FROM THE BOUNDARY – On white clouds flying – Part 2
Sun, 08/14/2016 - 12:00am
Yes, one breath away – the innocence of childhood, that innocence which lies at the root of all religiousness. Last week I explored the innocence of a humble parish priest, Monsignor Quixote, in Graham Greene’s novel of that name. This week’s example is very different. It’s a romantic social movement which in time straddled my university years. I refer, of course, to the ‘flower children’, the hippie movement, the counter culture of the sixties. As with Monsignor Quixote’s adventures, the keynote of the movement was rebellion, irreverence and personal freedom which confronted the world of tacky boxes, materialism, global power struggles and technocracy. It had its own language which we’ve inherited – ‘doing your own thing’, ‘dropout’, being ‘turned on’ and ‘feeling good’. The ‘hippie’ is the Bohemian universal in every age who, like Jesus, walks the margins of convention, the boundaries of the socially acceptable – or rejects them entirely.
The hippie movement sought purpose, meaning and value not in reason nor established religion, with its punitive, judgmental self-righteousness and hypocrisy dressed up for Sunday observance, but in loving, dancing and making music in harmony with the natural world. Their creed was ‘If it feels good, do it so long as it hurts no-one’. Its expression was an overriding sense of fun and play, and a regard for sex in which the whole body was a temple of love and the sex act a holy thing. Drugs were a gateway to reality and folk and protest music the language of release. The hippie was non-violent and his symbol was a flower, in opposition to the world of competition, territoriality, status and power. His hair was long like the prophets and gurus but in a pony-tail to de-emphasise his maleness. His clothes were freaky. The present moment was the centre of his day and his life was to be lived fully, not endured fearfully.
In its outward expression and lifestyle, doubtless it was all very impractical, and yet the hippies had a sense of awareness which most lack. The excitement of imagination is conditioned out of us all too soon. The hippie’s appeal to the heart was timeless, and from age to age there will always be those who call us into love and oneness, who tell us to open our eyes and see each moment as a glorious adventure in which each of us can reach beyond the humdrum, beyond the chronic patterns of mere existence, beyond the land of no wind blowing to the skies of white clouds flying.
Now I suppose that the concept which most aptly summarises my two examples is the ‘holy fool’, the foolish who are chosen to “shame the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). The holy fool is sexless, ageless and classless, without race, and he’s not afraid to expose his vulnerability to the world. Like a child, he falls, scrapes his knee and comes back fighting in a moment. He has the potential to succeed against the odds. He makes no demands but simply gives of himself. His gift is insight. Yes, a figure of fun, maybe, but also a figure of joy and truth in exposing us for what we are, so that we can propel ourselves into what we can be.
When Jesus says we should become “as little children”, he’s saying that whatever we’ve become as adults has to be dropped. Of course, as children we have to grow up. Two things are necessary – a refusal to be repressed and a willingness to treat life as a voyage of incessant discovery. But yes, the child must strive for knowledge, and then rebel and demonstrate defiance. And yes, he must live out his ego in the vast streams of the world. He can’t remain a simpleton. Inevitably, he must eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge though it might entail what we know as sin and disobedience to God. For from that comes understanding, awareness, the ability to shed. How else does anyone become AS a child?
As children we don’t know that we don’t know. The innocence of the dove, of which Jesus speaks (Matt 10:16), is when the adult knows that he doesn’t know, and that, coupled with experience, is indeed the wisdom of the serpent – the readiness to say ‘I don’t know’. That, surely, is true knowledge. It’s fresher and more insistent than all the borrowed, second-hand knowledge in the world, as well as all those things which have been forced on us like ‘I am Christian’, ‘I am British’, ‘I am white’. Monsignor Quixote’s recognition that he’s an ignorant man is thus the most profound knowledge. Borrowed knowledge just gets in the way. It’s the curse of religion which should ever have awe and wonder at its root. The more we think we know, the less life is lived as a voyage of discovery and the more the beautiful things which children do, like talking to the moon or collecting stones on a beach, are ruled out.
With wonder comes a sense of mystery, an understanding that everything in life is not just about science or religion, things only concerned with safety and security and rooted in fear. It was this same safety and security which Monsignor Quixote ultimately rejected for the rebellion of adventure. Yet he ever carried with him the innocence of the Fool. As an open book, he could do no other. If the luck of the road only caused him to doubt, robbed of his security, that, paradoxically, only strengthened his trust. Yes, he’s an authentic person, a good person, because he doesn’t know that he’s good.
The rest of us, schooled by the pretensions of others, are of the crowd. Innocence can’t burgeon or restore itself. The heart can’t sing. And this is what the hippies understood – that innocence only reveals itself when we’ve shed those things which hold us back, and most especially our silly, manufactured egos, by becoming aware of them. They understood that life is an exclamation mark not a question mark, a verb not a noun, poetry not syllogism, that the child within is alive and kicking, that life is laughter and spontaneity, and lived in the present moment. It can never be stale or boring because it’s an entry to the divine. We call it the ‘love of God’. It’s got nothing to do with churchgoing or reading sacred texts. Surely, we’re bigger than that. But it has everything to do with divining the intimate relationship with the whole of existence, and experiencing the harmony, joy and celebration of simply being – the way of the child, the way of the white clouds flying.
Go safely, then – until the next time.
Insight from the boundary: You don’t need to search for the Kingdom. It’s here, now, in Jesus, in all the love you have for living. So be kind to yourself and let your heart sing your love.