By Nicolás Panotto
I have been doing child theology for several years. Much of this stems from my work with religious organizations and theological programmes in holistic child development, as well as from my church work and partnership in projects with children in vulnerable situations.
But the main reason I am involved in this process is because of my brother Juan Marcos who is two years younger than me. He is disabled due to an accident three weeks after his birth. His life is indeed a gift from God. It is a constant fight for survival at every stage of his life: his weak body facing daily demands and adversities.
As a family we have experienced a singular process. We value the richness of life in the smallest details. A timid smile, a hand movement carrying a spoon to his mouth, making a complete sentence with three words, taking five steps in one go, became for us elements that showed what transcendence means. In these “small gestures”, inscribed in the life of my brother, we could see that everything was possible. Every change, every movement, every achievement, however small it seemed, meant an unexpected and surprising turn.
Experience with Juan Marcos has marked me in every area of my life. Therefore, doing child theology is not about detached reflections on my life and work, but an unavoidable and inevitable starting point to approach political theology, post-colonialism, public space or any other academic task. The experience of vulnerability and the emergence of small but important glimpses of life in the midst of darkness and uncertainty have helped me to understand the divine transcendence manifested, not as something supernatural but rather as the possibility-of-being-more in the most concrete everyday experience.
The inability of his body to develop what is “normal” or “appropriate”, especially in relation to modes of communication, showed us that he never gave up wanting to be seen and recognized. He always showed his feelings, his desires, his sorrows and joys. We simply needed to read his gestures, movements and expressions. Here we find that the body is a mysterious universe in itself, not only in its physical existence but also in its ability to develop in the middle of an open and relational environment inscribed in love. The body contains within itself the divine beauty of revelation and show an unimaginable capacity to manifest itself in practical and down to earth ways.
Juan Marcos has taught us that nothing in life is calculable and predictable. It is living the day in full confidence and in the hope that things will just be… as they happen! There will always be surprises, either in full joy or in deep suffering. That’s life, isn’t? My brother has taught us not to discern this dynamic as remote, but as a daily experience.
As I understand child theology, it means opening to the transcendence of God at that very moment of revelation when Jesus puts a child in the midst of his disciples as a metaphor of the kingdom (Matthew 18:1-4). It was a real child, of flesh, bones and skin, from a community, a social status and a specific context. His body, his presence, his uniqueness, were the elements that God chose to manifest.
Juan Marcos forced me to see how to do theology in a completely radical and unorthodox way. It was a break-through that unlocked a radically different way of seeing life, the body and the revelation of faith. And all this because he taught me how to live and have faith in a different way. With him I learned that the divine is shown in a distinctive way within the fragility of the body, glimpsed in small movements. Rather than this being seen as negative, it proves, on the contrary, to be an instance that leads us to critically rethink the mainstream ways of understanding context, life, faith and theological work. God is manifested as daily intrusions into Juan Marcos’ life, with twists and turns, ups and downs, fears and confidences, joys and tears.
The divine is revealed in the fissures that opened the weakness of his existence, questioning the normality, the glories and the objective features imposed on us. Few things have been as shocking to me. This is why I now wonder whether my fascination with deconstruction doesn’t come solely from a postmodern philosophical fashion, but from my family experience, where we have had to assess what appears on the reverse, or other, side of history: our story.
From all this experience I believe and affirm: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong “(1 Cor. 1:27).