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The Eyes of a Child
By the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham

One of the gifts of childhood is a natural sense of intimacy with God. Most of us can remember times when God seemed very close and real. And then we grow up. We learn a lot of things, and for many of us, the notion of God becomes more problematic. Then, many of us go through a long process of exploration that sometimes leads right back to where we started in the first place -- a natural sense of intimacy with God -- but now we understand more.

My grandfather's house was across the street from the Methodist parsonage and church. There was something about that place that made God seem very real and very close. Maybe it was the experience of unqualified love from my grandfather. Maybe it was that spiritual openness that seems to accompany going away from the everyday familiar. I can remember walking down the sidewalk in that holy place and thinking, "God is watching me walk down this sidewalk. And God can see the cracks in the broken concrete that I'm seeing. I hope God is enjoying being outside with me as much as I'm enjoying it. I'll bet God enjoys it even more than I do."

One day I was sitting in a tree in front of my grandfather's house. My attention was drawn to the bark -- how deep and complex it was. It looked like pictures of the Grand Canyon taken from an airplane. All at once, I began to see more deeply than I could ever imagine. I saw every crack and ravine in the bark. I was awed by the complexity of subtle colors, various shades of brown and black. I never knew brown and black could be so elaborate.

Then my consciousness expanded. I was looking deeply into the tree bark, seeing it almost on a molecular level. At the same time, I was aware of the whole tree -- every branch, every twig, each leaf, the complex veins on the leaf-- and the feeling of life connecting the ground with the roots through the trunk and into the leaves. I was aware of a squirrel playing above.

I can still remember the particular blue of the sky, the location of the birds flying by, the half-open kitchen shade of our neighbor Mrs. Moss. All the while my most focused concentration was still within the beautiful composition of the tree bark, just inches beyond my nose.

At some point I lost all consciousness of time. I lost a sense of myself as being separate from the all. "I" seemed to dissolve into this amazing fullness of life and color and connectedness.

I don't know how long it lasted, but at some point I remember thinking, "This must be a little of what God sees if God is everywhere at once." And as I thought that thought, my consciousness shrank back to its "normal" size, and I was looking at a plain patch of bark on a plain old tree. Still a tingling afterglow shimmered within.

I've savored that childhood experience. I believe it was a hint, a peek into the deeper reality of life. I believe every human being has these experiences of something deeper than the ordinary. When I've shared my story about being in my grandfather's tree with other people, usually they'll come up with similar events from their own memories. For many, it's a little like remembering a dream. Our fact-based, materialistic culture doesn't value such brushes with the infinite, and so we tend to dismiss those experiences as odd or strange, and they fall out of consciousness. It's important to remember and record, value and reflect upon these glimpses into another way of being in the world. They are the stepping stones of spiritual experience and a touch of the mystical dimension to which every great religion witnesses.

When in your past have you had that tingling sensation of an altered state
of consciousness? Have you ever looked at something and seen it explode with life in a new way? Have you ever listened to something with your whole being, hearing depths that you ordinarily would miss? Have you ever felt deep awe, or a thankful wonder? Have you ever been so absorbed by the experience of the moment, that time stood still? Have you ever been so engrossed in something that you disappeared, your sense of being a separate identity seemingly melting into the experience of the whole? When have you felt truly wondrously alive?

These are moments to treasure. They give us glimpses into another reality, the spiritual dimensions that subtle minds have described through centuries of mystical literature. In our generation, even the scientific and psychological community has shown respect and interest in the reality of the "unitive" experience and in the healthy fruits of contemplation. (Gerald May's study "Will and Spirit" is an excellent study of the connections between psychology and spirituality.)

Give yourself some time to reflect on those moments in your life when something different seemed to break through into your consciousness. What might you learn from those moments? Share your stories with others. You'll soon be recalling more, and you'll be talking about things that really matter, deep and simple at the same time.

Sometimes it helps to foster a more childlike attitude of alert openness. When we were children, we didn't have so many definitions to limit our experience to the "boxes" of our expectations. We were more open to the unknown. Many wise people will cultivate a beginners mind as an intentional way of being more awake to the beauty, joy and wonder of creation, more open to the possibility of real intimacy with God.

Try that today. Be alert. Aware. Open. Listen and see. Feel the sensations. Be fully present. See if the quality of your ordinary consciousness doesn't tingle with a deeper sense of aliveness. And be ready in a moment to surrender to the wonder of being grasped by something deeper.

Copyright ©2004 Lowell Grisham


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