It's so simple,
So very simple,
That only a child can do it!
-- From “New Math” by Tom Lehrer
“Happy to see them come, happy to see them go,” my father-in-law liked to say when his young grandchildren came to visit. Now that I am a grandfather myself, I can better appreciate the sentiment. My two-year-old granddaughter is a delight, but keeping up with her can be exhausting. Having commanded center stage from birth, she now demands it. “Watch me, Papa!” she will tell me. “Watch me, Grandma!” She will then push her stuffed animal in a baby swing, turn the lights on and off repeatedly or sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” before rushing off to her next performance, which will also require our undivided attention.
“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” said Jesus, who never had any of his own. He was, of course, trying to make a point: “To such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.” What is it about children that makes them better suited than their elders for God’s kingdom?Think of all those qualities we leave behind in life without so much as a backward glance: innocence, spontaneity, a sense of wonder. Being so new themselves, children are still capable of seeing that the world God created is eternally new. Even before they can talk, you always know exactly how they feel, because they embody such transparent simplicity of spirit.
Scientists and mystics have both made a virtue out of simplicity, and for similar reasons. The scientific community has elevated simplicity to the level of principle. Named for a 14th-century Franciscan friar, the principle known as Occam’s Razor was stated most succinctly by Isaac Newton: “Nature is pleased by simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.” For some, the process of scientific discovery is described in almost religious terms. “You can always recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity,” said the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. The irony, of course, is that many scientists would dismiss any religious explanation of natural phenomena as contrary to the principle of Occam’s Razor.
How does one regain the simplicity we are all born with? It is one thing to simplify one’s life, as Thoreau advised, but quite another to be simple, to simplify one’s soul. It is an attribute that one recognizes in genius. "It took me four years to paint like Raphael," Picasso once said, "but a lifetime to paint like a child." However, there is no paint-by-numbers exercise by which one can become the true picture of simplicity; indeed, it is not a matter of becoming at all. Striving of any sort can only take us farther from our goal, if “goal” is even the right word. One must find what has been there all along, the original work still hidden beneath all those layers of paint and varnish. It is the truth of our own nature, in all its beauty and simplicity.