A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for this site about the sense of awe and wonder with which children tend to explore the world. Today, I want to briefly continue that theme.
In “Thoughts on Reverence and Wonder: The Eyes of a Child,” I talked about my soon to be four-year-old daughter, Salina. I am always amazed at how she sees the world in all its glory, the way God intended it to be seen, and responds without any sense of guile or bewilderment. Just yesterday we stopped the car along a rural lane near our home to watch a group of wild geese circle a field, then land in a large pond. My daughter’s eyes grew wide as she saw these birds gracefully glide almost silently on to the surface of the water. She sat there spellbound as she quietly took in this aspect of God’s remarkable world.
As I watched Salina watch the geese, my thoughts drifted back to my grandfather. My grandfather was in many ways my first spiritual director. Working as a game warden, a career that my father also pursued, he spent most of his time in natural settings and he had this uncanny ability to see the intricate and interconnected patterns that were everywhere to be witnessed if a person only had “eyes to see.” My grandfather often said that it was important to see each new day with what he called “fresh eyes.” A deeply spiritual man, he rarely attended the Baptist Church where my grandmother was an active member. Instead, he often went off into the woods of north Alabama with one of us grandkids in tow, giving us his own version of Sunday School.
I don’t say this to discount the importance of church-going, only to say that, for my grandfather, it was not a high priority. Coming from a family with a long tradition of Quakerism, my grandfather treasured silence and solitude and often told me that my “inner light” could best be seen on a calm lake or pristine mountaintop. According to my grandfather, the best way to rediscover my “fresh eyes” was to go into nature and go into “the sacred silence,” then just notice what was going on around me. Yesterday, as I watched Salina as she “noticed” the geese as they went about their business, I understood deeply that she had “fresh eyes” and that most children possessed this significant talent, at least until they were educated out of it.
I also understood why my grandfather never said I needed to develop fresh eyes; he always said I needed to rediscover them. The childlike perspective of awe and wonder that we all possessed when we were young is still there. Our task, with the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit, is to go through the cognitive clutter we have all accumulated and find it once again.
On the way home I also recalled a passage from a remarkable little book, written by Jeanne Gowen Dennis. The book is entitled, Running Barefoot on Holy Ground and subtitled, Childlike Intimacy With God. A fine and educative book, “Running Barefoot” discusses the notion of having fresh eyes. Let’s listen to the author:
Why do children notice so many things that adults miss? Maybe being closer to the ground gives them an advantage. Perhaps it’s because they’re discovering the wonders of the world around them for the first, second, or twentieth time, and somehow the novelty has not yet worn off. Unlike most adults, little children also pay attention to details. We are so distracted by our responsibilities that we often miss what is right before us. Perhaps we should take regular walks with toddlers and let them lead us along. Still, we’ll only learn to see through their eyes if we use the time to exercise our sight, not just our bodies.
Having Salina around has been a blessing in many wonderful ways, but one of the most beneficial spiritual lessons she has brought my way is helping me rediscover my fresh eyes – helping me learn to see again. She has in some magnificent manner taught me the spiritual discipline of “noticing.” For example, there was the time she looked into a clear night sky at a quarter-moon and said, “Look, it’s just like my fingernail,” or the occasion when she sat in wondrous rapture watching three butterflies flitting about on our back deck. As the two of us “noticed” the choreography of their airborne dance, I became aware that I was, for a few brief moments, actually seeing what was going on. It was, in a word, exhilarating.
All of this comes natural to children, but we adults must now somehow train ourselves to be open to the marvels God parades before us on a daily basis. It not only involves “slowing down to smell the roses,” no – it goes much deeper than that. In my experience, I have had to learn to live in my body again; allowing myself enough time to become reacquainted with my five basic senses and perhaps discover a few I didn’t know, or more likely forgot, that I even had. In order to see like a child, I needed to rediscover how to experience life in the pristine clarity of the moment – unsullied by morbid memories or future fears.
I not only needed to learn how to see – I needed to learn how to be.
A good way to begin this process of rediscovery is by learning to pay attention to what is coming in through your senses. Pick on of your senses, say hearing, and go outside and just spend five minutes paying attention to what you hear – the birds chirping in the trees, a distant plane overhead, a passing truck on the Interstate two miles away. Don’t strain to do this; simply allow the sounds to come in and just notice them. Just allow them to be what they are and just allow yourself to just be. I have found it useful to spend about three days on each one of my senses and to keep a journal of my experiences. I record what I noticed and also what prevented me from being present to my surroundings. For me, as well as others I have taught to use this exercise, let the sense of vision be the last one you focus on. I can’t explain why this seems to be the best way to do this, all I can say is, for the majority of people, it works best that way.
In conclusion, let me suggest one other thing that might seem a bit silly to you. You may, in fact, think this is childish. Yet, when you think about it, that’s the whole point, isn’t it. Try doing things the way a young child does them. Experiment with your body and your posture. What do I mean? I’ll close with this quotation, again from Dennis’ book:
To see as children see, all our senses must be alert. New worlds open up when children exercise their power of sight. They see with fresh eyes – fully, simply, and in intricate detail. Young children experience each new discovery to the fullest, first with their mouths, then with their hands and fingers, and finally with their whole beings. They “see” with all their senses and in every possible position: on their knees, on their stomachs, on their backs, upside down, backward, and sideways. They explore the world with eyes wide open, closed, or squinted; through drinking glasses or cellophane; from inside cabinets, under coffee tables, and even in mirrors.
If you apply these ideas you may, like my daughter Salina and the great poet William Blake, discover (rediscover) that you “hold infinity in the palm of your hand.”
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved