Becoming Children Again

LTC-brjohn-clean

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

Matthew 11:25

Academia is among the most competitive of environments. So often after a lecture or reading, the questions from those attending will not really be questions at all, but rather an attempt to demonstrate equal or better competency on the part of the questioner or to merely “show up” the presenter. This is, of course, not always the case, and there are, thankfully, many situations of true learning and humble study. Furthermore, we all know truly learned and wise people whose wisdom is manifest in their humility, in their awareness of all that they don’t know.

Why do we study and learn? As with every human endeavor the reasons are complex. In the United States, Europe, and much of the world in our day, educations is a commodity. We seek to become educated in order to rise up in status and to grow in wealth. Across our political spectrum we speak of valuing education but almost exclusively as a means of economic success. Very seldom do we hear of the responsibility to educate all of our children for the sake of their development in moral virtue and in the service of their spiritual awakening and distinctively human formation. Without a mooring in our spiritual dimension and transcendent capacities, learning becomes merely a tool in the service of “self-actualization” and of ego (and egocentric) development.

It is from this perspective as personal possession and attribute that learning is an obstacle to receiving the word and the person of Jesus. Once we have become “wise and learned” in this way, our pride in and attachment to our own ideas becomes one of the greatest obstacles to receiving the gift of God’s presence and love that each moment and each personal other is uniquely offering us. One of the distinguishing marks of children is how large and wide open are their eyes. Children look at the world with the eye of an artist or poet. Almost everything is a source of awe and wonder to them. They have not, as yet, developed the preconceived notions and ideas that keep them from really seeing what is right before them and, in a real sense, offering itself to them as a gift.

Of course we cannot return as adults to the naïveté of the child. It is helpful, therefore, to think of developing the spiritual disposition that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls “second naïveté.” Far from being an “anti-intellectual” attitude and despising learning, this requires that we stretch our capacities of mind and spirit to the degree that are open in our own humlity and truth to all that we don’t know. Rather than closing down the world and the word to our own preconceived notions and limited ideas, it is a stance whereby we contemplate and listen to reality in its Mystery, waiting on an ever new revelation of the deep life and truth of what is before us. It is a presence, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, to “the dearest freshness deep down things.”

We would be much better off if our past experience and wisdom were made to live within the raw life-experience of the self here and now. Instead we think that kind of conceptual existence is our real life of the present, and we end up being dragged around by our thoughts. We do things that only stifle raw life. This is happening all the time. When an individual is like this, he can be admitted to a mental institution as a schizophrenic, but when huge masses of people begin to act like that, there is no hospital big enough. Most unfortunately, such groups of fanatics eventually shape the very history of the human race. If we think about it, there is no doubt that everyone is always living out the reality of life. But so often we live blindly, so caught up in our thoughts that we think they alone are what is real and complete. This is a kind of insane reality. The important thing is to find a sane way to live out the reality of life. This is what a true spiritual practice is about: not spirit or mind separated from the body and the world, but a true way of life. This is what zazen is—a practice of living out the fresh reality of life.

Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

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