A Five Year-Old’s Shout to God

One summer evening when I was five, I went to my room. The window was open. The air was still, and there was the occasional yellow smudge of a lightning bug in the darkness, out there in the yard.

Occasionally, a small beetle would fly into the window screen with a plunk. The light was turned off in my room, and I stood there in the dusky glimmer, my bare feet aware of the wooden floor. My bed was near the open window.

For a while, I observed the tiny yellow lights, fascinated with how they lit and glowed, dipped down, then up, then disappeared.

That summer evening when I was five, I had just asked my mother how we might communicate with God.

In Sunday School, I was fascinated with the story of the biblical prophet, Samuel. He was a boy like me when, one night while he was resting in his darkened room, he heard God calling his name.

And each Sunday I listened as the pastor at our church reminded us that Jesus will return someday, and I would go to my mother for answers.

She was a firm believer that each one of us can and should daily communicate with Him. I still remember her words.

She said, “We should be very still and reach out to Him with our most honest thoughts.”

“Maybe I should pray to ask Jesus to come back,” I said. My mother had fascinated me with her descriptions of what an exciting occasion that would be.

So I padded barefoot to my room, stood breathing, a little scared for what I was about to do. I watched the lightning bugs, listened to the crickets, felt a breath of breeze from the open window. Maybe even this was the breath of God?

I threw myself flat on the bed and cried out with my entire being—not in spoken words but with silent, yearning words pushing deep inside. With such desperate force, I pushed these words out toward what I sensed in the intricate mystery of the mountain night outside my window.

“Come back NOW, I shouted from a place deep inside myself.”

In my mind, this was a message to Jesus and to God.

I will always remember the immediate, powerful glow I felt burst deep within me then. It was as though the sun had just come out from behind the clouds and had somehow focused all its best, warmest, most joyous rays upon me.

So, yes. I had begun to be aware of this presence, even in my misery at kindergarten when I didn’t understand the activity book directions and felt shame for the messiness of my work. Or I felt confused when a sudden rage swept over me after Roger, proclaiming himself to be cowboy star Roy Rogers, poked me in the nose with his fist, and I immediately jumped him, grabbed by a rage I didn’t understand.

Throwing myself face down on my bed and saying, “Come back NOW” was the best I could do to follow my mother’s advice to reach out to God with my most honest thoughts.

I will never forget my five year-old year and the night I threw myself face down on my bed, there in the dusky light, listening to crickets and the tap of beetle bugs flying into the window screen, smelling the scents of hay and grasses, and mesmerized by the dip and rhythms of the lightning bugs as their tails lit yellow when they were rising on the current of the air. I will never forget that powerful rush of intense joy in response to my desperate plea to God, reaching out the best way I knew how.

That experience set me on a lifelong quest to experience the presence of God and the reality that we can each of us reach with this instinctive part of ourselves and literally touch this presence, this entity.

Sadly, today it is increasingly rare that people in our culture even believe this is true. We are losing it.

Have you had a similar experience of inner joy? You may have identified it with a connection with God like what I describe here. Or perhaps you have experienced something similar but you don’t necessarily attribute it to God. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

Mrs. Harbor’s Delicate Boats

I remember Old Central School in Middlesboro, KY with its high ceilings and tall windows looking out on a playground covered in tiny rocks. Cinders from the coal furnace that heated the school in winter were scattered near rusted oil drums converted to trash barrels.

On this day in late September, yellow jackets hover around those trash barrels, drawn to the sweet sap of discarded apple cores. Back then, many students brought juicy red apples to munch at recess.

Is it just me, or were apples juicier back in the 1950’s?

Yes, I think they were. I remember apple juice dribbling down my chin out there on the cinder-strewn playground. Anyway, it is one of those afternoons in late September. The atmosphere is warm and comforting, not hot, but with a depth of thoughtful warmth, as though the world has paused to breathe near the end of summer, reflecting on all the years there have been.

Perhaps reflecting on us, the strangers we must seem. Human creatures, bipedal, who have sprung up so recently in the history our world, this planet, Earth.

