Let’s ponder “how come?” Let the stories roll.

by Penrod

Glorious Ignorance

“Why?” “How come?” These questions arise in us at an early age. Many people, parents in particular, have experienced a persistent child’s endless “why?” My friend, Tom Condon, can probably tell us a lot more as to when and how children begin to ask these questions. You and I have our own experiences as data. Remembering and reflecting on how we came into the light of consciousness is revealing and rewarding and interesting. If we are fortunate, we can gather additional data by observing and by being with children.

Ignorance is the blessed beginning for each of us. It’s the perfect condition for surprise. Consciousness begins in glimmers and gropings, as babies play and struggle to live and to learn.

Jump ahead a couple of years. When a child, who by now has taken a few chips out of ignorance, asks and persists in asking “why?,” adults find themselves needing an answer for the next “why?” that will likely follow the one just asked which we couldn’t answer either. Oh, my! Truth be told — but not always admitted, we adults, scientifically or philosophically, realize that we do not have the ultimate answer for these questions. That our ignorance remains vast fueling at times adult annoyance with a persistent child.

It is well known that humans have been telling stories to address this gift of curiosity — stories to answer, best we can, the questions of “how come?” “How did I get here?” “But what happened before that?”

This peeling back leads to creation stories, to the great myths told by many peoples from many lands. In an article entitled “The Truth in Myths,” Reinhold Niebuhr distinguished between “pre-scientific myths” — explanations for phenomena that would later be replaced by further discovery — and “supra-scientific myths” — stories explaining origins and meaning that can never be answered by science or by additional knowledge.

For example, thinking that thunder is caused by gods bowling in the mountains is a pre-scientific explanation. Just so, as well, is the pre-scientific conclusion that the sun, moon, and stars all revolve around the earth or that the earth is flat.

Supra-scientific myths, especially creation stories that convey meaning, even though they may contain pre-scientific ideas, provide understandings of how and why. I have heard some Native American creation stories and a few stories from India and Africa. You perhaps know of more stories than I. Exploring these stories is worth the quest, but our focus at the moment — for our playing here and now, are the myths in the Bible library and the meaning they convey as well as the fun of seeing my human predicament with the chuckle of blessed ignorance.

By now it is clear that this life with its mystery and our mind is the grandest of gifts despite pain and sorrow.

Like all humans, of whatever tribe or nation, we go back to our own personal dawn of awareness, each in his or her family and community. Given how many we are, the variety of tribes in the world, and how many peoples have inhabited the earth, there are oodles of stories. There are many great myths.

Humans, for the most part, have satisfied themselves about these never-ending questions by telling a tale of a being or a presence who started everything. There has been a lot of storytelling as we have observed and a lot of it, maybe most of it, is great stuff. The mystery of our lives is profound. Our knowledge can’t get us to the bottom of the mystery.

Don’t we eventually come to the realization that there is nowhere else to go, we can go no farther? We have no next answer. This is true even though scientists probe to amazing depths, these students — people among us, now and in the past, who engage vocationally in studying all sorts of matters and in learning things that are coming down the pike relentlessly. There is no end of it. Though I know a mere smidgen and can’t keep up with discoveries, and though I don’t want to be obliged to learn it all myself before entering a conversation, the revelations I have encountered fill me with wonder and gratitude. They are wonder-full.

Every achievement of learning and understanding enlarges our personal understanding and generates more curiosity. Our curiosity is present at the beginning, and it never stops. By means of curiosity and increasing knowledge, children become more alive and aware. There is more to play with, more ways to play, and more playing to do as capacity for play grows along with the fun of improving and playing better.

Our aim in this exploration is play. That a child has more possibilities for play as the youth learns and discovers is a significant matter, a worthwhile gain, growth. However, the next thing, following the fun and satisfaction of a discovery, the next mystery — finding something new, doing something different, stumbling on a new reality, making something, drawing pictures, setting up games as children do, asking more questions, children continue to live and grow as did we. As do we.

It is truly remarkable.

As children continue playing, another story, the next story arises. The story may be a matter-of-fact story. For example, a child, having learned something new, can size up the situation she could not previously have handled. Or the new thing may be for fun and imagining with no apparent practical application.

While in junior high, I would lie on my back, look out the window at the tree across the street and create a story about catching a great fish or about being a hero in football or basketball or in any other sport that caught my fancy at the time. That I did lie on my back isn’t speculation. Probably like you and millions of youths today, I did that.

As a story becomes inadequate, more knowledge is needed. The stories we create are modified to accommodate new knowledge. Here’s where science really helps, history, too. Greater knowledge, including, of course, more experience, allows for a better story or a better and clearer account.

“But” you and I ask, “When do we get back to the actual stories on this field trip?”

Right now.

When I think of the greatest story ever told, it is not the one about Jesus, great as that story is. I give the eagle feather for the greatest story(ies) in the Bible library to the stories found in the first book in the library. This book, called Beginnings (Genesis) is a mini library itself with lots of different stories and situations. The stories were written by many authors along the way. How these stories got to us is one hell of a story itself and research continues: exploring that is for another time. Glorious ignorance is not going to disappear.

It is time to leave the world of about and my gabbing and get on with actual stories. Verbs rather than nouns. If you don’t know where to start, read about Elisha in Second Kings.