By Jakeb Brock
Modern human life is rife with contradictions. We who live in today’s world have the greatest excess of abundance, comfort, luxury, and ease ever known. But instead of this excess making us happy and carefree, just the opposite has happened. We have become a deeply anxious and fearful people. Instead of happiness, we have become perpetually glum and troubled. Instead of being free of cares, we have become enslaved to our fears. Instead of joy and openness to life, we have become closed and cut off. In truth, our great opulence in the material realm has turned us into paupers in the realm of spirit and life. In that latter realm, we have become like beggars who must rely on tiny, insubstantial tidbits of sustenance just so that we can survive. And sometimes we are so burdened and distracted by our troubled mindset, that even those tidbits do not sustain us. Often we fail to recognize them, even when they come our way.
This is a serious matter, and it seems to be getting worse, not better. It is as if we are digging a hole for ourselves—one that is getting deeper and more slippery all the time. If we keep going in this direction, we are liable to find ourselves hopelessly cut off from the one true source of life.
The Bible tells us that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. What this means is that according to our created makeup, in order to survive and flourish, we need the sustenance of spiritual life as much, if not more, than the sustenance of physical bread. We need to connect with God’s life more than we need comfort and material possessions. And if we become completely cut off from the source, we cannot survive as a species. Therefore, our most pressing imperative ought to be to always remain open and receptive to being touched by life… but the hole we are digging is making this impossible.
There is another serious problem that we face. Up until now, we have been, spiritually speaking, surviving on tidbits. But little by little, even those tidbits are drying up. With each new generation that is born and raised, human beings are becoming more disconnected from true life. Increasingly, we are failing to value the tidbits when they are offered to us, and now those tidbits are becoming scarce. That which we have repeatedly spurned and rejected is becoming increasingly difficult to find. The biblical imagery used to describe this predicament is that of famine. Moreover, it speaks of there being two different kinds of famines. There have been famines that reflect shortages of essential crops, such as grain. But there is also such a thing as a famine of the Word of God. What is the Word of God? It is the Spirit of true life. This then is the kind of famine we are currently experiencing. And as with any kind of famine, this one is starting to cause us to feel a terrible pinch and to suffer. Many of the sources we have relied on in the past for a dose of spiritual life have become too corrupt, polluted, and diluted to be sustaining.
There was a time when organized religion was one of these sources. Religious houses of worship were once places where people could go and receive at least a tidbit of truth and sustenance. But such is no longer dependably the case. Now, more often than not, religious parishioners come away feeling empty and unsatisfied. All the same words and liturgical rites are still being spoken and performed, but somehow these have become void of life. And this lack of a dependable place to go and worship in Spirit and Truth has greatly exacerbated this famine.
It is noteworthy, however, that there is one important distinction between a physical famine and a spiritual famine. With a physical famine, there comes a time when all supply ends. But with a spiritual famine, a different dynamic has been revealed. This dynamic is that the supply of spiritual life has not ended. Rather, we ourselves have created so much distance from, and resistance to, that it is now out of our reach. It is as if the changes that have come to define modern society have erected a wall between us and the source of spiritual life. That life has not gone anywhere; we have. In fact, nothing whatsoever to do with spiritual life on the earthly plane has changed. It is still just as prolific as it has ever been. It is still vibrantly pulsating throughout the earthly environment. It is in the plants, the trees, the birds and animals, the sky and weather, etc. It is in the air we breathe. But we have lost our ability to connect. We have become like blind creatures, groping in the dark.
On some level, our politicians and leaders have attempted to address this glaring inconsistency inherent in modern human life. But their efforts have been half-hearted and insubstantial. True, they have had the foresight to designate some of the earth’s naturally most beautiful and scenic regions as nature reserves. The problem is, that while you can lead a horse to water, you cannot make it drink. So while we can freely visit those beautiful reserves, we do not automatically connect with the one life they embody just by us simply being there. What our societal leaders have failed to do, is lead by the example of their own lives. In contradiction to some of their policies, they continue to promote and glorify the very mindset that is causing us all to become chronically alienated from true life.
