Put a child in a park or a yard, on a beach, in a sandbox, let them hike a trail or wander a field or stand of woods, and what do they do?
They dig into, they dig around, they dig up, they dig out, they dig down.
They look for things they can keep as souvenirs, keepsakes of the occasion: sticks, shells, driftwood, leaves, stones, sea glass, bits of string, feathers, dandelions, milkweed pods, empty cicada skins, acorns.
And they create.
Not satisfied with mere discovery or memory alone, they look for ways to immerse themselves in and actively experience and interpret their environment. They catch snowflakes on their tongues, jump and splash in puddles and fountains, lay on their backs and stare at the stars, capture lightning bugs in mason jars. They take all those things they’ve found and make things: sand castles, snow forts, snow men, makeshift boats or rafts, mud pies, and more.
Grown-ups call this “child’s play” and regard it in a variety of ways: with passing interest, amusement, encouragement, or, (depending on where the sand from the sand castle and the mud from the mud pie winds up or the number of dead (or live!) bugs one is asked to look at along the way), disdain, disappointment, revulsion, or disgust.
It isn’t possible (for most of us) to drop out of life and just hang out in the back yard, in the woods or on the beach (oh, but wouldn’t that be fabulous?!?!?!), but contrary to the Trix cereal commercials, the activities referenced above are not just for kids. Elements of these activities are not only directly relatable to our adult existence, they are invaluable and necessary.
Time and circumstances change us, whether by slow evolution over the arc of our lives or instantaneous or unexpected events like my husband’s death, which turned my life upside down overnight and launched me on a quest to discern who I am now, after that life-altering loss. In order to process and move forward through those changes, just like kids, we need to keep digging.
Digging into what is going in our lives and in our world so we are aware of everything that is there and how it affects us. Digging around in our hearts in order to make space for what is good and right and Holy to take root and grow. Digging up and unearthing the unique gifts and talents hidden away in our souls so us so they can be used and shared. Digging out and getting rid of the useless and toxic stuff piled up in the inner recesses of our minds and spirits. Digging down to get to the very core, the true essence of who we are and what we’re called to be about in life.
We are – even as grown-ups – as much in need of talismans and touchstones as any child on the planet. Those tangible symbols are infused with memories and meaning, they are reminders of beauty and grace, they ground us in Creation, they give us glimpses of the Sacred, they bring us joy, they serve as mementoes of what truly matters.
Discovery and memory by themselves are not enough for us adults either. If we want to live well – not just “mail it in” or go through the motions - we need to be willing to take what we’ve dug up, what we’ve gleaned from our experiences, all the knowledge, awareness and insight we’ve collected, and use those things to craft lives of wellness and wholeness, of open-hearted honesty, of authenticity, light and love.
Our world is both beautiful and terrible. At times – last week, with the synagogue shooting and pipe bombs in the mail - it seems like terrible is winning. I felt overwhelmed in the face of that much loss and hate and to wanted to pull the covers over my head and hide. But that doesn’t help, and it doesn’t change anything. So rather than cower in fear and despair, I’m going to do what I can, where I am. I’m going to work, as I’ve outlined it above, at being a kid again. I hope you’ll join me.
“…You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine…” Matthew 5:14-16a, NIV