Transcendent magic


Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 02/04/2007

My two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Ananda, whom I adore, thinks that she is a princess. She also thinks she can fly and that her toy stove can really cook food. It’s so refreshing to watch someone so innocent and untainted by the constraints of what we adults like to call “reality.”

We all started out like her, I suppose. All kids know they are powerful because they think magically. As children then, we felt invincible and sensed that the world revolved around us. We felt in command, and why shouldn’t we? When we cried, or felt hungry or dirtied ourselves, our parents and caregivers dropped everything to attend to us. We had no doubt we could control and manipulate and impact on the world.

Growing up, we were tamed by our elders. In place of our innate imagination and child-like wonder, we followed their dictates and allowed the world to come in and shape us. There was school, and all the other obligations foisted on us by our parents and society. Before we knew it, many of us had pretty much lost our childhood, our sense of awe at everything, our sense of power and our autonomy to be who we are. I think of some grade school kids in Ateneo who put in 12 hours of school and tutorship every day. So young, and already so stressed out.

We quickly become “pleasers,” doing everything to live up to the expectations of everyone. We surrender a big part of our uniqueness and begin to validate ourselves solely by the standards of approval from others. And while many of us do succeed and continue to do so as adults, we may pay dearly for it. Many of us have all but lost our capacity to be happy and have failed to imprint the joy of being who we are on the world. In fact, the reverse seems to have happened; we have forgotten or denied who we really are and have allowed the world to do unto us what it wants. It has made its mark on us and in our adulthood has left us twisted, mangled and more robotic than human.

In many ways, the journey to becoming liberated adults lies in recovering some of our childlike wonder and restoring our capacity for awe in the way we deal with life.

When I was in grade school, I was easily moved by stories of heavenly signs and miracles that purportedly proved that God was real and that He intervened in men’s lives. I just loved to hear my teachers’ tales about how guardian angels, saints, or God Himself bent the rules of the physical world to save children or good people from harm. Wide-eyed, I listened and marveled at the power of the divine. Surely, He could do all that since He was God after all and He lorded it over everything.

My child-like mind saw the divine as magical – the way Ananda sees herself as capable of flying. It was logical for me to expect that God could part the seas, multiply loaves and fishes, ascend to heaven (somewhere up there) and do a myriad of tasks that was simply marvelous. God was a magician, except that there were no tricks up the sleeve. It was all real.

As an adult, I have lost much of that and listen with some skepticism when I hear stories of so-called “miraculous tales” in the media. Dancing suns and gyrating Santo Niños do not impress me. I do not deny that I still do believe that God does intervene in the affairs of men. But my perception of what miracles are really all about has changed considerably.

My view of miracles then was all about how God could defy, bend, suspend or even contradict the laws of nature to suit His goals. God was magical. I lost much of my belief in miracles (as defined above) when I grew older. I knew that much of what we considered miraculous many centuries ago can well be explained by science today as part of natural phenomena, and I suppose many more claims will be debunked as well later on.

That bothered me a lot in the beginning and left me pondering for quite a while. Was God really not omnipotent? Is faith being undermined by science? Is God a mere fantasy?

A turning point in my adulthood was when I felt an awakening that went beyond what was taught to me about the divine. I did realize that the world of the divine was not so much about deities with super powers who could take our breath away with their nature-defying stunts. The divine seemed to me to reside within the very mysteries of life itself – especially the unquantifiable and unknowable.

This was the realm of the trans-rational and transpersonal. This was the realm where everything that could awaken a sense of awe within us was operating. Here, I discovered that the power of the divine was not just to demonstrate the obviously special and the spectacular, but to awaken in us the capacity to view the transcendent in everything, especially in the ordinary. Thus, in a tree we could see poetry, or life and even all of creation. In a raindrop, we could see the entire beauty of the Universe. In darkness, we could see light. In a human being totally unrelated to us, we could recognize all of humanity including ourselves. In the now we could experience the eternal.

The divine is in everything – the seen and the unseen and the real religious experience is to live moments of our lives awake, sensing, feeling and knowing this. These are the moments when there seems nothing out there except the divine. I do not claim to feel like this 24/7 but I have experienced it a few times, enough to know it is true.

It’s quite a big jump from a magical God to a Transcendent One. It’s the journey I made from a childish mindset to that of an awakened conscious adult. In the process, I know I recovered a lot of the child’s wonder and awe that was lost on my way to becoming an adult. I know because I no longer need God to “perform” so that I may believe. All I need to do is to open my eyes and I can’t miss.

