I recently heard Richard Rohr comment on another person’s research into the idea that the story you most remember or most identified with in your early childhood somehow shaped, or at least reflected, your personality. Furthermore, that story could have an effect in your style or approach to faith and spirituality. For example, Rohr said the story he most identified with was The Little Engine That Could, a classic example of a winner’s script—try hard, positive attitude and success will follow through with hard work.
When I first heard this, my mind immediately recalled my favorite book from my early childhood. It was a book I would ask my mom to read over and over. And after I learned to read myself, it was one I often returned to. The book was Dr. Seuss’s Are You My Mother?
In the beginning of this book, a little brown bird is comfortable, safe, and content in the nest with his mother. But somehow, while his mother is away, he gets knocked out of the nest, and thus begins his quest to be reunited with his mother. He searches high and low for her. Whenever he encountered something other than himself, be it an animal or thing, the little bird would ask, “Are you my mother?” Each of the animals he met would reply with a snooty “no” as if the little bird wasn’t smart enough to realize the simple fact that they were different kinds of animals. When the little bird asked an inanimate object like an old, beat-up, abandoned car, he would eagerly await for a reply that would never come. After awhile, the undaunted little bird would continue on with his quest.
Eventually, the little bird comes across a big, earth-moving steam shovel with puffs of black billowing smoke. A “snort” he called it because of the sound it made. Oblivious to the danger of this monstrous machine, the delicate little bird walked right up to the shovel and asked his question one more time, “Are you my mother?” The “snort” replied with another billow of smoke. And then suddenly, the arm of the giant steam shovel scooped up the little bird, raised him high into the air, and gently placed him in a bird’s nest. A moment later, the little bird’s mother returned. But this time, the little bird did not have to ask if she was his mother. He knew.
This little story explains some things about me. A moment of grace—seeing the world in a new way—a flash of insight illuminating a part of my own spiritual journey. Thank you Lord.