"Le silence n’est pas un vide, c’est une traversée vers une plus grande écoute, vers une plus grande présence."
~ Francine Carrillo, Le Silence : Un Artisanat de Quotidien
To say traversal in this context would only suffice as a beginning, in describing a crossing-over, a voyage of transition, through a dense wilderness, a desert, a night of the soul. I once traversed a very long and unknown causeway bridge during a road trip, just after midnight, during a rainstorm, and could not figure out how far across I was advancing; alone on that road, my only visibility was about twenty feet in front of my headlights. The best and sole task was to steer straight and remain watchful. Having already driven about six hundred miles, it seemed endless.
Setting forth with all we have and all that we know, risks where and who we are. Yet we go. As my arms reach farther before me, what had been in my grasp falls away. Only when I momentarily stop to think about it, I am able to recall what residual weights had been released. Though new places, seasons, and identities may be uncertain, it is the promise of renewal that drives us onwards. A most worthy crossing-over is that which traverses desolate stretches and into consoling solitudes in our deepest heart. It is a return, with the familiarity of my maternal language, but with the newness and assurance of a clean slate.
Being restored to ourselves, even in solitude, is far more than a tearing-away from accumulated anxieties, but rather a transcending of such disabling thoughts so as to descend deeply within one's gravitational center. The inner life cannot subsist in surface thoughts; the spirit is sensed in the still realm of our very respiration. An acknowledgment of weakness needn't frustrate, neither should it endanger hope. Instead, I try to remember times when I'd say, "well, if this doesn't happen, or doesn't work, here are some other things to try." At other times, there is someone near me who has justifiably misplaced their own recollections; and I can serve as a memory of what has been tentatively forgotten.
Leaving discouragement behind, leaving loss by the wayside, I am navigating the departure from wanting through my thoughts, to a heart's desire to trust anew.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
"The Little Prince climbed a high mountain. The only mountains he had ever known were the three volcanoes, which came up to his knee. And he used the extinct volcano as a footstool. "From a mountain as high as this one," he said to himself, "I'll get a view of the whole planet and all the people on it..." But he saw nothing but rocky peaks as sharp as needles."
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
This is a time during which all things are taken close to heart. Surely not in the sense of being agitated at the slightest tremor. Immersion in one's being is not even close to superstition. Quite the opposite, to breathe in deeply of the Spirit is to realize the extent of one's strength. I have experienced joyful welcomes in places that are thousands of miles apart. It is as though I have many homes, when I feared I had none. Far above place, it is the enthusiasm of greeting which goes straight to my heart; honest kindness, gratitude, and openness.
In recollecting, I am brought to ponder how the precipice of despair has forced open my receiving embrace of mercy. It remains a wonder to me, and I believe it will for a long time. Changes of scenery, even for the cause of refuge, have become ways of returning to myself. I sought to remedy what was lacking, and as I emerged from the crepuscular void of grief, it turned out that nothing and no-one is missing. The fear of loss is gone. I am here.
As we return to ourselves, we go to the innermost realm where truth dwells; it is not beyond our reach. Indeed, the words of life are right on our lips. How I had lost sight of that! In retreating for refuge, all along the way I noticed beauty- the kind of plain eloquence that brings the brilliance of the spirit to consciousness. The shifting light of day, the taste of fresh bread and fruit when we’re famished (but trying to be discreet about it), receiving the presence of others, scents and sounds. Perhaps what was lacking, if anything, was perspective, and perhaps part of that was forgetting to be conscious.
Care must be taken not to be so quickly self-condemning, that I cannot learn simple truths the first time around, and that I must learn the same life lessons many times over. It is all to make emphasis that as deep suffering gives way to peace, what I saw as numerous "false starts" are actually increments pointed toward this very moment I am writing these precise words. Points of view I have wished to leave by the wayside now become incongruent to the extent that such negative perspectives simply no longer fit, and do not warrant another minute’s worth of time. Oddly enough, anxieties re-appear, even when I worry about maintaining the good momentum of renewal. The feelings are strangely familiar, but their substance is now simply out of context. Indeed, this forward motion requires some nurture, even after such inertia has been overcome, and progress will proceed. It will.
