by David Sisler

Prod-i-gy (Middle English, from Latin, 15th century). An extraordinary, marvelous, or unusual accomplishment, deed, or event; a highly talented child or youth.

If you read that definition of prodigy and see no image of yourself, welcome to the club. Obviously, there are far more of us who marvel at the accomplishments of the child prodigies, than there are prodigies. That, however, does not lessen the inadequacies we may feel around such individuals, even those we know only through history books.

Yehudi Menuhin, who died this year at the age of 82, was a child prodigy who fulfilled his promise to become one of the world's foremost violinists. A celebrated teacher and conductor, Menuhin debuted at age seven in 1924. By the time he was 13, he had performed in Paris, London and New York.

His appreciation for the violin was apparent early when he broke a toy instrument because it would not "sing." His grandmother sent him a check from Palestine on his fourth birthday to buy his first real violin.

Interviewed on his 80th birthday, he said "I feel no desire now to spend hours working away again at something which I myself in the past and other people can play far better than I can now."

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the greatest composers the world has ever seen. A prodigy in his early childhood, he was a successful musician during his whole lifetime. He wrote his first minuet (Andante in C) at the age of five, his first symphony when he was nine, and his first opera and Mass at twelve. His cataloged works number 626 pieces. Mozart's accomplishments are made even greater when we realize he died at age 35.

How could former World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik have known? After all, when he said, "The future of chess lies in the hands of this young man," Garry Kasparov was only 11 years old. Kasparov started playing chess at the age of 5. He was USSR Junior Champion at age 13, an International Grandmaster at 17. In November 1985, at age 22, he became the youngest World Champion in history by defeating Anatoly Karpov.

Kim Poor first exhibited her art work at the age of 12 in Rio de Janeiro. At 17 she left Brazil to study Fine Arts at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Later at Skidmore College she developed a new technique in enamel painting on steel. Layers of finely powdered glass are used as a glaze to deepen the colors and diffuse the images. Some of the paintings are fired up to a hundred times until she is satisfied with the results.

The late Salvador Dali christened her unique style "Diaphanism." The great surrealist master said that looking at Poor's paintings, he seemed to be looking "through colored gauze." Diaphanism, as a new word to describe an art style originating with Kim Poor, is to be included in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Name a field of study or artistic expression and the names of child prodigies will spring up. They have unusual gifts which propel them into greatness. But never have I met a Christian prodigy. A child of God is not a child prodigy. He is destined to fail repeatedly. Does that mean God is satisfied with mediocrity? No, but it is the way we grow.

Peter was no child prodigy, but one day he did walk on water. He is the only man other than Jesus ever to do so. Do you suppose in a moment of reflection he ever asked, "I was walking right towards Jesus and then I started to sink. Why did he let me sink?" And then he would have known the answer in his gut, "I took my eyes off of Jesus. I thought that I was doing it all on my own."

Do you know a child prodigy who never practiced and was still successful? Do you know a child prodigy who never studied and still reached her full potential? Why is it that be why we hear so much talk about child prodigies failing as adults?

If you are a Christian, and you know there will never be an entry in the dictionary which is attributed to your work, you know you will never write 600 pieces of music, and you know with the instinct of Yehudi Menuhin that you aren't doing as well today as when you started, and in fact, other people are doing better, what do you do? You have two choices: give up, and sink; or look back at Jesus and take his outstretched hand.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/25/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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