One of my favorite books of all time is Antione de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which pairs a pilot stranded in the desert with a little boy who is traveling the Universe, intent on discovering the answers to some of life’s greatest mysteries. Along the way, the boy, known only as the Little Prince, meets a fox. The fox teaches the Little Prince about friendship, and when it is time for the two to part, the fox leaves the boy with the gift of these words: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I think there is truth and great wisdom in the fox’s message, and I am challenging each of us to keep these words in mind as we all watch the unfolding and blossoming of our Religious Education program this year. Some of us are watching with excitement and enthusiasm, others with cautious optimism, and still others with trepidation. We all want our RE Program to flourish and thrive, but how will we know if we’re doing it right? How will we measure our success? Some might suggest that our success be measured by attendance numbers, or by our children’s eagerness to come to church on Sundays, or by the ability of our kids to recite the seven UU Principles from memory. I would like to boldly suggest that we consider measuring our success by something much less tangible. (I know, I know… I am asking a community that places great value on science and reason to cast aside the comfort of measurable outcomes. Just humor me for a bit!)
The fox tells us that what is essential cannot always be seen with the eyes, or heard with the ears, but it can be understood by the heart. As a parent, I know this to be true, particularly in terms of my children as part of our UU community. Being a UU is a solid part of their identity. Does this mean they are always eager to get out of bed on Sunday mornings to come to church? Nope, not always. Can they recite the seven principles from memory? I doubt it. But do they know how to ask good questions? How to search for answers? Do they know the importance of caring for others, for themselves, and for our world? Do they know that they have a minister, and a community to whom they can turn for guidance and support? Most importantly, do they know that they are loved just exactly as they are? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and most definitely yes! I contend that these intangibles are far more indicative of a successful RE program than the old tried-and-true measures, which perhaps made sense once upon a time but are no longer truly relevant.
So, by all means, ask your kids what they’re learning in RE. Ask them how the story they heard in children’s worship relates to one of the seven principles. Ask them why they lit a chalice in Spirit Play. Ask them about the mysterious empty box that holds invisible gifts in Wonderful Welcome. Over the next weeks and months, I know they will have lots to share. But then I also encourage you to look and listen, not with your eyes and ears, but with your heart. For as our wise friend the fox tells us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”