-At the Desert Retreat House-
Yesterday, our local NPR station featured a very humorous and also insightful story about a young, well-educated woman in her late 20's who told a rather embarrassing story, admitting that it was only very recently that she learned unicorns aren't real. As a child she was fascinated by the pictures of unicorns in her story books -beautiful majestic creatures with a long horn projecting out of their foreheads, romping around in the middle of a forest someplace.
As this young woman grew up, for some reason or other, she never challenged her childhood ideas that unicorns were real-life animals. She graduated from college and worked professionally, but somehow in the back of her mind she continued to believe that unicorns were real.
One evening, this young woman was with some friends at a party and the conversation got around to a discussion about animals that were "endangered species," whereupon this young woman casually interjected, "Do you think unicorns are an endangered species - is there any risk that they might become extinct some day?"
The group suddenly fell silent -some nervous laughter, and then everyone stared at her in dismay as they realized she wasn't trying to be funny. "You do know unicorns aren't real, don't you?" asked one of her friends. As she told the story on the radio yesterday, that young woman confessed that this was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life.
As I listened to this entertaining story yesterday, I had a flash of insight about believing in unicorns and belief in "God."
Growing up as a child I had a very active imagination and I "firmly" believed in all the wonderful legendary childhood myths, and my parents did their best to keep me believing. I was convinced there was a tooth fairy; and when I lost a tooth I would faithfully put my tooth under my pillow at bedtime, and wake up the next day to find a few coins in its place. I would rush into the living room to find an Easter basket full of chocolate eggs and jellybeans believing that the "Easter Bunny" had worked her magic once again. And, of course, on Christmas morning, I'd see all the presents under the tree - "Santa had remembered me, I must have been a good boy."
But when I became an adult I lovingly packed away these childhood legends. They were stories to help feed my imagination and teach me something about giving gifts and celebrating life with joy.
My images of "God" were also part of my childhood legends. My parents told me stories about the "man up there." I even saw his picture in my books. He had a long beard, flowing white robes and lived in a beautiful palace.
As I became an adult I also lovingly packed away these childhood images of "God." I haven't at all stopped believing in "God," but I no longer believe like I did when I was a child.
It seems to me that, like the young woman who even into her young adult years believed that unicorns were real, lots of people grow into adulthood, but in their minds they still carry around their childhood story book pictures of "God." I know plenty of very sophisticated professional people well into their adult years who still talk about "God" as "the man upstairs." They have never challenged or thought much about what "Mama" first taught them.
I know lots of other people who, when they reach adulthood, are embarrassed by believing in a "man with flowing white robes," and so they conclude there is no God.
Saint Paul wrote:
When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I because an adult I put an end to childish ways.