Innumerable "false starts" are still no cause for cynicism. And to be troubled about such things is as self-undermining as worrying whether I’ll wake tomorrow morning and wondering if I’ll wash up, have my coffee, and brush my teeth. Of course I will. I always have. It seems I need to actually see myself learn these lessons. Aspiration allows me to see possibilities, and in turn I continue to aspire. As it was for Augustine, to desire is to be truly in prayer; the two are parallel. And though I must fully engage the chaos, the silence of the monastery need never depart. Even in humble, workday parcels, silences bear the roots of the cultivated interior life, recalling how greater is that which is within us than that which passes through this world.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
"Take, take 'til there's nothing,
Nothing to turn to.
Nothing when you get through.
Won't you break,
Scatter pieces of all I've been.
Bowing to all I've been running to."
~ Silence, by Jars of Clay
Mountains of transfiguration are not purposed ends, but means. And indeed, far from contrivance, a life of presence that attends to the moment cannot predict whither the wind blows, where it comes from, or where it is going. What I can do is be present enough to realize what is happening to me, internalize what I learn to be new ways to reverence the situations and souls in my midst, and then to venture out. As in the parable of the talents, the investments of which I am entrusted are not for me to bury in the ground. Gifts are useless in underground coffers, and it would be an injustice to overcautiously squander wealth that is designed for gentle and generous conveyance. In my experience, there has been less emphasis and even nostalgia about places and events when there's a continuum of giving and receiving.
This new adventure bears the colors of paradox. By moving forward with a heart full of confident hope, I have also surrendered an obstructive resistance to the spectrum of this life as it is presented to me- of which I am undeniably an ingredient. Resisting the present is not only exhausting, but it endangers becoming a personal identity. Why be negatively identified, as those who are known by what they oppose? Resistance spends a whole lot of energy, talents as it were in the classical sense, better applied for the cause of encouragement and improvement.
What a worthwhile challenge, to engage in dis-identifying from the detrimentally cerebral sphere of unconscious thought. I say swing that wrecking ball right here, right on those obstructive barriers. And then suddenly there follows the prospect of not being identified with painful suffering. The landscape does change, when the outmoded, tyrannical East Bloc architecture is razed. But that deep inner pain can be so profoundly embedded as to become something of an implant. Crises which cause us to clamor for metaphorically life-threatening surgery, are really the crossroads between an interminable self-condemnation and what has been called by Eckhart Tolle as "a complete alchemical transmutation of the base metal of pain and suffering into gold."
There is a new season on the runway. Just a few days returned, after weeks of milder weather in France, through the bracing and icy Maine air, I can see an undeniably evident spring light. It is a Springtime of the soul. The passage of time needs no permission to occur, however it is for me to actively embrace the present, and not look backwards for either an identity or an approval. It is the worthwhile vigilance.
Friday, February 16, 2007
"My thoughts cannot comprehend Divinity, and so I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love even that which I cannot know.
Let loving desire, gracious and devout, step bravely and joyfully beyond and reach out to pierce the darkness. Yes, beat upon that thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire and do not cease come what may."
~The Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 6
Learning a new environment, so as to find the comforts and become aware of the pitfalls, means figuring out the preferable shops and eateries, understanding the local culture, and memorizing the streets and regulations. Hardly a week back into the routine again, my steps are simultaneously measured and bold, though surely borne from strides that have covered ancient and faraway paths. A life that proceeds cannot stand still, even in the glow of communion, and it is for me to cultivate, increase, and give of what I continue to receive.
Today, after too many draining meetings, I smiled to myself as I recalled one of the monks in Taizé gesturing with his hands clasped tightly together, describing to me how the more fiercely we seek the things of God, the stronger the response that comes to us in return. Here are my proving-grounds: the meetings, relationships, material concerns, and the day's extemporaneous situations that cause me to practice what I learn. Will it be a conscious attentiveness, or the old tiresome resistance? With old habits clashing with new consciousness, I am noticing a lot of new "no U-turn" signs on familiar streets. The unknown is preferable to what I have seen not to work, and now looks so much more inviting.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"And you would think now hope would be tired,
But it's all right.
You would think tired, ragged and oil-brown,
But it's all right.
Since everything's possible,
We will still go,
~ The Innocence Mission, Go
The phenomenon of an interior renewal, whether occasional or continuous, is a tremendous mystery. We might simply resign our thoughts with an expression such as "well, the sun rises tomorrow, and shall assuredly each day." But that is at best a surface observation, and is insufficient. How is it possible that a barely visible grain of hope becomes enough to move a mountain? What happens in the dark night of the soul when, for a seemingly interminable span of time, thoughts of an apparent tomorrow offer no encouragement- and then a palpable aspiration arises? Sure, my friends have heard my "I hope so's," and "I think so's," uncertain to the same level as my wonder that a newness of life should be delivered to a doubtful person like me. Is it a question of strength at all?
