Back to School

In what must have been circa 1971, Mrs. Cavinee invited me and my classmates to her farm for a day.  Mrs. Cavinee was our Kindergarten teacher in Kansas.  And while I remember absolutely nothing of her farm, what I do remember was just how stunned I was, to realize for the first time that Mrs. Cavinee didn’t live at school.

And why should I have thought otherwise?  After all, every time I was at school, she was at school.  She was there to greet me when I arrived every morning with my “All in the Family” lunchbox and there she remained when I left every afternoon.

For that matter, I suspect each of you can relate to returning to your house of early education as an adult - its skyscraping façade, its miles of hallways, its towering ceilings and its daunting steel lockers (large enough to house a student or two in a pinch) only to realize that its skyscraping façade wasn’t, that it’s miles of hallways weren’t, that its towering ceilings didn’t and that it’s daunting steel lockers (large enough to house a student or two in a pinch) couldn’t.  Or, at least, they certainly couldn’t now.

I suspect each of you can relate to the crumbling of many such childhood notions – that your important adults knew everything, that people are indestructible, that anything which appears in print must be true.

Emmet Fox wrote in a little pamphlet called The Seven Main Aspects of God, and I quote, “While we are still very young, small children, we form ideas (childish ones naturally) about all sorts of things.  We think a three-story house is a skyscraper.  We think the road near which we live is so wide that crossing it is quite a journey.  At that stage we think of God as being like our grandfather, or perhaps like the clergyman at the local church.  Then we begin to grow up and, as maturity comes, we gradually revise our ideas upon all subjects, except one.”

I’m reminded of one 19th-Century writer’s description of how the indigenous people of Siberia engaged God.  In his book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright painted a mental picture which I now offer for your provocation.  Imagine with me, if you will, a Chukchee man dropping his pants and leaning forward, raising his exposed buttocks toward the blistering winds of Siberia, and clapping with every word of his chant, “Western Wind, look here!  Look down on my buttocks.  We are going to give you some fat.  Cease blowing!”

I’m reminded of this writer’s description because I have to believe that Fox was right.  I have to believe that while we’ve gradually revised our ideas in matters of science and history and humanity and technology (we would never dream of calling upon the medical textbook of 1816 or 1916) we – as a people – are all-too-often still standing there with our exposed buttocks pointed into an icy twister, clapping and chanting and wondering why God doesn’t stop the winds.

And because we are afraid to revise those childhood ideas of God which were so very deeply implanted in us with instruments of fear - the 20-somethings and the scientists and the agnostics and the Atheists in increasing numbers continue to point their fingers and giggle at us, an entire generation standing in a line attempting to woo the Infinite with a collective mooning worthy of a fraternity bus passing a convent.

Fox was among the finger pointers, and I quote, “It is natural for a thoughtless person to think of God as being just a bigger edition of himself, just as we may suppose that if an insect could think of God, he would think of Him as an enormous insect of unlimited power.”

So, if you are among those who are courageous enough to entertain the possibility that God isn’t a fickle, gendered being - a man, a woman, even a person; that God isn’t specific to any religion or geography or era; if you are among those who are courageous enough to entertain the possibility that God doesn’t perform acts, pass rewards to his chosen, judge, condemn or otherwise, do; and if you’re willing to push through that rejection into new concepts of the power which exists beyond your personal power, then what are the new concepts which would represent a new maturity?

Well, in The Seven Main Aspects of God, Mr. Fox offers one answer.  Let us consider, God as Life, Truth, Love, Intelligence, Soul, Spirit and Principle.

Begin by feeling the difference between the statements:

God is truthful; God is Truth.

God is loving; God is Love.

God is intelligent; God is Intelligence.

God is living; God is Life.

Because if you’re like me, as soon as I begin to think of God as living, my mind pulls out the flesh-colored Crayon and begins to fashion nostrils on a very-human face.  As soon as I begin to think of God as living, my mind begins to create that anthropomorphic God.

But as soon as I begin to think of God as Life, everything changes.  For as soon as I begin to think of God as Life, my mind begins to perceive something of a divinity wherever there is life.  My mind begins to perceive something of a divinity in the beauty which I enjoy beyond my office window - in the majesty of trees, in the loveliness of fauna, in the wonder of insects.  My mind begins to perceive something of a divinity in the air and in the water, even in the giving-ness of the sun and the moon, in the starkness of the rocks and sand.

As soon as I begin to think of God as Life, my mind begins to perceive something of a divinity in the individual who sits to my right; in the individual who sits to my left; in the individual whom I easily cherish and even in the individual whom I don’t understand.

And in such a reorientation, I come to understand that to worship God is to pull up my pants and begin to mindfully and joyfully serve that life which surrounds me in every moment.