“The magic of childhood” is a phrase which has become so proverbial that there is a Pinterest selection dedicated to it. Childhood is wistfully hailed and enthusiastically applauded as a magical time, golden with innocence and purity. We view children with dewy eyes because of a special magical quality they somehow possess which enables them to look upon the commonplace with wonder. The phrase is not quite accurate, however. Children are not magical; the world is. Children do not view the world with special lenses. They just see the world for what it is. It is not that their eyes are magical; it is just that our eyes are blind. Children see the world as God made it, as sacrament and miracle. Our adult vision has become clouded by sin and cynicism, by weariness and materialism. A child looks up at the sun and sees a mystical promise, a pledge of warmth and joy and happy endings. He looks blinkingly upon its blinding brilliance and sees a bridegroom coming out his chamber, a strong man running his course with joy, racing across the heavens, and nothing is hidden from the heat thereof (Psalm 19:5). We look briefly at the sun, check our smart phones to discover the UV index, and reach for the sunscreen. The child sees the sun with sanity; we are the ones who are insane.
The clear eyes of children open very early. Many people will have seen a young baby lying on its back in its crib, staring with obsessed fascination at its feet at the end of its legs. The baby rightly regards this as a miracle. Feet are fascinating, and they are just the first of many discoveries to be made upon emerging from the womb. In the womb, the world contained no feet—just watery darkness and warmth and security. In a sense, it was like the world before creation—formless and void, with darkness over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2). Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light—and mother and father and doctor or midwife, and a whole bewildering multitude of other as of yet nameless mysteries. And feet. No wonder the baby stares at them. They are only the first of many bewildering discoveries in the vast cosmos of the nursery. What could they be used for? Why are there two of them? Will they stay attached? Perhaps if I stare at them long enough I will get some sort of answer.
The child begins life with this recognition of the sacramentality of the world. Everything the child encounters is a gift, and speaks the Name of its Giver. Being a gift, everything in the world is received by the child with surprise and gratitude. It is as G.K. Chesterton observed long ago (in this book Orthodoxy): “When we were very young children we do not need fairy tales; we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic.” Young children find the whole world crammed with miracles and magic, because of course it is.
But life’s suffering grinds us down soon enough, and we begin to accept the lie that the world is just the world, and the sun is just a ball of gas burning in space (despite C.S. Lewis’ reminder that that is not what the sun is, but simply what it is made of). We read up on science and causality and the laws of physics and these strong chemicals soon wash the wonder from our hearts. We then rush through life at break-neck speed, slowing down only when we suspect a police speed-trap, and scarcely see the world we live in. We miss the beauty, we are blind to the miracles. All we are interested in is our next appointment.
Wisdom’s voice therefore bids us to slow down and open our senses and heart to the world around us and see it once again for what it is. The path to sanctity leads through the garden of childhood, so that if we will not receive the Kingdom of God like children, we will never enter it at all (Mark 10:15). God calls us not to simply “slow down and smell the flowers”, but to stop our mad and heedless rush through life and receive His world as gift and give thanks for it. As Schmemann told us, Man is not homo sapiens, but homo adorans, and we find and fulfil our true human nature through thanksgiving and doxology. God has crammed His creation full of His wonders—the stars in the sky and the moon in the clouds, wine in the glass and chocolate in the mouth, blossoms bursting from branches and birds singing for joy beside them. And also, as any baby could tell you, the feet beckoning at the end of your legs. We must stop and stare at the world a little longer, and look at everything a little deeper. Every single thing around us whispers, “God made me”, and points us back to Him. Alice was amazed when she walked through Wonderland. We should be no less amazed at the world in which we live, for it is no less full of wonders.