This is as far as we got

One of the fathers at our Zen parenting group read this aloud at our last meeting, and I’d like to reproduce it here. It’s from the book Raising Spiritual Children in a Material World by Phil Catalfo:

I often think of the early humans who left behind the first religious artifacts: the cave paintings and henges of Neolithic Europe, the petroglyphs of the American southwest, totems and carvings and ceremonial adornments found among the ruins of ancient settlements around the world. I try to imagine what motivated them to create these images and objects, through which they still speak to us, in some cases, tens of thousands of years later. What prompted them to fashion brushes and pigments and invent religious art? What did they think they were doing? What were they saying to themselves, let alone us?

In my imagination, what they were saying goes something like this: We were here. We shared this place with these other beings. They had some powers, and we had some powers.There was so much magic we didn’t understand it all. There were spirits in the air, on the land, in the sea; everywhere, spirits. We think maybe we are spirits, too. We tried to understand just what we are. This is as far as we got.

I haven’t read the rest of the book yet, but I love that passage. Especially the last two lines. It’s how I view religions in general. Their texts, their scriptures, are not the last words on the subject. They’re as far as they got.

We still need to seek, because the story is far from over.

3 thoughts on “This is as far as we got

  1. Hi,
    I’m the author of that book, and those words. I’m so glad you enjoyed that passage–one of the parts of the book I’m proudest of, if I do say so myself–and hope you enjoy(ed) the rest of my book! It was published in 1997 and went out of print in 2001 or so; I can’t tell you how happy I am that people are still reading it, discussing it, and getting value out of it.

    I’m curious: Where is your Zen parenting group located, and who is the father who read that passage aloud at your meeting?

    Many blessings,

    Phil Catalfo

  2. Phil,

    Funny thing. Your book was sitting on my wife’s nightstand for the longest time without me actually noticing the title. I began a Parenting Group at Empty Bowl Zendo in Morristown, NJ about a year ago and have since read bits and pieces and chapters of books on ‘Zen & Parenting’ and ‘Spiritual Parenting’, etc. Your’s is the first one read cover to cover. I guess the fact that it presented so many different perspectives kept it fresh for me.

    You should be proud of that passage, by the way; it touches the eternal in a very poignant way. It brings to mind one of my favorite poems.

    The Current
    by Wendell Berry

    Having once put his hand into the ground,
    seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
    a man has made a marriage with his place,
    and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
    His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
    It has reached into the dark like a root
    and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness.
    a flickering sap coursing upward into his head
    so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
    in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
    to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
    their lodges and graves, and closing again.
    He is made their descendant, what they left
    in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice.
    And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
    the forest burrowing into the earth as they come,
    their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
    and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
    to lie still under the black wheels of machines.
    The current flowing to him through the earth
    flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
    a young man who has reached into the ground,
    his hand held in the dark as by a hand.


  3. Phil,

    Glad you found my blog. As you can see, I asked Tim Wever to respond directly to your questions.

    I’m enjoying the book, finding many parallels between your search and mine.

    Thanks for the good work.

    Peace & Love,


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