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Tricia
Tricia
14 years ago

My siblings always act like that. My 12 year old sis, told me that her dad’s friend drowned in a bowl of soup. And she believed it.

I used to be like that but I’m not like that now. Others say I should try and act like a child and forget everything. But I can’t. I sometimes wish I could. But how?

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

There’s a diffrence between ‘childish’ and ‘child-like’. Childish understanding is believeing in the ‘magical’, like drowning ina bowl of soup. Child-like wonder is seeing through the mere obvious and having a deeper appreciation of everything.

That’s a tall order but it’s the way to be an adult and still have the ability to see through the unblemished eyes of the child in us.

Lara
Lara
14 years ago

I feel that every now and then, the divine. You’re right, it doesn’t happen everyday (how we wish!), but when it does…wow. It’s like getting to know the entire universe in a single second that seems to last forever. It blows you away, and leaves you both excited and incredibly calm.

And then you realize, once and again, that the universe – with all of its majesty and power – is inside of you. A humbling experience.

Have you read Life of Pi?

(You don’t know me, of course. I tend to blog-hop, and I tripped upon your blog a long time ago. I don’t really comment much, but I couldn’t help myself this time hehe.)

pen
pen
14 years ago

The one thing that I think is good to hold on to about being a child is that element of wonder*. I am not sure whether I agree with “a deeper appreciation” as part of it, but my take about that childlike trait would have to be infinite curiousity and momentary amazement. (You know how a child is interested in the most mediocre things? But after a while he gets tired of it and moves along to the next interesting bit) Appreciation and respect would come as a consequence of understanding. And then comes faith. Hmmm, but I guess I see what you mean.

An adult can be wowed like a child but should be able to take a step further to understand before embracing belief.
==========
*[J. Gaarder, Sophie’s World]

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

Lara–You express it quite well. The Universe is indeed inside us. I have not read it yet. My wife is reading it now and I am next in line.

Pen–An adult who has not lost his sense lof awe can be wowed like a child everyday in his life. My spiritual practice involves excercising awe at everything big and small. I’m working at it, and I know it involves gratitude every step of the way.

Jaja
Jaja
14 years ago

I’m a child trapped in a woman’s body.

I’m an adult with childlike wonder,which makes the load a little lighter.when you retain a little bit of your childlike wonder, it’s easier to deal with things.that’s how it worked out for me.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

jaja-That’s wonderful. I’m like that too.

xavier
xavier
14 years ago

Wonderful thougths you have there. Being a father of four young boys, I find it challenging to provide/balance both structure and freedom in raising them.

A case in point: discussion about God. Although I tell them who and what God is based on what religion has taught me, I also tell them that it is an experiential thing…that a person will know God better once he experiences “the” moment. I constantly encourage them to seek God beyond what I have told them.

I’m at a point in my journey wherein I have internalized the reality of my (physical) insignificance in relation to the greatness of God’s creation. It really is mind boggling. It’s humbling as well. I’m hopeful more snippets of enlightenment will follow. I hunger.

ollie
ollie
14 years ago

Hi Jim, I just stumbled upon your blog.

“Thus, in a tree we could see poetry, or life and even all of creation. In a raindrop, we could see the entire beauty of the Universe.”

Part of my experience growing up is questioning the existence of God, and one of the things I realized is that I need not believe in the personalistic & antrophomorphic God of the Bible to see the universe’s beauty. Although I’m not a complete unbeliever, I can’t help but wonder if one day, there could be a scientific explanation to the divine, in the same way that most ‘miracles’ today are being explained by science ( Similarly, I remember a Science 10 lecture on the origin of the universe back in Ateneo – not so sure if you or Fr Ben gave it, though.). If you have the time, do check out Richard Dawkins’ new book, “The God Delusion”. It’s quite a provocative read for anyone open enough to look deeper into his faith.

Cheers
Will

(Kami nAPO Muna was great, by the way!)

Anne
Anne
14 years ago

wow. two and a half years since you were on that stage in Miami singing
“Batang-bata ka pa at marami ka pang
Kailangang malaman at intindihin sa mundo, Yan ang totoo”

the day you become a grandfather you sang the song you wrote for your daughter.

that right there is the divine. you do not need yet, He is still perfoming. you had your eyes closed and you still didn’t miss it.

“You are not the momentary whim of a careless creator experimenting in the laboratory of life. . . You were made with a purpose.” – Og Mandino