Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Childish Things

When I was a really young child, my father would bounce me on his knee and repeat a phrase - "Ignorance is bliss." Sometimes he would add a Bible verse.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:11

Growing up, this one leaves always left me a little puzzled. But then it should, for as a child I wasn't expected to know the whys and wherefores. Even now, at the age of seventeen, I am caught half way between childhood and adulthood. I half wonder what it is all about.

At my age, the best interpretation I have of the words "ignorance" and "bliss" are that my daily experiences are a fleeting glimpse of the promise and happiness of life or "not". Life now is one long blissful summer day. There is  nothing more to do than swim, lounge, eat, and play. Worry is not a part of my vocabulary. Like another passage from the Bible, Matthew 6:26, I feel and think as God sees the birds in the sky, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and "yet the heavenly Father feeds them".

I say I am a little puzzled, should say ignorant, for it seems that St. Paul's words imply something is coming. Something is on the way and I am in for a big awakening. I picture a game show, you know the one - three curtains on the stage, you pick one. Behind one is either a million dollar prize or a trash can full of garbage. But does life's answer come down to just plain dumb luck? If that is the case, then why prepare at all for the future. Why not remain ignorant and, at the same time, blissful?

Life is a journey, dad says. But, journeys can be frightening, like in the Stephen King novella, The Girl who loved Tom Gordon.You know the kind. A teenage girl is deep in the woods of Maine - King's stomping grounds. She is with her mom and her older brother. It is a beautiful day and they are hiking through the woods. But mom and brother constantly bicker, so she lags behind and when she stops for a call of nature, she gets lost. Day becomes night and the journey becomes fraught with danger, the girl's very survival is at risk.  You can't see around the corner, you can't see in the bushes and something lurks there. Childhood's innocence ends, reality awaits.

What could this new reality be? Is it possible that I shall at some point be responsible for my own fate? Do I see that God does not always provide and that I must seek out my own fortune and fate? Is there hard work in my future? As I said, I am seventeen. For the first time in my life, I anticipate that in a year or so I will be looking for a new roof to place over my head. Whether this is at college, in the military, or somewhere else, I don't really know.

I search for direction, for guidance, fore enlightenment. At church I ask my youth leader a thousand questions, but his answers are no better than Paul's message in Corinthians  - It is coming, be prepared.

St. Paul continues his message to the Corinthians with words that are equally disheartening.

 For now we see thorough a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  
1 Corinthians 13:12

I want an answer, but Paul tells me that  the truth is obscured by a glass darkly. Dark glass - I picture going down the highway in my car at night. It is raining and the bugs have splattered all over the windshield so that I can barely make out the road. Now and then a bolt of lightening arcs across the sky revealing the outlines of the landscape. Or, I picture a coke bottle, you know, the old kind that is thick and wavy. You hold it up to your eye and try to see through it but the world is distorted and vague. Either way you look at it, it is all a mystery to me.

 Let's take a slight detour here and get back to St. Paul. Here was a man of faith and that is a bit like saying "ignorance is bliss". Enough said, my dad would say. But then who was this St. Paul was and who were these Corinthians he was writing to. Those seem the better questions. We all know that  St. Paul was a Jew and that his epiphany came on the road to Damascus. Damascus is the capital of Syria, my dad explained to me not long ago. Well, anyway, St. Paul's message did not play well to the Jews and so he took to preaching on the road. He had gone to Athens, Greece, but found them not to his liking. Next he traveled east to Corinth. My dad would have me learn all about ancient Corinth, but I would think "ignorance is bliss". Still, it is helpful to know that at St. Paul's time Corinth was a major trading post. Corinthians were famous for trade and the pursuit of money that came with trade. As a trading port it was filled with Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jews. All of these people would be searching for an answer and St. Paul had one to give. Money is not the answer.

Now that I am seventeen, my dad has quit saying "ignorance is bliss". His new mantra goes something like this - "It is the question and not the answer that matters."

So, it strikes me that even if I am ignorant of the answers to life's questions, at least, I can enjoy the ride. The phrase is cliche, but apt - It is is the journey, not the end of it that matters. The pursuit of life makes living worthwhile. And as for ignorance, well that is a fact of life.

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