I have not had the privilege yet in life to be a father, nor have I worked as extensively as many in children’s music. I have written and reflected a little on the subject this month as we focus on children’s music and as Kristyn and I begin to plan towards our new children’s music project being released in the next year.
The thoughts of two Irish people have been particularly challenging as we approach the subject of addressing artistic creativity in the context of the children who belong to our churches.
While at home in Ireland I live on the beautiful North Antrim Coast – many of you saw my father-in-law’s photographs on our facebook page – that’s County Antrim and, for the most part, County Derry where we live. It’s interesting that the fine hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander hails from there, having been a Pastor’s wife in Londonderry in the last century. She saw a need to write hymns that helped teach the Bible and, until recently, I was unaware that her efforts to teach the Apostle’s Creed through hymnody were actually efforts to teach the Apostle’s Creed specifically to children – hence hymns such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “Once in Royal David’s City”, and “There is a Green Hill Far Away” – and this to children without many of the education privileges we have today.
It strikes me particularly unusual, giving the fact that much of children’s literature today is story-driven, highly involved, complex, mystical and requiring of such intellectual commitment, yet much of children’s theological teaching, songs and even worship to Almighty God can be so simplistic and shallow rather than telling the ascendant and beautiful story of Christ. When it comes to writing for children I have also always loved what Belfast-born CS Lewis had to say in “On Stories”:
- No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better nor to have read at all.
- Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or E. Nesbit’s Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.
- When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
- Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.
- Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.
- And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime.
- Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, ‘I loathe prunes.’ ‘So do I,’ came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities.
So why have the creativity of Lewis and Alexander both had such enduring appeal to children and value to the church? Ultimately there is something mysterious about art but there are several factors we can certainly learn from:
- A high view of art: timeless excellence in all their work and paying no attention to temporary fads or gimmicks.
- A high love for people: the ability to always communicate warmly and accessibly through their art without patronizing us.
- An infectious and childlike love for God’s creation and all things that are good, true and beautiful.
- A clear, enthralling vision for helping people see with fresh eyes the Gospel story.
Read more about the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty at www.Gettymusic.com