“Who would dare to go nameless
in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth,
only the nameless are at home in it.”
~ Thomas Merton, The Fall
Edges and ledges ceaselessly captivate. Writing these words, I am aperch near the ocean. To consider a vantage point as a perch bespeaks a fascination with precipices. Edges take many forms- and formless aspects, as well. Changes of surface and texture are seen, sensed- even tasted. And when a corner is turned, revealing a new landscape, from within come reminders in our own language of our transition. The soul’s geography surely has a gazetteer, with words either preceding, paralleling, or following human steps. An edge indicates where events connect, and how one person’s sphere must be overlapped by a much more universal fulness. Turning an edge, in itself, has an extraordinarily intrinsic energy; striking a match to light a candle brings this to mind. Edges can be sparks, instances, and even margins of space between symphonic movements that anticipate a change of timing. Drawing a line on a piece of paper, threading lines and letters, brings an idea across an edge. Observing a photographic image materializing in developer, even for the millionth time, never loses that mysterious amber-bathed sense of threshold.
An edge can be felt as well as seen, and aspects of place are both material and spiritual. Visiting a physical marker is as tangible as recollecting a thought. The moment of transporting insight is itself an edge. But these less-visible edges are for me to recognize, and although not easily delineated these are indeed indelibly felt. An interior edge can be recognized as surely as a road’s sharp turn. But there are many grades of hard and soft edges, often keeping it a mystery to know when one has actually embarked into the unknown. Thankfully so: I am grateful for the unobstructive unknowing.
Even the self has the aspect of edge. But rather than to venture out to the generic sense, I’ll speak for myself. There are perimeters of knowing still to be found. A lifetime of discovery won’t be enough. But it seems the profounder comprehension begins at the ends of self. The plural makes more sense to me, as I believe the self has many ends. These edges seem more to me as perforations, ready to be torn away. Ancient monastic thought pointed the aspiring individual to “lose themselves” in Christ, and to desire a kind of edgeless life of immersion. Thinking of this causes me to wonder where and if self-distinction can dissolve, in this culture of endurance and survival. What are the distinctions worth preserving? Thomas Merton’s many definitions of the “false self” revolved around the rejection of immersion into the divine. Moving beyond all-costs striving to self-immortalize, to traverse the ends of self-ness. It is reminiscent of the rabbinic sages’ image of diving into the “ocean of divinity,” and to cease focusing exclusively on oneself. Merton wrote of his struggles to get out of his own way, and that reminds me of releasing the results for which I irrationally hunger.
Last week, I brought a couple of close friends to the Weston Priory for their first visit. What a rare privilege, to guide loved ones through a place that means so much to me. And to listen to their first impressions. The monastery is a simple array of barns and wooden structures, blended into the mountain landscape of the monks’ environment in central Vermont. Simply arriving there is the beginning of an unburdening- and untethering from material anchors. Even after 15 years of sojourning there, it continues to impress me to realize how little is needed to live to the full.
With my friends exploring the pine-scented terrain, I found a perch of my own. The familiarly medicinal silence returned consolingly to me. As if I needed to ascend a mountain to find what should be with me in the city- and always. Then I began to notice edges: sloped meadows and untamed fields, the brothers’ plain structures angling into the trees, the rotation of silence and sound, the earth and sky. Even the latter presented a soft edge amidst thick mountain fog. Where one edge ends, another begins. I hadn’t been to the Priory since the winter, and wanted to visit Brother Philip’s grave. What I found was unexpected- considering how previously the community used individual grave markers. Upon the occasion of Brother Philip’s passing, the brothers created a group gravestone, with each of their names and respective dates of their monastic professions- all engraved next to their brother’s “completed” inscription. It was at first astonishing, then it seemed a bit morbid to me. But then I realized how very deeply affectionate this gesture is- not just for the brothers, but for anyone else reading the memorial. The community of brothers communally felt their own lives’ edges.
Part of the fascination with edges is to contemplate their very definitions. An inadvertent tendency of mine is to leave objects too close to edges of surfaces. Then when I knock them over, I berate my own clumsiness. When I’m a little more present to the moment, I notice myself pushing things like coffee cups and cameras closer to the centers of tables and shelves. Today, my thoughts turn to what lessons are in ledges. Looking toward the layers of crags and ocean waves causes me to wonder about what is forming, what is on the verge, and what might be burgeoning. Obviously, over the edge is some kind of risk. Beyond spiritual edges is the unexpected, and the invitation to confront what has intimidated me. The wish to see around corners is the desire for knowledge, the spirit of inquiry. Ends of terrain at my feet are meeting the enwrapping arms of the ocean. Horizons and margins only appear to me as edges, but these are simply directions. Even the sunlight lands at a changing edge. The season at this threshold is at once timeless and new.