The sense of wonder I felt watching my 8-year-old cousin at the beach stays with me. Collecting shells, she skipped in and out of the chilly water, combing the shifting sands on the water's edge.
Her work didn't keep her from engaging with those around her. Her warm welcome included discussing an unopened clam shell with adults and analyzing a sand flea with a boy her age. Younger children were blessed by her tender care as she pointed them to a pelican floating just out of reach. Then she joined their squeals of delight as they ran down the beach chasing seagulls.
The innocence of childhood. To see my cousin's strength and freedom was a relief because her parents had recently divorced. Our talks that weekend showed me the loyalty and love she felt for each parent. She had an uncomplaining unselfishness that I will not forget.
While the human mind perceives innocence as a quality most easily lost and disposed of, it's actually a quality that prevails through the harshest of life experiences. Mary Baker Eddy reinforced the point: "Innocence and Truth overcome guilt and error" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 568). This appears in a part of "Science and Health" that promises the triumph of Truth over error. "The beast and the false prophets are lust and hypocrisy. These wolves in sheep's clothing are detected and killed by innocence, the Lamb of Love" (p. 567).
It's encouraging to know that innocence relates to authority. In a world where popular models promote self-indulgent hedonism, we can defend in children the joy of unselfishness. Where children are misused for the pleasure or economic benefit of others, we can practice the alertness that offers safety and refuge.
We can support innocence by recognizing the spiritual facts about it, by understanding that innocence is the true condition of life, established from the beginning of creation as an expression of the one, all-good God. And because none of God's children began with a human birth - but were created with the knowledge of being loved by our Father-Mother, Love - their preexistent perfection cannot be contaminated by evil or become subject to the dream of life in matter. In fact, no human life experiences can ever displace or distort the identity of a child of God.
When we defend innocence in children (and adults!), we are defending their freedom to fulfill their life purpose - to express the purity, joy, and goodness of their divine source. This is the basis of self-worth. It includes the knowledge that every one of us is given talents for the purpose of serving and blessing others.
So, instead of feeling embattled - as if we're fighting a chain reaction of evil - we can recognize these talents in others and understand that every good thing done is God's glory being made known. For example, the qualities I could see in my young cousin that day on the beach were her engagement with life, her ability to welcome others, and her willingness to nurture younger children. These are the kinds of qualities that Jesus lived and preached, and they point to solid ingredients for a satisfying life purpose.
I can remember several times while my boys were growing up when I was unsettled about the influences operating in their lives. So often my peace would come and an adjustment would be made through a renewed commitment in my thought to my sons' right to fulfill their God-established mission. To know that their lives did not originate in matter and were not subject to the randomness of material life helped me honor the holiness in them that God had established and that God would nurture.
This law of God - protecting, maintaining, and sustaining each one of Love's cherished creations - is operating, preserving the awareness of our preexistent innocence. All children everywhere are embraced in this law, now and forever.
Adapted from The Christian Science Journal .