Innocence, the light and happy state of purity, beckons on days of winter wonder. We may bundle our bodies in fleece and down-filled polyester, but freshly fallen snow can expose the heart’s longing to shed its weary weight. An inner stripping of pride and pretense allows the soul to open and delight in all small wonders.
Innocence is a light and sparkling treasure, worth protecting, worth regaining. Litanies of experience and accomplishment lack poetry. Self-conscious and self-important, our lives no longer sing. A feather-frosted window pane can take us out of ourselves. A sparkling white cover makes everything new in a moment. We can say yes to innocence.
French poet Charles Péguy elevates innocence to its rightful place. Holding the treasure to the light, he reminds us of its beauty, turning worldly wisdom on its head:
They say they’re full of experience; they gain from experience.
Day by day they pile up their experience.
Some treasure, says God.
A treasure of emptiness and a dearth…
A treasure of wrinkles and worries.
The treasure of the lean years…
What you call experience, your experience, I call
dissipation, diminishment, decrease, the loss of innocence.
It’s a perpetual degradation.
No, it is innocence that is full and experience that is empty.
It is innocence that wins and experience that loses.
It is innocence that increases and experience that decreases.
It is innocence that is born and experience that dies.
It is innocence that knows and experience that does not know.
It is the child who is full and the man who is empty.
Like an empty gourd, like an empty beer-barrel.
So, then, says God, that’s what I think of your ‘experience.’
Time to find a magnifying glass and examine a snowflake.
To watch the night sky sparkle in the frozen air.
Reads and Other Seeds
I first encountered Péguy’s poem in John Saward’s The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity and the Truth of Catholicism, a profound and moving study by a convert priest.
“Born in Orleans in France, 1873, Charles Péguy was a notable poet and writer whose work was greatly influenced by his religious, nationalist and socialist ideals during his short life.” Read his fascinating story here.
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