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Posted August 17, 2004

The Danger of Staying the Same Size

Taken from Say Yes To Life — already cited on web site

One of the central prayers offered in the synagogue on the High Holy Days expresses the hope that God’s sovereignty will be established over the earth, and then “every creature will know that You created it; every living thing will recognize that You fashioned it.”

Why is it important that we should each look upon ourselves as God’s creatures? What difference does it really make?

Abraham J. Heschel, one of this century’s most celebrated interpreters of Judaism, once pointed out that in the Jewish view, man is man not because of what he has in common with the earth but because of what he has in common with God. The Greek thinkers sought to understand man as part of the universe; the prophets sought to understand man as a partner of God. To consider ourselves as God’s partners is a challenge to continue to create with God that creature God meant us to be.

In one of Wallace Stegner’s novels, Second Growth, there is a scene dealing with our theme. It takes place in a small town in Vermont where opportunities for young people are limited. A teacher becomes interested in a young boy who shows a great deal of promise. She encourages him to leave the little town and to look elsewhere for greater educational opportunities.

“I’d take this chance to go to college if I were you,” she tells him. “There won’t be much else we could teach you around here. You would stay the same size all your life.”

The risk of staying the same size all our lives is as great in a madly bustling metropolis as it is in a sleepy little town. And it is not only our minds that must continue to grow. To reach out full God-given potential, we must mature emotionally and spiritually as well.

Americans today spend billions on diet foods, diet drinks, exercise, and recreational activities. All these testify to our justifiable fear of growing in the wrong places and in the wrong ways as we grow older.

What we need is the greater fear that in some vital ways we stop growing altogether. Where our truly human dimensions are concerned — the dimensions of the mind, heart, and soul — we must not stay the same size all our lives.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare says, “We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.” Perhaps I would put it a little differently. When we truly know who we are, God’s creatures, who will dare to set a limit on what we may be?