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Monday, April 18, 2005

Back to Square One

Eugene Peterson illustrates what it means to "walk by faith" as he describes watching his grandson Andrew practice his crawling...
He had a tennis ball which he would pick up, throw, and then crawl after. The ball caromed nicely off walls and furniture, providing challenge and variety for showing off to his grandfather his finely honed skills of crawling... This went on for ten or fifteen minutes, and just then, the ball that he was crawling after rolled under a dry sink and disappeared from view. The moment it disappeared, Andrew stopped, sat back on his well diapered bottom and looked around for something else to do, as if there had never been a tennis ball to chase.

I looked to his mother, "Lynn, what's wrong with Andrew?... Why did he quit chasing the ball?"... Was there a missing gene in his DNA? Was he showing early signs of dyslexia and a short attention span? Lynn, not bothering to look up from her book, said cooly... "Andrew has not yet acquired object permanence."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that if he can't see it, it doesn't exist."

It took a few seconds for that to sink in, and then I said, "Oh, I've got a whole congregation just like that."
I had never heard the phrase before, "object permanence"... She told me that during those early months of being a mother, virtually everything in Andrew's life required immediate gratification - feeding, comforting, diapering. There was no waiting. There was no reality for Andrew other than what he could see and taste and smell and feel and hear. And most of what he saw, tasted, smelled, felt and heard was his mother. If she was going to be a good mother, she had to be there physically with her body. She also observed that if she continued being a good mother in that way, past a certain point, she would be a bad mother.
Her good mothering would become bad mothering if Andrew never learned object permanence - if he never learned to deal with her absence in the same way he learned to deal with her presence. Most of Lynn, to say nothing of most of the world, was not at that moment accessible to his senses. If she insisted on being indispensible to him, she would narrow his life to only what he could see of her.
I am always surprised when I come across yet another way in which biology provides a grounding for spirituality. But here it was again... I am calling this starting point, Square One, the place where we acquire object permanence. This is the place from which we launch the distinctly human journey.
Up to Square One you live by sight; after Square One, you live by faith.

- Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (p16-18)


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