Breaking the bonds of time begin to resemble the ways we can jettison our past's dead wood. In this I am learning how the future lights the present, not the other way around. My natural skill at perseverance would now be little more than status-quo, without a mysterious undergirding force that has not emanated from me. A flickering signal light can increase to a persistent fire within, and beneath what I can hardly describe is the sure call to courage. Now to maintain this spirit. But then as a true paradox it would be subverting to be concerned with the distance ahead and any sort of grasping, rather than to be about the immediacy of being.
"Blessed is the one whom you choose and call
to dwell in your courts...
You keep your pledge with wonders;
The hope of all the earth
and far distant isles..."
~ Psalm 65
The ancient life-practice of pilgrimage extends to far more than a limited journey. Yes, there is a setting forth, with a destination that combines spiritual and physical places. The way-stations in between are limitless in form and personage. My own life of pilgrimage has involved numerous homes, roads, vehicles, airports, diners, offices, and welcoming ambulatory personal spaces. They are unpredictable, and that is the beautiful and formless nature of a pilgrimage of trust on earth.
In 2002, after an immortal experience- and nearly home to my doorstep in Portland- I stopped at a convenience store at about 1:30am, realizing that for a long absence from home, I'd not left any perishables at home. Setting the half-gallon of milk on the counter, the equally-drowsy cashier exhaled with, "what brings you out this time of night?" I simply responded nonchalantly with "I just drove fourteen hours from Toronto," that was enough to bring the cashier to tears. Apparently, she had been watching the World Youth week of events on television; over and over she said, weeping, "I know where you were. I know where you were. I prayed for all of you." Somehow, she knew correctly. The moment was as poignant as anything I'd experienced as a simple musician amidst a million pilgrims with Pope John Paul. My own extraordinary pilgrimage wended right through the aisles of a Cumberland Farms store on Woodford Street.
We needn't deceive ourselves into thinking that our journeys are without significance. It surely isn't about pursuing the next morsel of personal recognition, or making achievement into a narcotic. And once that burden is thrown off, but the positive momentum maintained, the pilgrimage continues as a flourishing voyage instead of a closed loop. For myself, the sea change is so powerful that with this return I will cultivate what has taken root. Moving from belief to convincement is to realize the pilgrimage of trust is eternally hopeful- and- that just as those I welcome are strength for my travels, the welcoming souls I encounter embrace me in turn along their ways.
Monday, February 12, 2007
"L'espérance ne consiste pas d'abord en un mouvement de l'homme vers le futur, mais en un mouvement de Dieu vers l'homme, en l'initiative de Dieu, en sa venue à partir de son avenir à lui."
~ frère Pierre-Yves Emery de Taizé, Le Souffle de l'Espérance
Taking up the quill (and the graphite) three weeks ago, and pondering the recent months from 35,000 feet above the North Atlantic, I saw that it had been far more than my labored steps which had brought me aloft- but truly the Source of all gracious substance. Rather than resist all that illuminates my present from what awaits, my thirst brought me to gladly unburden and surrender to what I could already see would be magnificent, without even knowing the details. With the hum of the large jet, and amidst the silent, sleeping passengers, the Psalmist's words came to me,"why are you cast down, my soul?" Surging waves of indignation have passed over me, and healing calm has taken hold. It is a literal and heartachingly humbling passover.
Now, just resuming the quotidian life I had stepped away from, there is as much that is familiar as there is which I no longer wish to consider routine. Bittersweetness is a spice sprinkled upon all our days, diluted or concentrated. However the peace that surpasses even a surface understanding brings me to discover consolation when it seems obstructed. The weeks of writing, visiting and celebrating, hiking, and reflection are only beginning to come to fruition. Each experience builds upon the value of accumulated adventures. Bringing it home is the challenge, and as with any life, be it sentient or not, nurture is essential. When I settled into my place on the TGV train between Taizé and Paris- at the midpoint of my journey- it was clear to me that while I hungered for my heart to be simply patched back together, what I had actually experienced was a subtle transfiguration.