Reaching Back

by - April 02, 2019

Do you ever try to reach deep into your memories and remember places and how you felt in them and what you were doing? I love looking far back and finding the small person for whom I now have so much more compassion, with the benefit of hindsight and years of growth. The older I get, the more similar to her I become. I've always mourned the loss of childhood, but now I'm finding I never did fully let it go. During childhood, magic was easy to access. A day dream was only a blink away. All the coming-of-age tales seem to hinge on loss of innocence, a character realizing their separateness, but I was never a stranger to feeling guilty or feeling "other" as a person who registers fully in the "shame" triad of the enneagram (the other two are anger and fear). Innocence or even lack of knowledge wasn't what made my childhood magical. For me, it was the simplicity and curiosities of childhood that ushered in magic. It was uninhibited play, access to neon crayons and scotch tape, a canopy of trees and soft grass underfoot, ropes and carpet samples dad brought home from work, water and time.

Last night I went to bed reminiscing on my preschool to second grade days at St. Nicholas School, which at the time was located in a beautiful Episcopal church in Chattanooga, TN. I was only at this school for four years and haven't ever returned to the church, but there were elements of my time there that deeply shaped me. You would think that before the age of eight there wouldn't be that many memories, but I have vivid images in my head of toys in the active play room, modeling clay, specific trees and bushes on the playground, learning and watching. I'd love to catalog all of these memories such as the used book sale where I spread my towel, books and mom's beaded cat change purse of nickels and dimes in the lawn of the church's beautiful grounds. However, what I want to highlight here is the way the music shaped me. I reread the lyrics of the following three hymns which I loved to sing in the chapel services, and I marveled at how true they still ring. I don't know if they shaped me or if the natural bent of my heart responded to them, but I suspect there was an intertwining of my soul and the lyrics that I am seeing played out especially thirty years later. 

I pulled this image off Grace Episcopal Church's facebook page, and it brought back memories of gazing up at these archways and watching as the grades of students filled down aisle. 
What these words breathe into my soul is simplicity, acceptance, hope, life, humility, the promise of regeneration, and God's provision. They quiet my mind, they settle my spirit, they rain down renewal on the heart of a little girl who almost believed that she needed to grow up and out rather than sinking her roots deep and waiting to see what would blossom. Some people are created for action and raising voices and hands, I'm created for quiet, creating and nurturing. I can be as loud, crass and confident as the next girl who received and all-girls education (7th - 12th grade), but where I feel most awake is in the quiet moments of reflection in nature and solitude.

Simple Gifts by Joseph Brackett
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the World.

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day.

Seek Ye First
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
Seek, and you shall find.
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

We don't live an a society that invites quiet in or encourages stillness. As adults, even our "play time" demands we claim a deeper purpose (maybe we count the calories or service hours) or apply the label "self-care". Production and efficiency are so driven into our education that we feel compelled to squeeze every ounce of time as if we must answer for it like we were balancing our checking accounts... and then post on social media about it so we don't forget. I can't even begin to recollect all the moments I've fretted over what I was "doing with my life." What if in the rush and the hustle, our lives are failing to imprint on our souls? I think this is why I love reaching far back to see what I can still remember. I have no photographs of the more poignant moments of my life, but I remember them because at those moments, I was still. Maybe I was running through the woods in pitch black, catching spiderwebs in my face and twigs in my sandals, but time was still. It was not advancing, it wasn't being spent. I wasn't evaluating my actions against some standard of worthiness. And now as I turn circles and bend to the seasons and the soil, I find I am in the place just right.

I believe part of the reason we create this system of answering for our time is that as we grow older, we become increasingly aware that our own clocks are ticking and have a finite number of ticks left. We fear missing opportunities. We miss the newness of each morning, not the recreation of the day's list -- no, we don't miss that -- but we miss the recreation of the dewfall and the sunrise. What if I were to tell you that hustling to get more done simply speeds time up? Surely we've all felt this. Maybe some of us do this intentionally because we can't bear the solitude or the voices in our own heads. Our present experience of time is rarely as linear as we reflect on it later. Summers as children were like an eternity. Finishing peas at dinner was equally as long. An afternoon at the cousins' house could never last long enough. Now, waiting in the women's bathroom line during an intermission is an eternity and my own kids' childhoods are a flash in the pan. Time simply makes no sense. Sunrise to sunset, season to season, that I can comprehend

My determination that our family never be enslaved to the hustle is why I schedule so little in a given week. Our seconds, minutes and hours might be the same as if we had weekly commitments, but my experience and my children's experience is slow.  We are constantly in motion, but we aren't checking off boxes. We rush to a garden to catch the blossoms, but we linger there because we have nowhere else to be. It's peaceful. This approach can lead to afternoons that are mind-numbingly boring and unworthy of photo-documentation, and they also leave us free to answer the call for spontaneity and adventure, free respond to a day of glorious weather or a random invitation from friends. I want to let the boys get just restless enough that they end up getting lost in creating stick swords and burning through rolls of scotch tape. I want there to be no shame in simplicity. I want them to make the most of childhood without them feeling like they have to make the most of it, and I want them to have something to reach back and find later.

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