help that I failed to ask many questions. A precocious and curious child, I spent most of my Sunday mornings deep in the litany trapped in the back of the Methodist Hymnal, the procedures and rituals. It wasn’t that I paid no attention to sermons and lessons, only that I was multi-tasking at an age too early. As a result, I’d hear stories from the Bible through a filter.

This explains my very distinct memory of Daniel in the Lines Den.

You know the story? Perhaps not? A royal decree goes out from King Darius that anyone caught worshipping any man or god other than the king will be punished in a very particular way. Of course, Daniel is seen praying as usual and is cast into the den.

16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.

17 And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.

18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him.

19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.

20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?

21 Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.

22 My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.

An exemplary story on the worth of faith.

Daniel believed. Daniel survived.

But then as I misunderstood it: “Cast him into the den of lines.” What could be so bad about a room full of lines, I wondered. But then I answered my own wondering. What if those lines were electric? Razor-sharp? Made of lasers? Daniel survived a night in a den of razor-laser lines because God stopped them.

My interpretation made Daniel nothing short of a superhero.

In the realm of darker childhood gods, I dreamt of a vampire that didn’t bite.

The spectre was the same always. At my bedside, the right-side, he’d appear, his face seeming bored with his trade and his eyes fixed upon me. After a few moments’ looming, he’d raise a hammer from his side, the face of it so broad it would crush me mostly.

It mattered not that a giant mallet was much more the wheelhouse of a scary clown than a third-rate Bela Lugosi. Dreamt of him often enough to be troubling, though when I’d wake and a parent or another would be asking what was so wrong, I’d not bother to explain. Until I was able to protectively pray him away, there he was. And so, inspired by the “Blessed Assurance” of several Sunday mornings, I decided a benevolent and protective God would never allow a child to be tormented by a hammer-wielding Count Dracula, the grey-faced vampire that I nightmare’d on a regular basis.

After all, Daniel’d been saved from lines.

The height of my reconfigured theology … Christ Himself suffered for my own sins, saving all of us from an active persecution. This seems not a disparate redefinition, but to my small self, the victory was not over the Fall of Man but against a kind of tyranny that sent all of humankind to imprisonment and torture. He saved us all so we needn’t suffer. And thus did I transpose in time half-heard stories of Christians fed to lions under Roman Emperors. It mattered not to my little mind that a Christ couldn’t possibly bring an end to the persecution of followers bearing witness more than thirty years late his Ascent.

A hero that saved needed a people to liberate actively.

This is how the small seek definition when reasons available are few and far between. Assembling legends from the truths and assumptions shared to us and around us. The rest of it, we’re left to define on our own.

As I grow a bit older, I wonder if this practice ceases when we grow. Or does it settle into a lower subroutine of process and definition. The unexplained presents itself and we give it cause based on what we’ve learned so far.

Miracles don’t cease with the increase of reason. The lions become lines and we deal as best we can, welcoming magic when no other possibility remains.

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