The voice came from the back of the car. It belonged to the three-year-old strapped in her car seat.
Her comment had no discernible bearing on anything that was going on at the time. It did not seem to relate to any of the conversation that had been taking place between the other three occupants of the vehicle. She spoke in a most matter-of-fact tone.
She said, “I don’t want to die, because when you die, your body falls off.”
It is a remarkable statement, not so much for what it says about death, as for what it says about this little person’s understanding of life. Already at just three years old, there is something in her consciousness that is able to make a distinction between two dimensions of being. She understands that she has a body, but knows that she is not entirely defined by that body.
She seems to grasp at some intuitive level that it is possible for a body to "fall off" without the person who has lived in that body ceasing to exist.
This profound awareness lies at the heart of all spirituality. We are not simply our bodies. We are embodied spiritual beings. We all know that the day will come when the bodies in which our spiritual being is carried through this physical material life will “fall off.” We know that the material realm is temporary.
It is not difficult to grasp the truth contained in the wisdom of the prophet who announced
The grass withers, the flower fades…
We know that, like the grass and the flowers, our flesh and bones are fading away. We will all one day be reduced to dust and ashes.
What is more difficult to grasp is the second part of the prophet’s pronouncement.
…but the word of our God will stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:8)
The temporary nature of the material realm is a reality we cannot escape. The "for ever" part is more difficult to apprehend.
For the apostle Paul, the reality of temporal and eternal realms was so real that he assigned to each its own body.
If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (I Corinthians 15:44)
The imagination of a three-year-old has less trouble than the sophisticated materialistic adult in grasping the reality of the unseen. Her inner life has not yet been stunted by the adult obsession with those things that can be seen and touched. For her the invisible world within remains as vivid and as real as the outside world.
When Jesus was pointing the way to an awareness of the deep eternal mysteries of life, he instructed his followers that
‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:3)
The problem is not that one realm is real and the other is imaginary. The problem is our ability to perceive, to penetrate more deeply into the hidden inner depths of the mystery of reality.
It is not by chance that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as frequently opening the eyes of the blind. We need to see more clearly.
We need to regain the sight of a three-year-old who understands that, although her physical body will one day “fall off”, the hidden mystery of who she most truly is can never be destroyed.
When we return to the consciousness of a three-year-old, we may discover that we begin to contemplate the inevitability of our bodies “falling off” with more peace. When we experience the "for ever" dimension of our being, we may also find that we are able to live each day in these bodies with greater equanimity.
Christopher Page is the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, and the Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Anglican Diocese of B.C. He writes regularly at: www.inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com
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