My son makes myths. I told him about the bunny in the moon and he told me the bunny leapt into the sky before the earth was born, curled up and now reflects the sun. He also makes rituals. Periodically he asks for candles and arranges stones and plastic animals around the room. Then three of us, Devlin, Sage and I make wishes for animals (may all animals live in piece, may Muta be happy, may animals not kill each other, etc.) into our folded hands and blow out the candles, sending the wishes up to what my son conceives of as God. Willie typically begs out of participation and I expect, at least right now, Sage is most interested in blowing out candles. But for Devlin, this is an important ritual—he seems to have started to develop his own particular spiritual practice in response to his awareness of suffering.
Now, I should say, that this ritual is not conceived by Devlin out of thin air. I am guilty of exposing him to forms of rituals. Our yoga studio uses ritual regularly and very effectively. Also, to cope with the loss of a very special cat, I instituted an evening candle lighting for a month. But what is interesting to me is how he has absorbed these forms of ritual and created his own idea of the spiritual. Neither Willie nor I have ever told him that there is a God/god/gods—Willie generally tells him there is not one, in fact (a subject for another place is how this might be reinforcing Devlin’s spiritual tendencies…); I generally try to give him an anthropologists view of mythos/religion (having minored in anthropology in college I at least have a rough sense of the lingo and the logical approach). For Devlin right now, however, the idea of a god is important because it helps him navigate the waters of suffering that is our inheritance on this planet.
Philosophers, anthropologists and historians see in religion our species grappling with the existential dilemma inherent in self-awareness and recognition of death. Similarly, others have suggested that religious (or spiritual) behavior arises out of compassion and a need for connection. As Barbara J. King suggests the origins of religion are present in our closest relatives, the other great apes and as I watch Devlin’s generation of a myth of the world all his own, I see the youth of our species painting the walls of caves.
Ultimately, I am afraid of religion. I have, in different periods of my life, tried to dive into it—to accept it, to become faithful because that seems so much easier than to believe in a life without tether. However, for me it is not possible—I cannot avoid the obvious use of religion as a grab for power and the inherent hierarchies in even in religions seeming to be egalitarian across the board—they all come down to human as all to the exclusion of everything else. However, to my mind, the fact that Devlin is developing creative ways for to grapple with the existence of suffering and the desire for connection are, is a positive thing—and maybe he’ll find something that I haven’t. If nothing else, I enjoy the stories.