If you ask a naive child: “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” he replies “Yes!” If you ask a bright child the same question, he replies “No!” However, if you ask yet an even brighter child that question, he replies “Yes!” In my previous column, I described our need for what I termed “revirginization,” our need to again way “yes” to the question of Santa Claus. But how do we revirginize? How do we move towards a second naivete? We do it by touching the nerve of novelty, by purging ourselves of the illusion of familiarity. We must, as Chesterton once put it, “Learn to look at things familiar until they look familiar again.” We do this by making a deliberate and conscious effort at assuming the posture of a child before reality. We must work at regaining the primal spirit, a sense of wonder, the sense that reality is rich and full of mystery, that we do not yet understand and that we must read chastely, carefully, and discriminately, respecting reality’s contours and taboos. Concomitant with this effort comes the deliberate and conscious attempt at purging ourselves of all traces of cynicism, contempt, and all attitudes which identify mystery with ignorance, taboo with superstition, and romance and ideals with naivete.
It also entails the willingness to put off gratification, to live in tension, to accept being unfulfilled. It entails, in every sense of the term, refusing to sleep with the bride before the wedding night. We revirginize by learning to wait – sexually, economically, emotionally, spiritually. Finally, revirginization and coming to second naivete involves recovering again a certain chastity in experiencing. It involves recovering and respecting the sense that we ourselves and that reality around us is full of sacredness. Perhaps the process of revirginization might best be described by two metaphors: The image of weather revirginizing a geographical terrain: Imagine a geographical terrain that has been ravaged by natural disaster and despoiled by human beings. Its waters are dirty and polluted, its vegetation is dead and its natural beauty is destroyed. However, given time and weather – the sun, the rains, the winds, the storms, the frost and snow – it, in a manner of speaking, revirginizes. Its waters again grow clear and pure, its vegetation returns to life and eventually its natural beauty returns. In a manner of speaking, its chastity returns, making it again “virgin territory.” So too with our hearts and minds: as soon as we stop despoiling them through the illusion of familiarity and indiscriminate experience, they too regain, gradually, their virginity and begin again to blush in the wonder of knowing and loving. A chastity in knowing and loving returns. The image of fetal darkness: Imagine the gestation process of a human being in the womb. The process begins with a mere egg, a cellular speck which is being gestated, formed, cared for, shaped by things around it and nourished by a reality infinitely larger than itself. The process takes place in darkness, in a dark peace. Eventually the child has grown sufficiently and emerges for the first time. The sheer overwhelmingness of the mystery of reality is so overpowering that it takes a long time, years of time, for the child’s senses and mind to harden sufficiently for the child to even begin to understand. Initially the child simply looks and wonders.
So too the process of coming to second naivete, of revirginizing. We must truly be born again. We must, metaphorically speaking, make a recessive journey, a voyage to the sources, to the fetal darkness of the womb to be reduced to a mere egg, to be gestated anew in darkness (in the darkness of an understanding that understands more by not understanding than by understanding) so that we can again open our eyes to a new awareness that is so wild, so startling, so agnostic, and so overpowering that we are unable to name and number, but are reduced, as it were, to having to ponder and to wonder. G.K. Chesterton expresses this in a poem, beautifully:
When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing…
(Chesterton, A Second Childhood)
We may never grow too old, too sophisticated, too unchildlike, too unvirginal, to stare at everything as we “stared once at a nursery door.”