Living with Wonder – Becoming like a Child
"There is no yesterday and no tomorrow. Just now; right now, completely alive."
Second Simplicity Homily on Matthew 18: 1-5 and Collect for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany
Preached by Fr Hans Christiansen at the Chapel of St Peter, February 2020.
Listening to a podcast on neuroscience, I learnt the other day, that there is a part of our brain, which is called “hippocampus”. The hippocampus is the place in the brain where fear, desire and curiosity seem to be located. It is also the part of the brain which translates new experiences into long-term memories. The hippocampus is one of the oldest and most vitally important parts of the brain. For example, when we learn a new language, or when we see new things, or when we are being curious and exploring new ideas, the hippocampus part of our brain is activated. According to the findings of neuroscience activating the hippocampus which we literally do all day long in the classroom, helps us keeping quick and young.
In all the three synoptic gospel we find the passage we just heard about Jesus’ disciples seeking to remove the little children from Jesus. And much like a Zen Buddhist wisdom saying or Koan, as it is called in Japan, Jesus rebukes them and teaches them by saying:
“Truly I tell you, unless you do not change and become like a child you will not enter into the kingdom of God”.
Of course, Jesus is not asking us to become literally like a little two-year old. Nor are we cautioned to be child-like all the time, that would simply be unrealistic.
But for a moment think about some of the characteristics of a two-year old which we can learn to cultivate, even as we mature into adulthood. If you go down on your hand and knees and look eye to eye with a two-year old and enter into their games you will discover a wonderful curiosity. A little child, a baby or toddler, is totally open, curious, enchanted, and engaged; non-judgemental, just completely absorbed. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow. Just now; right now, completely alive.
Little children only have the present moment. And that is actually true in essence for all of us.
As St Augustine once wrote: “The past is the present that is no more. And the future is the present that is not yet”.
All we have is the present moment.
And for Augustine, “God is present in every moment, past, present and future” – God is always there calling us into the present moment yet unfortunately when we get older, even already as 8-year old’s onwards, as we understand more about the world, we gradually begin lose our sense of wonder, we become less intuitive and spontaneous and as we enter into teenage years and beyond we become more serious and often more worried.
When Jesus teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount that we are not to worry or to become child-like, it is, of course, much easier said than done.
After all, how can we not worry? Once we gain knowledge about the world and ourselves there are plenty of things to worry about.
For example, we might all be worried about global warming and the effects it will have in the future. We might be worried about a grandparent who is not well or we might worry about an upcoming test or about the severity of an injury which may mean that we can’t play in our sporting team which we love. Worrying comes with knowledge, that’s just how it is.
So how do we learn not to worry, at least not too much? How we do become child-like so we can enter into the joy of the Kingdom of God while we are alive, to use New Testament language?
Jesus teaches us that we need to re-learn seeing the world with the eyes of children.
The theologian and mystic, Bruno Barnhart, called this state of mind “entering into a second simplicity”. If you look at adults, regardless of their age, who seem young, notice how they have remained curious, excited and playful.
As neuroscientists tells us we can all learn to cultivate or practice such a state of mind by daily engaging the hippocampus part of brain. We do that by first of all looking around and being curious about where we are, noticing things, wondering about them and then paying attention to what is right in front us and then learn about them.
We began our service today by praying the wonderful prayer set for this week in the Anglican Church. That prayer asks that ‘we may have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus’.
As we pause to pray and to receive Christ at the altar, we might imagine Christ himself totally humble, totally free, completely absorbed at what or who was in front of him; empty of self- interest and radiating love and joy.
As Christians, followers of Jesus, we ask that we too may become simple, curious and attentive and open to the wonders of this world and to each other. Amen.
I’ll finish with a quote by one of my favourite poets, Jallaludin Rumi, which reflects on wonder and what we can realise when we become like little children and open ourselves up to the moment:
What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.
What was told to the cypress that made it strong and straight ,
what was whispered to the jasmine so it is what it is,
whatever made sugarcane sweet,
whatever was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in Turkestan that makes them so handsome,
whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush, like a human face,
that is being said to me now.
Whatever put eloquence in language, that’s happening here.
The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude, Chewing a piece of sugarcane,
In love with the One to whomever that belongs!
~ Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi Translated by Coleman Barks
Reverend Fr Hans Christiansen Senior Chaplain Melbourne Grammar
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