Thus, the famine of the Word of life is becoming more and more severe with the passing of each year, and as this happens, many good people are going under. Some are becoming suicidal. Others are becoming hopelessly addicted to drugs, alcohol, and other kinds of pain-numbing substances or activities. But the vast majority of people are just becoming inwardly crippled and numb. They are becoming chronically unhappy and unfulfilled, which, in turn, is causing them to feel withdrawn, closed, acutely cut off, and untouchable.
Even those who sincerely hunger for true life, and value the ritual of spiritual practice, are feeling the pinch of this famine and finding it difficult to connect. As more and more people despair of finding spiritual sustenance, a tremendous inertia is beginning to emanate from society-at-large, and persevering with our spiritual disciplines in the face of this inertia is becoming more and more challenging.
But there is still hope, and this hope is not based on some pie-in-the-sky deliverance. It is based on who we are—that is, on our created human makeup. I have seen this at work first hand and know it to be true. We are in a bad way right now, but we have it within us to make things right. We are becoming more and more cut off and untouchable, but there is something about the way we are made that will prevent us from ever becoming totally untouchable.
True life is indestructible. It will always be within us and within our ability to connect with. It will always pervade our earthly environment. Therefore, as long as there are human beings populating this planet, they will have the power to connect and respond to true life.
We all know this instinctually. We may feel detached right now, on account of the famine’s inertia, but it is this instinctual knowledge about our own created makeup that will ultimately deliver us and keep us from becoming utterly sold to vanity and materialism.
Our instinctual knowledge about our created makeup has also produced another promising result. It has caused us to continue to value family life, especially the experience of having and raising children. This is in spite of the fact that for many young parents-to-be the future looks uncertain and bleak. But the societal ritual of having and raising children has somehow shown itself to be immune to the inertia of these times. This is surprising in light of the fact that as people become increasingly cut off from the source of spiritual life, they also tend to feel cut off from other people, including blood relatives. So family relations are definitely feeling the pinch, but the societal ritual of raising a family itself seems to continue going strong.
Some would say that the reason for this is biological—that it is our biological instinct to mate and preserve the species. But I would put forth another reason as well: something deep inside of us knows that it is through the experience of having and raising children that we will survive this famine and come at last into the evolutionary fulfillment of human life of which we were created. It is through our children that we will stay connected and touchable.
Curiously, the Bible speaks of this phenomenon in prophetic terms when it says, “And a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6). In fact, it is only now in these times of spiritual famine that this prophetic word is reaching its fulfillment. It is the little children that will ultimately lead us out of the famine. That is why we have continued to value family life. The more disconnected we become, the more we need our little children to lead us. Why? Because little children are naturally connected to the source of life, and all we adults need to do is to let the children be themselves and share in their wonder. Jesus’ teaching concurred with this when he said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14).
Of course, we adults also have the power to squelch out our children’s gift of natural connectedness to life, and sadly this too is happening on an appallingly large scale. We do this by imposing our fears upon them and teaching them that it is dangerous to be too open and unguarded toward life. And so many children are losing their natural responsiveness to life at a young age. But the good news is that more and more young parents are becoming conscious of these dynamics – and, as a result, are resisting the impulse to impose their own fears upon their children. Some are even doing their best to nurture and enhance their children’s natural openness. And they are doing this not only for the child’s sake but also for their own sakes. They are taking this approach because they recognize that they themselves are reconnecting with true life through their children. They are becoming like little children themselves (spiritually speaking) and entering the kingdom of God in their own right.
To a little child the world is full of wonder. Thus, to view the world through children’s eyes is a spiritual tonic for us adults unlike any other. For it is through viewing the world with eyes of wonder that we stay forever young and fresh. And this quality of eternal vibrancy then acts as the antidote to the poison of fear. Children are also naturally joyful, and it is through experiencing joy that we adults are kept from closing ourselves off and becoming hardened and unresponsive.
As this famine of spiritual life presses upon you, and you feel yourself becoming more and more disconnected and lifeless, take hold of the hand of a little child and let them lead you. Let their joy and wonder touch your heart… and keep you soft and responsive. Remember Jesus’ words. Let the little children come to you and lead you to the wellspring of life, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.