Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Unbridled Joy

"Brimming with Life"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Last Sunday, as my wife and I sat outdoors eating lunch at a local eatery, a rather large family came into the restaurant - grandma and grandpa, mom and dad and lots of kids in tow. I normally would have paid little attention to the gathering of such a clan except that, in this instance, one of those small kids in the group really stood out to me - a little child no more than three years old  holding his daddy’s hand. The little boy was very sweet and “impish” with a baseball cap askew on his head; but the thing that really grabbed my attention was the spontaneous dance the child “broke into”  as he walked among the restaurant tables.

The cute little boy suddenly let go of his dad’s hand and then simply started dancing and there wasn’t even any music being played.  He just started dancing, a wildly joyful and enthusiastic dance, big smiles, arms swaying, feet moving this way and that. His little dance sort of caught us all of guard (including his dad) and everyone around him laughed out loud.

As we watched the gleeful antics of that beautiful little boy, my wife turned to me and said two words that perfectly captured the moment: unbridled  joy. Yes, that’s exactly what we were witnessing in that moment. It was as if the universe was reaching out and teaching us all a lesson of great wisdom in those few seconds of a child’s uninhibited dance. It was indeed a moment of unbridled joy, the kind of joy that can only be taught by an innocent little child.

It’s no wonder to me that Jesus placed a small child upon his knee as an icon of wisdom, telling his followers that if they wanted to enter the “Kingdom of God,” they must become like a little child. Jesus once prayed:  

You have hidden deep mysteries from those who are learned
and revealed them to little children.

I’ve been thinking of the “deep mysteries” that were revealed to me by just watching a little child dancing with abandon in the middle of a crowded restaurant. 

For one thing that child genuinely had a sense of belonging -he was deeply connected to a family who obviously loved him and he was even connected to those of us who were strangers, trusting us enough to have no fear of wildly dancing in our midst. He was simply “present” in the moment. He didn’t calculate what we all might think about his dancing, how well he performed. He simply danced with an unbridled joy and in our hearts we all danced along with him.

Such a great lesson and deep mystery to be learned from that innocent little dancing child: We all belong to one another and we don’t need to calculate how to perform in order to impress one another. So, be “present” to the surprises of every moment and live with joy, with unbridled and uninhibited joy. This is what it means to enter the “Kingdom of Heaven,” this is what it means to be truly alive.

Unfortunately, it won't be long before that sweet little child will lose his innocence - it will gradually be drained out of him as he learns that dancing with abandon in a public place is silly and socially unacceptable. He will soon learn to be cautious of strangers and to be careful not to trust too quickly. He will learn that if you don’t impress others by performing well, you will not advance in life.  Sadly, he will soon be socialized out of his wonderful, original innocence.

I am reminded of something the poet and author, Chris Wiman, once wrote:

To be innocent is to retain that space in your heart that you once heard,
a still small voice saying not your name so much as your nature.
You must protect this space so that it can protect you.
You must carry it with you always.

I think maybe this is the essence of the “deep mystery” I learned from that child last Sunday. I must do what I can to retain and reclaim that “still small voice” in me, my original innocence, an innocence that allows me to live a life of unbridled and uninhibited joy.

Author and theologian, David Bentley Hart, once observed:

Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience.
It is the ability to see again what most of us have forgotten to see.

Last Sunday I thought I was just going out to “grab a bite to eat” at a local restaurant.  Instead I was being taught a “deep mystery” by a sweet little child.

The artist, Pablo Picasso said:

It takes a long time to be innocent once again

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