As I sit, doing some reading for one of my classes, a song gets stuck in my head, and i automatically open up youtube and play the Mary Poppins Soundtrack.
And what, you might ask, prompted this nostalgic trip into my musical-filled childhood? Ironically, it was a poem by William Blake, and for those of you who haven’t heard it, here it is:
The Chimney Sweeper
A little black thing among the snow
Crying ‘weep, ‘weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil’d among the winter’s snow;
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy, & dance &sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery.
As I finished writing my response to the poem, I realized I had finally gotten to “Chim- Chim-Cheree”, and, as I’m sure you can understand, it wasn’t quite the same as I remembered. As I read and began to understand what exactly a chimney-sweep’s life was like, and that they weren’t a well-choreographed group of young men, but mainly orphaned boys small enough to fit inside the chimneys starting at age 5 or 6, I was suddenly hit with a realization.
In the poem, the author commented several times on the passive attitude the church held, embodied by the nonchalant and cold tone the parents had towards the “little black thing” that was their son. When he was in need, they were “both gone up to the church to pray.” Later on in the poem, the boy says he was also ignored when he seemed to be doing well, “because I am happy, & dance & sing… [they have] gone to praise God & his Priest & King…”
Just like the church was “gone” when these young chimney sweeps were stuck in dangerous and unhealthy child labor, so the church is “gone” in many of the issues we are facing today– and not just the well-known issues like the Syrian refugee crisis.
I have to wonder, what are we missing right now, as we allow ourselves to be distracted by trivial things, and instead fall into the practice of easy/pretty church without actually “doing” church?
Of course, there are plenty of other things to be said of the poem, but I think it’s very telling that the most attention that chimney-sweeps have ever gotten has been through Mary Poppins, and it is nowhere near accurate. As a kid, I knew that it was obviously fictional, and of course the chimney sweeps couldn’t just take the chimney like an elevator up to the roof and have a dance party, but I had no idea that the job of a chimney sweep was less-than-favorable, let alone in many cases fatally dangerous.
How much are we missing?
Just a thought.