On Not Putting Away Childish Things

antique toy collection shadow boxI want to share some thoughts about the real importance of childhood as an ongoing source of integration and inspiration.

My title means to contradict the advice offered by 1 Corinthians 13:11 to let the past fall away like an obsolete cocoon. It’s as if your past is something you have to repent of. The closest I can get to that is what Jung says about the need to consolidate one’s Ego, then to move on to transcend it, as a kind of launch pad, to embark on the development into the Self. But what is it to “put away childish things”?

C.S. Lewis took it pretty literally. At a certain point, having graduated from school and getting ready for employment, “Jack” and his brother decided to gather up their once-prized childhood toys, stuff them into a metal box and bury them on the hillside in the countryside. Well, you will never catch me committing such a crime against myself. My childhood Teddy Bear sits atop the bedpost. My action figure collection has, over the years, expanded like the Blob. In fact everything I have ever loved has remained a part of me. Comic books, monster movies: it’s all there, like a sequence of tree rings. Put them away? Why? Why would I do that? They’ve made me what I am.

Okay, I’d have no reason to worry if I had never acquired wider interests, but I did. Early on, I developed a great interest in history, ancient and modern. I had always been fascinated with Greek and Norse mythology, and when I embraced fundamentalist Christianity at age 10, it was a natural progression along the same trajectory. It did not take long for me to realize this, when one afternoon, while taking a walk in the neighborhood, it occurred to me to ask how I knew that the biblical Jehovah was any more real than Zeus. It took me many years before I could accept that he wasn’t.

And after that, after I exited fundamentalism, I eventually figured I needed to reconcile myself to my rejected religious past. I couldn’t just cut off that part of myself. I needed to find a way to reincorporate it. I reached the point where I could recall with fondness the friendships and the good clean fun of those years. And of course I never dropped the Bible. Its fascination continued, more fervently than ever. My curiosity to understand the text had eventually led to my loss of religious faith. Only now I stopped calling my questions “doubts” and set about finding answers. I found them in biblical criticism.

And the more thoroughly I understood the Bible and Christianity as monuments of ancient mythology and religion, the more I found myself appreciating religious symbolism and rituals. I found that I loved these things all the more for not having to “believe” in them. Seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t.

Rene Guenon once said that “I” includes all my world of experience. Sounds right. I think of a scene in Star Trek IV when the touchy-feely Vulcan guru Sybok (Spock’s half-brother) offered to leech Kirk’s emotional pain from him. Kirk refused: “Dammit! I need my pain!”Your experiences are component parts of you, and it is dangerous to suppress or to amputate them.

What does “integrity” mean? In Seventies-speak, it’s “having it all together.” Like a Rubik’s Cube with all the pieces in correct alignment. If you want to have integrity, it’s not going to work if you pry out some of the pieces and toss them away.

heart vs. brain cartoonWhat particular function do your “childish things” have in the bigger picture? I recall quite clearly how, in my Junior High years, as I was reading the flood of fantasy and sci-fi paperbacks featuring Conan, Doc Savage, John Carter, Bilbo, etc., I was keenly aware as it was happening that this reading was stretching and expanding my imagination. I could almost feel it! And in the decades that followed, I found that all this “sense of wonder” (an old and apt SF slogan) served me well. It installed a horizon of transcendence in my head that, I believe, forever prevented my ossifying into a mundane adult zombie, the danger Wordsworth described so well:

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.


Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day. 

In a much-interpreted gospel passage we read that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child shall not enter it.” Who knows what the author meant? But what I see in it is that it takes the open eye of the child who is ready to see anything and who hopes reality is wider than what tired adults tell him it is. We need a more expansive world than the daily grind offers us, even if it is “only” the expanding cosmos inside our heads. This is a childish thing we need to retain. This is a childish thing that will keep us young in heart and mind and spirit. That way, the calendar notwithstanding, the real glory of youth will never expire.

So says Zarathustra.bob's childish things

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