Innocence

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Spring has come. For me this is always a time of exuberant joy when there is so much more light, and the fresh leaves are coming out, and all the little flowers with their freshness that is in such sharp contrast with the surroundings that still remind of winter. It is the time with all the cute young animals, soft lambs, calves jumping in the pastures, little ducklings swimming in a group around their mama. So much joy that it’s hard to contain, and perhaps I shouldn’t even try.

Let us treasure this moment and enjoy this special time of fresh innocence. For I think that this is what makes this time so special. These little baby animals are just so endearing! They remind us of the time when we were looking at the world with open eyes full of wonder and excitement at the grandness of it all, while being safe in the presence of our parents.

When my daughter, with the typical openness of a five year old, starts chatting with everyone she meets, it puts me on my guard, I feel the urge to protect her, and say: “Be careful, not everybody is friendly”. But then I remember what Brené Brown said in her (very funny!) book on vulnerability[1]. She explained that whenever something really good happens, we brace ourselves, half expecting something bad that might happen, and in this way we spoil all the fun. So, I don’t warn my daughter, and we have lots of funny conversations on the way, bringing a smile to all around. It is most interesting to see the effect she has on people that most adults wouldn’t even dare to approach! Really an eye opener to see how much better life would be if we weren’t so often afraid of different people.

So should we really suppress the thought of all possible dangers? In this context it is interesting to read Matthew 10:16 and further. Unlike me, when I shield my daughter from anxiety, Jesus does warn us about all the horrible things that people will do. But still he wants us to be like sheep among wolves, and although wise as serpents, yet also innocent as doves. His warnings are not meant to reduce our innocence.

I looked up the definition of ‘innocence’,and to my surprise it doesn’t mean: ‘not knowing’, but: ‘no evil’. That is good, because I am wary of ignorance. How will we ever feel any compassion if we shield ourselves from knowing about evil? Or how will we know when or how we can help, if we keep ourselves ignorant, shielded from the world? Is there a way by which we can be innocent, but not ignorant. Joyful, and open, while knowing what goes on in the world?

When we say, we ‘lost our innocence’, we usually mean that we learned the hard way either by doing something wrong ourselves, or by being wronged by others, or that our idealistic view of the world was shattered. Most likely a combination of all these. This seems to convey the idea that knowing about evil damages us. And indeed, knowing too much too early is probably damaging. It is always hard to see how the children respond when they hear about something horrible that happened. I naturally wish to shield them, but what is wisdom? It is so difficult to know, what, when and how much to tell them, in such a way that they learn to deal with reality without being too much shocked.

Too much knowledge about evil is harmful because of its effects on us. These effects come about in various ways. In case we ourselves were wrong, the effect is that we come in the grip of that wrong behavior that changed us bit by bit for the worse. But when we are victims, or when we see what horrible things people do, we can so easily come into the grip of anger, frustration or disillusion. And this grip is what really harms us and limits our freedom. It is said by some that this lost innocence cannot be restored. But I think there is a way: not by reverting to ignorance, but by liberation from the grip that evil had gained on us. In order to be released from this grip of evil we need forgiveness and healing and new hope, all of which Jesus gives: through the sacraments[2], his promises and his love. This is truly an amazing gift, that we need to learn to receive. By the forgiveness and healing God gives us, and by our forgiving others, by letting go of ideals and trusting God, we are set free.

I have been thinking that Adam and Eve were just too young to be able to deal with the knowledge of good and evil. And God, like a good mother, does not want to lay burdens on us that we cannot yet bear. God will give us to know more, when our heart has grown larger, so that we can contain it without being gripped by it. We need to grow in his love, so that we can know about evil in such a way that the pain we feel leads to compassion and a deepening of our love. Then with this larger heart we will also be able to contain more joy.


Note: I found the beautiful picture of the heart in which joy blooms in this blog.

[1] The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage, Brené Brown. See also her TED talk
[2] Baptism, communion, and in this context perhaps most obviously confession.