"And the angel of the Lord
called unto him out of heaven,
And he replied,
‘Here am I.’"
~ Genesis 22:11
"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness,
and the things hid in secret places,
that thou mayest know
that I am the Lord
which call thee by thy name..."
~ Isaiah 45:3
Articulating the intangible is among the worthy conundrums when recording the soul’s reflections. Perhaps that is one of the most persistent encouragements to continue the pursuit of both spiritual and writing vocations. Rather than to say ‘despite the indescribable,’ it is really because of what is nearly ineffable, that observations can continue to evolve alongside the effortless passage of time. If our thoughts indeed formulate our selves, emanating from our roots, then words are found among the leaves and branches in our trees.
Something someone says to you. Something you saw incidentally on your way someplace else... And then reminders connect this moment to our own lived experiences. We are, each one of us, in our own way, the ones who can potentially connect the sounds and images. Then again, in our silent moments- of any duration- are realizations that can only be uttered subtly. From antiquity Didochos of Photiki, writing in the Philokalia, offered that where there is the profoundest richness of the Spirit no speech is possible. His poetic language refers to theophany, and surely we can creatively paraphrase with our being and our days- and perhaps even words. Theophanies are those sublime yet simple revelations, disclosures of the divine, always beautifully within our unique comprehension so that we can internalize what we see and hear. How heartening it is to be clearly reminded of an inconspicuous grace- so pronouncedly as though being directly addressed and assured.
Recalling instances of theophany from my adventures brings me to realize what a good thing it’s been that I’ve written about them all along. As I cover more ground, such a subtle yet impressionable experience tends to dissolve into the day-to-day, and a lingering sense seems to transcend event. What may appear as random conversations, on the street, at work, in cafés, or otherwise in transit, will occasionally bring forth precisely what I needed to hear (and the sooner I realize it, the better). Being a career pedestrian, I get to listen to an array of acquaintances- those I know, those I barely know, and people I may have only seen once. In that ever ethereal sphere of late-night shortwave radio, during a sleepless night, I happened upon a programme during which Sister Margaret Mary Funk elaborated on her Thoughts Matter book on the spiritual life. On an errand to collect donated books to truck back to the library where I worked, while loading heavy boxes of academic tomes, one of the donors came out holding a paperback. When I said that we were not accepting paperback books, she said, "oh this one is for you." Before I could even wonder why a complete stranger was handing a cheerful chap like me Necessary Losses, she continued "loss and grief isn’t confined to deaths, but can also happen when you change jobs, too." The comment was so poignant that I remembered to write it down a week later, considering that I was actually quietly dealing with both issues. The book’s major thesis is about how our losses are inextricably linked to our substantial gains.
During my first trip to Taizé, just after signing up for a two-week’s stay, I walked the grounds of the monastery to familiarize myself with the area. Along one of the roads, suddenly hearing American-accented English, I introduced myself to two backpacking pilgrims who were loaded down with gear that reached far above their heads. They were Oregonians (from the "other Portland") just leaving to embark upon an enormous walk to Spain, and as I explained that I was going to go north to Paris in two weeks’ time, they pleaded with me to visit a church in Paris I had not heard of before. Their imploring included that I promise them that I go to this Chapel of the Miraculous Medal which had so moved them. Weeks later, immediately after arriving in Paris, I sought out the shrine; even knowing the city very well, it was still difficult to find. But indeed, as with any pearl of great price, the entire circumstance was further exceeded by the place itself, its palpable atmosphere, and the welcome I gratefully received. I’ve returned many times since, to this gift of a destination.
Experiencing theophany within, we may see the wonders of creation in our very midst, even as the ancient Psalmist marvels at the pronouncement of the firmament, of the skies that fascinated him. The realization is obviously more significant than place, but sanctified spaces that we either discover or create ourselves can surely lend themselves to that sense of silence that allows us to notice our own breathing, free of distraction and liberated to journey within.