The easiest – and perhaps most useful – part of my work is to go into a class of children, introduce them to meditation, meditate with them (one minute per year of their age) and talk with them, as they like, about what the experience means to them.
The first few times I was asked to do this I was quite anxious beforehand about what to talk about. I soon found that if I had a pre-paid message to deliver I rarely made a strong connection with the children. I was condescending and (usually) they were polite. So I started going in quite unprepared (as Jesus advised his disciples to do when they were hauled up before the law). It is now like stepping into a clear flowing stream, cool and pure, and being carried along by it. It is a nameless stream, and we can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going. But it is there. It is an experience of God, without the thunderbolts or the ecstasy. It is what it is, as God said ‘I am who I am’.
We have so many words for God and so many definitions of what he is like and what he wants us to do and especially what he does not want us to do. After a while the presumptuousness of religious language gets distasteful and one longs for the experience that is nameless and non-prescriptive. Increasingly I wonder why religious people and institutions find it so hard to make space for this experience and are often so suspicious of it. As the children will tell you, it’s really very nice and makes you feel very peaceful.
Again as Jesus said, we cannot know this experience (the ‘kingdom’) unless we are in the childlike state. Coming to this after we have left the Edenic period of childhood (a shorter and shorter period in our culture as we deny children this experience of innocence), is what maturing means. It has many names, growth, spiritual journey, integration. But overall, maturity mean to recover at a higher level of consciousness that inborn capacity for being in the present and in the presence that makes childhood so wondrous to behold and be close to.
There is no name for this that does it justice and children don’t care that it’s nameless. It is, after all, better to know the experience without the name than to know the name without the experience. Education and true religion are the humble attempt to match them.
And that’s what Lent is about. Remembering who we are and what we are capable of. Recovering innocence despite and because of all the experience we have notched up. Finding the ‘second naivete’ that eludes our over self-conscious and too left-brain world. If this is the goal and reward of our very moderate ascesis, of meditating each day, it’s like taking candy from a baby.