Beginnings

Feb 01

When I was young there was, as today, a lot of concern about the environment. The cause celebre at the time was the wetlands-marshy areas that support a lot of wildlife that were being encroached upon by human development. It was in the weekly reader and there were talks about it. Species were imperiled-at that time the Florida alligator was an endangered species, along with a host of others on an increasingly long list that seemed destined to spiral out of control.

The mass extinction of species due to human irresponsibility weighed heavily on my young mind-the idea that there were creatures that once were and were no more seemed unthinkable. Children have a hard time conceiving of death, the why and way of it. Extinction was death squared, death cubed. It was death of geometric tragedy because, in this instance, it was unnatural. Strangely, most of the adults I knew didn’t seem to care. We were given “Save the Wetlands” stickers at school. The idea was to spread the message by placing the stickers where others might see them. The picture on the sticker was a mother duck on her nest with her young. I don’t remember where I put most of the stickers-but I kept one for my house, and put it on a small, white rocking chair that was kept in my room.

Sometime that year in CCD (that’s Catholic Sunday School if you don’t know) the class centered on creating a “prayer corner” in your room. It was suggested we set aside a place in our room where prayer could be made. I doubt if specifics were really gone into-I was only in first grade-but today I’m amazed that such a sound idea was presented to me at such a young age. No matter what tradition you are in, it’s good metaphysical praxis to have the same  place set aside for daily meditation/contemplation/prayer/ritual what-have-you.

It escapes me why I went and did as told. There were lots of suggestions made that year and in years to come that I never listened to. I can’t even remember what they were-because, like most kids, I thought Sunday School was dumb and Church was boring. I preferred Greek mythology and often wondered why my own religion was so lacking in excitement. At any rate, I did set aside my prayer corner. I assembled the things I thought were appropriate, the sacred things of a child: my rocking chair with the Save the Wetlands sticker, and then, a Children’s Bible Stories coloring book-there was an excellent picture of Mary on the cover. The chair wasn’t for me to sit in as you might think. It served as a make-shift altar, I propped the coloring book up-Mary served as icon and representation of the act of prayer.

Now, people often ask for things when they pray. Certainly, children pray hard and expect fulfillment. I sat in front of the image of Mary, her icon above Save the Wetlands. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t verbalize any need or want. I just kneeled there. I’m not sure how long-and then, I felt something, some brief moment of clarity, some second of the numinous-in a way that a child is ready to receive it. And, like a child, I took the experience for granted-I don’t mean that callously. I accepted the experience for what it was. I didn’t question it, I didn’t tell anyone else about it. But I never forgot it, either. Thirty five years later, I remember that day as well if not better than any that have fallen more recently.  Sometimes, in the act of meditation/contemplation/prayer/ritual whatever-you-call-it, contact is the reward we are given.

4 comments

  1. Jeff Lewis /

    I love this. At 5 my spiritual impulses were more of a traditional reverence. I didn’t have such a mystical experience until age 9. Whether we realize it at the time or not, they define much of what happens to us later in life.

  2. Jeff-I agree. I think the experiences we have in childhood can be very formative for us. The events recounted in Beginnings were a sort of foundation for me. It was such an early experience, I rarely discuss-not because it’s private, but it was so long ago. It’s sort of like telling someone about my first bicycle or something. Important, yes, but a part of my early past.

  3. Beautifully written. 🙂 I didn’t have much churchin’ while growing up. My parents went to the local Presbyterian church for a brief stint, and shuffled us off to Youth Group where the teachers talked about concepts they assumed everyone knew about already, and didn’t make an allowance for kids who were new to the religion. We felt out of place, and sort of guilty. It was anything but spiritual.

    I love the idea of setting up a prayer corner. Every time I see a Buddhist altar I sigh and wonder if perhaps I should pursue Buddhism because the idea of decorating it in such a way that pleases me, and reminds me of God, is appealing. Also appealing is silent meditation. I like your idea of not asking for anything, simply contemplating the images, or letting yourself become receptive to a certain kind of energy.

  4. Brian Hager /

    Peter,

    Something to keep in mind for your own children and maybe even for your writing:

    My father died when I was nine years old. For months after that no one in my family asked me what I was feeling. It was very silent in my house because the TV was kept turned off. I was too young to appreciate what my mother was going through – but then, she didn’t tell me much either. My brother left the house because he was old enough. I eventually pestered my mom enough to where she eventually relented to let me turn the TV back on so I could, at the very least, escape from the oppressive atmosphere of our home. What was wrong?

    No one in my family told me that I could “talk” to my father – even though he was dead. It is a practice, much like prayer, that we don’t always teach our children. We can also “talk” to God. And maybe in the course of “talking” we eventually figure out that we can listen too. It’s taken me most of my life to get past the idea that my dad was dead and in a “place” where he could not hear me. Such was the consequence of the way I grew up. My desire to “talk” to him or to God has been limited by the way I grew up. It has been slow to develop and my ability to listen in the silence has been retarded. With time and patience, though, things change. Like you, I went through CCD and religion courses in Catholic schools. Yet, even there they did little to instruct me in the ways of “talking” to those who have already passed on. They also did very little to instruct me in the ways of prayer. As I practice “talking” to my father and now my mother (she died in 1996) I am also discovering my own way of “talking” to God.

    I am finally growing out of being a spiritual Rainman and finding my soul. Beginnings are better when we are younger, but it is never too late to begin again.

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