When we were young didn’t we all think we could fly (with or without a magic carpet), turn ourselves into a frog (or a prince/ess) or maybe suddenly, magnificently, be discovered as the long lost son or daughter of the Queen of England (or of a Pirate King)? At that age anything was possible and it was all amazing. I remember coming home from visits to friends or relations with my mother by car at night, dozing (no seat belt!) in the front, just three or four, in a wonderful semi-conscious state of being: half dream world, half secure, safe, state-of-being-with-mother, which enabled me to enter a wonderful world of fantasy and beauty, a place where nothing bad could ever happen and where the whole universe could be traversed from the safety of the rhythmically moving motor. Arriving home I was carried to bed so that the half-awake world, my dreams and sleep merged into one warm, protective magical cocoon. Later, in the summer, one might wake up again as it was still light, and hear the sound somewhere outside of a lawn mower, croquet mallet, or the ‘pick … pock’ of neighbours playing tennis. Creeping downstairs or sneaking into another bedroom one could watch the grown-ups enjoying their Dubonnet, Guiness or Rose’s Lime Juice, in the gardens below as the light faded. Then I crept back to Teddy and bed, wishing I was a grown- up myself able to stay up late; feeling cheated of the ‘life’ I was missing.
Growing up in the Isle of Ely, I often cycled out along country lanes into the fields of wheat where I would lie down and look up at the sky. In the fens the views in every direction and upwards were unimpeded by hills, mountains, or, barring a distant spire on the horizon, any man-made construction. One could just enjoy the heavens and especially the clouds and their formations, movements and shapes. There was a rabbit and there a horse — or is it a unicorn? Here a rhinoceros, there a fat man in a top hat — and look, a Scottie dog. Hours of pleasure! And although not in any way consciously — for I had certainly not as yet sung Handel’s chorus! — I would say to myself, if not in as many words, that ‘the heavens are telling the glory of God’. At that age, six, seven, eight, the knowledge and awareness of God is all part of the wonder in His creation. It wasn’t a belief or anything approaching something that could be separated from the feeling and sensation of wonder and joy. I was not some spooky seven year old theologian! It was simply something I knew without even putting words like ‘God’ to it.
So when did that easy, instinctive, unselfconscious access to wonder, to the glory of the heavens and nature, the marvels of ‘God’s creation’ — for by that time I would have learned to call the world that — cease? Or at least need a special sunset, trip to the coast, a park, a wilderness, a rose in bloom, to stimulate the same sort of amazement in me? When did this wonder and amazement cease to be a continuous feeling about the world around me and become discreet events, or experiences, which we could label with such words as ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’ or noticeably ‘special’? At what point, so to speak, do we put God put in a box? At what point do we separate ourselves from the God-always-around-and-within-us and make Him the God that is reached mainly in and through separate, conscious acts — for example in set times of prayer, church services, and indeed ‘religious experiences’, rather than in the immediate connection with our present experience? The experience of ‘being’ in God who is within, without and all around us if we can but be aware.
But I suppose the most we can hope for — can ever really be — is ‘a work in progress’. As Charles Wesley put it so aptly:
Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be:
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, ’til in heav’n we take our place,
‘Til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
So we must not despair in this process of transformation, even when the glory to come seems distant, even unbelievable sometimes, and the glory we have now (as those who are redeemed in Christ and part of God’s creation) seems so dented and chipped that we find it hard even to recognise. But we are truly part of that present glory through our baptism: washed as we are in the blood of the Lamb. So, put aside our fear of the future; put aside our regret, or longing, for things past, and just be in the presence of the present which is God-with-us. Then you’re talking! Then, once again we can wonder, and be amazed, as we did when six years old! Lockdown is quite the best time for such training. We have no excuse not to get closer to God. It’s a pain sometimes, and can be isolating. But it is also a gift, an opportunity, an invitation.
Let’s all be six-year-olds again!