The child’s unknowing is also fertile… we have to find ways to unlearn those things that screen us from the perception of profound truth. We have to achieve the child’s unknowing because we have been made so smart. Zen also recommends not losing the “beginners mind,” so important for immediacy in experience. – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, pp51-52
I recently visited Fiji for a holiday with my family. While I was there a friend commented that the local Fijians seem to be full of joy. As I pondered this comment, I also observed that many of the local people possessed a childlike playfulness which infused every aspect of their lives. I suspect this childlike playfulness is also one of the things that attracts many tourists to Fiji. As I found, this childlike playfulness is also somewhat contagious.
One night as I was putting my daughter to bed with my wife, some inexplicable desire to tickle and giggle with my girls welled up within me. The seriousness of the bedtime routine and the importance of getting off to sleep at a reasonable hour miraculously evaporated from my mind. In that moment, I entered into a state of childlike bliss, enjoying a truly divine encounter, as the three of us giggled and played. I think this is what Jesus means when he says “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” All too often, however, we find our childlike natures being stifled by the demands for efficiency and productivity which our world prizes above all else. As Thomas Moore notes,
We are a society that finds it difficult to discover the exuberant joy and spontaneity of childhood; instead, we spend great sums of money on electronic entertainment centres that don’t speak to the soul’s need for childlike direct pleasure. Care of the Soul, p53
The infusion of childlike playfulness and joy into every aspect of life is crucial to experiencing true spiritual life.
There is also another aspect of child likeness which is essential for true spiritual insight: childlike awe and wonder. While the adult mind seeks to understand and to master the world around it, the childlike mind embraces the awe and majesty of the world around it. With a childlike appreciation of God St Augustine writes,
We are speaking of God; what marvel, if thou do not comprehend? For if thou comprehend, He is not God. Be there a pious confession of ignorance, rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To reach to God in any measure by the mind, is a great blessedness; but to comprehend Him, is altogether impossible. Sermon 117.3.5
I love snorkelling and scuba diving. There is just something about swimming with tropical fish, and sharing their world which makes my soul soar. When snorkelling or scuba diving there are no distractions, no phones or no voices, only complete immersion in the underwater world. The joy I experience in these moments does not come from an intellectual mastery of marine biology, but rather through my complete presence and participation in this aquatic wonderland. In the presence of the ocean’s beauty and wonder there are no words, only worshipful awe. While the childlike mind squeals in divine joy at the chance of such a scared space, the adult mind overlooks the beauty and splendour before it seeing only objects to be categorised and analysed.
The childlike mind does not seek to master God in an intellectual sense, but rather to experience and enjoy God in everyday life. This allows the childlike mind to seek and experience true spiritual life outside those places where the adult mind might expect to find God. A childlike spirituality turns the whole world into a temple in which God can be found and enjoyed. We must cultivate this childlike spirituality in order to experience God in everyday life, while remaining ever vigilant against the tendency of our adult mind to explain and master the world around us.