After recess, during Science class, our teacher, Mrs. Harbor, stands before us, gently smiling.

“Who knows the shape of the Earth?” she asks. “Have you ever thought about that before?”

I can still see in my mind the blonde-haired girl, Judy, who nearly always sprang quick as a hare to the challenge of one of the questions Mrs. Harbor would ask.

To me, it is as though our teacher’s questions are delicate little boats set in the water for us to admire, awed as one of them drifts out upon a pond.

Judy raises her hand, “Why, surely the Earth is round, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Harbor lets Judy’s answer hang in the air. We know she is thinking one of us might have a different answer. But Judy’s answer seems right. Hadn’t we just talked about Columbus before recess and how he proved that the world is not flat?

Mrs. Harbor does not say Judy is wrong, but she entices us with the latest theory scientists have just come up with.

“Yes, the Earth is round,” she says. “But scientists now believe it is not perfectly round. Perhaps it is more like this.”

Mrs. Harbor steps to the slate chalk board and with one quick, sure motion creates something that is not quite a circle. It is more elliptical, somewhat higher at the North and South poles.

But that is the world I was in back in Fifth Grade. Back in the 1950’s, before astronauts, before we had seen our world from above. Just a few years later, though, I felt a jolt of excitement to see a flier at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park seeking candidates to become astronauts. I wished I could be one, but I thought it more reasonable to believe I could become an archaeologist.

Though I became neither an astronaut nor an archaeologist, I continue to be drawn to Science, and especially to physics and astrophysics. I respect the scientific method.

I do believe, however, that our assumptions about who we believe we are as human beings require a re-examination. And you, just being a citizen of our era, are likely to immediately ask me why. Ours is an era where the emphasis on Science and its method trains us to ask why, to demand proofs we can quantify. That is, we acknowledge what can be identified, proven scientifically. We are skeptical of what cannot be quantified.

Though part of me would prefer to answer the why with a stubborn child’s just because, I realize that such an answer is not appropriate. It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I state here that the why involves our glib dismissal of our spiritual capacity as a crucial element of who we are and what we are becoming.

And why you ask, do I have a child’s reluctance to bring a spiritual element into this discussion?

Why, it is because one of the assumptions of our culture is that the spiritual, especially in the context of this entity we refer to as God, is neither quantifiable nor worthy of scientific examination. For this reason, many today dismiss the idea of God out of hand as superstition. It is a badge of a past when people didn’t know any better.

I propose a blog and a series of books which challenge our skepticism about the existence of this entity we call God and begins to suggest a means of quantifying the existence of this entity and how our learning to explore it—even scientifically—is crucial to our understanding of who we are and what we are becoming.

No, I am not an astronaut, astrophysicist, archaeologist. Perhaps that doesn’t matter as much you might think. This is because part of our re-examination of who we are as the human species must involve a rethinking, a new approach to the scientific method. Not to dismiss what we have struggled to work out, but to figure out how to add an acknowledgment of our admittedly messy, often awkward spiritual capacity and how it must be factored into our scientific approach.

Certainly, I realize such a proposition sounds outrageous to many highly trained, scientific minds of our era. At first blush, it is inconceivable, perhaps. However, in the blog that I begin here and the series of books to follow, I will attempt a start.

The enormous task of beginning to re-examine our assumptions about who we are in relation to this entity that has pursued us since our first appearance here upon this planet is not a task for only one era. Humans pursue enormously challenging issues across centuries and even millennia.

Someone, though, must throw down the gauntlet, suggest the idea. I attempt to do so here, hoping that—though my ideas may be rejected by the best minds of our time—they might eventually inspire some future generation to step back and begin to examine my ideas in the context of working out who we are and what we are becoming in relation to this entity that has pursued us always. It is the entity we refer to as God. We err when we dismiss this entity as a relic of our superstitious past.

Like many scientists who study natural phenomena, I have a dog-eared notebook of my findings, my description of the experience of this entity. I call these my Field Notes, which will be the name I give to this blog.