Such fresh vision, without prejudice or jadedness, opens God’s commonwealth to us in the here and now. As the gay poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins observed, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,” Jesus said. A teacher of children, “Ranger Rich,” helped me see a tree as if for the first time by inviting several of us to lie down beneath its branches with the tops of our heads toward the trunk and look up. I highly recommend you try this!
Mystics, too, see the world and God “as if for the first time” as they cast aside expectations and look beyond tradition to embrace imagination as spiritual artists and poets, and welcome fresh insight as spiritual children. Remember the famous story of Thomas Merton’s vision at a Louisville intersection, after a prolonged solitary retreat, that people were “walking around shining like the sun.”
Mystics, artists, poets, and children are all “progressives” in this sense.
Perhaps no mystic was so imaginative and so playfully childlike as Saint Francis, who is said to have hugged a leper and saw Jesus, preached to a tree and made it blossom, gathered the birds of the air for a sermon, befriended a wild animal and prevented it from killing villagers, called earth, wind, fire, earth, sun, and moon mother and brother and sister, recognized the dignity of those in poverty, and regarded popes, beggars, and robbers equally.
According to Kazantzakis, in his book, Saint Francis, this little saint even saw the devil differently. To his companion Brother Leo he says, “Do not lose heart, Brother Leo,” he told him, stroking his head. “Stand on your feet, and if the Tempter has straddled you, have no fears: the gates [of heaven] will open, and the two of you will enter together!”
Brother Leo exclaims, “The Tempter too! He’ll enter [the gates of heaven] too? How do you know, Brother Francis?”
To which Francis replies, “I know because of my heart, which opens and receives everything. Surely paradise must be the same.”