On Eating Small Children

Our desire to eat children is certainly a human oddity. It is commonly discovered in big bosomed aunts who see a baby or toddler and declare, “I could just gobble you up!” Fortunately, such declarations are usually only followed by smothering hugs, cheek pinches, and kisses.

Ari, our seven-year-old grandson, brought us a Valentine’s picture that said, “I love you to pieces.” This too is a frightening phrase if taken literally. But I think the expression flows from the same impulse as “I love you to death.” It is a love so strong that it borders on dangerous.

The desire to eat small children is healthy if rightly understood. It flows from an intoxication with their beauty, innocence, and vitality. Often old folks like me look wistfully at little tikes and wish for their boundless energy. When we see their innocent delight in the world bubble over, we long to drink that elixir.

Famously, Wordsworth declared children coming into the world from God “trailing clouds of glory.” Indeed, there is a fragrance of immortality about small children—something eternal and uncorrupted. Something we lose but hunger for all our lives.

When I see Ari asleep in his grandmother’s lap, his legs now sprawling and dangling nearly to the floor, I see what may be his last days of feeling completely safe. His sleep is undisturbed by fears of the future or mistakes of the past.

The desire to devour the goodness of children may, nonetheless, still seem terrible even if figurative, but consider the Eucharist where we eat the body of Christ and drink His blood. We desire to eat children for the same reason; we long to take into ourselves their vitality, innocence, beauty, and joy.

And like the Lord’s Supper, the impulse to eat children points us both backward and forward. First, it is a desire to recover what we once possessed as a child—innocence and goodness. It is also a longing for the safety and beauty of the garden before evil marred all things and alienated us from nature.

We desire to gobble up children also springs from our longing for the day when we are made new, and our broken bodies put on immortality. We look for a day when all God’s children are safely home—a day when we will play more than we pray.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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