A Tiny God


My childhood home had an enormous pine tree that grew in one corner of our backyard. It towered over the rose bushes, the fence, the bird house on a pole, our garage, and other trees. It felt to my little girl self as tall as a mountain. Amongst the shelter of its lower branches I felt safe. And known. The great pine and the ground beneath it was sacred to me, though that was not a word I knew or would have used back then. Over the years fallen needles had accumulated to build layers and layers of softness and comfort. When you walked under this magnificent tree, the ground was literally different than anything else you would walk on. It felt otherworldly to me. The layers of built up and decaying needles made it easy for a small girl to dig into the earth to bury things in her life that had died. It was here that I would come when our home and the ways of the world would overwhelm me. I felt held here. I felt heard here.

I never talked about my experiences in this place with anyone. There were no words for it. It was different than church where someone told me what to want and to feel and to pray for and to be ashamed of. In this place, there were no rules, obligations, expectations or have-to’s. Just a yearning revealed, recognized and met; one that I did not even consciously know I had. This experience was beyond the world. It was a way of being seen though there were no eyes. It was a place where I felt something way down deep that I did not feel anywhere else. At the time I thought it was the tree, which is why when it became infested and there was talk of needing to cut it down, I felt cleaved down the middle. I did not know then that while yes, something did exist there in that place, it was also in me. And while in the times to come that place would lie dormant and forgotten within me for many years, when the time was right, it was as though a seed that had been planted and forgotten suddenly found its way into its day in the sun.

The technologies consume our children’s hearts, bodies and minds while asking nothing of them and returning nothing to them by way of their spirits. To be so engaged and enthralled with something that requires so little of you is not the recipe for a strong moral character. It is instead the makings of a spiritual brat. Our children are being warped and drained spiritually at a very tender age. When they are young, a felt sense of the Great Mystery of Life is not something that has to be taught. They are it. Sadly enough though, what they come in embodying can be unlearned, which is what happens when we make the biggest and most meaningful thing in our children’s lives come from a machine. As Father Gregory Boyle writes, “God can get tiny, if we’re not careful.”

If there was ever an argument for avoiding and limiting screens in childhood this could be The One. Spirit sick and soul hungry children make for very unbalanced and unhappy grown-ups, no matter what their facility with technology is.