Monday, January 25, 2010

beginning the world

“Always the same underdog stance
under the same happy-sad sky,
eternally crying. Am I still shy?

I am always beginning the world
beginning the world.”

~ The Innocence Mission, Beginning the World

Only in the last couple of days I’ve resumed journaling, after more than a week’s hiatus. A week without assembling words is in itself indicative of a disruption of life’s pace. But with the resumption of narrative is a persistent questioning of the meaning of progress. What are the determinants of the soul’s advancement?

The mystery of real progress is akin to that of time. Mile markers along roads indicate linear distances, yet it is common in many lives to repeatedly pass by the same signs. Even with experiences of bicycle marathons and pool-swimming laps, I wonder if there’s been any tangible progress in the grand scale of my continuum. Or enough. Such pre-occupations become off-putting to me, and I’d prefer to deflect them. The big world is rife with human hardships, revealing an absurdity to worries about the small spaces beneath my feet. They are fleeting, and recognizable by their contexts and connotations. Trying to define self and success is, alas, unavoidable. And if thoughts are to be documented- albeit in passing- even the expressions of obscurity have their places, especially before a re-launch.

Momentum. A fair share of days seem to begin by just showing up. In an effortless perpetual motion, my multitasking flows among objectives, interactions, connecting points of due dates, and even the unscheduled interruptions. Tasks can even be accomplished while other projects are being done. In the broader sense, work demands can weave between reflection, leisure, memory, and aspiration. One motion feeds another. Knowledge from one school or job adds to the sum and solution of an application in another. Sometimes things actually work this way, as though decades of rollers and gears have effortlessly and purposefully joined.

Inertia. Stubborn weeds among the fruitful time periods are those spells of overcoming resistance. Moving out of inactivity (or too much of the same activity) seems to require rebuilding. It’s as though the world must be recommenced from its foundations. A few dependable systems falter, or perhaps become obsolete, and suddenly all seems thrown backwards. A “system” may be mechanical, or internal, or ethereal. And the breach can be mild and unapparent, or overt and stagnating. Stagnation can be so profound that energy must be consumed just to be able to stand- let alone imagining a sustained posture. Navigating through and out of inertia puts the soul in an unusual sensitivity that takes nothing for granted. Through the dark night comes a surrendering of unproductive drives for control, despite the unknowing. While sensing what appears a very fine thread holding everything together, there is a parallel challenge that this may be an effect of impaired perspective. Though it is easy to admit to knowing very little, it is equally difficult to be convinced that nothing essential is lacking. Wondering about being “behind in the game” only invites defeatism. Especially in these times. Inertia and resistance can be overcome with a beginning as basic as counting the blessings of what is good.

A recommencement can retrace the remembrance of momentum. Chroniclers can retrieve journals written in brighter days and revisit the old fighting form that made reaching these shores possible. In yet more adventures of trust, my thoughts must repeat as often as necessary that the unseen Holy Spirit will always hold my footsteps firm. Looking forward through unknowing and material uncertainty is an act of faith. Holding to it is a continuous exercise of trust. There is one direction to go, and that is forward. In so doing, that tension must give way to savored paces that reclaim the airspaces connecting being with environment.

Only a few days ago, I exercised a decision I did not fully realize I had. Hurtled forward by salesmen and financial experts, I very nearly bought a house that I didn’t really like- and could barely afford. Indeed, habitations can be investments, but they must also be worthy places to live. Though a valuable learning experience, the whole episode was one of helpless despair. It began to resemble a perilous conveyor belt rolling my misgivings to a distribution dock of no return (and no savings). In the faces of financiers, I followed the forceful intuition I almost suppressed. If I can possibly help it, faith in the future will trump fear and fatalism. I stopped a process that began in trepidation and the ensuing peace has been palpable.

In my gratitude, few things are taken for granted. Something has indeed changed, and by continuing on I’ll find out. I paid the building inspector, adding a thank-you letter (written on my cursive typewriter), and will pay February’s rent with a relished relief. As I came to see it, all those I met in the process were fine souls. It is in weakness that strength is discovered. I ponder the immortality that happenstance causes me to brush against. It is the heart of God that connects all of us. With this surprise of the freedom already possessed, I happily donated to a few charitable causes. The ability to give is in itself a gift presented to me. I know my steps are guided- even to a threshold of my own some day. But for now I will have to “begin the world” to some extent, though it needn’t be more than simply reconnecting to all I love best.

Friday, January 15, 2010

graphite alight

“You walk into the room with a pencil in your hand...”

~ Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

A reprieve of stillness mercifully interrupted the day’s chaos. With notebook and pencil in hand, I sought the quiet sanctuary of an empty office. After having started writing, it became obvious to me that nothing cohesive was materializing. But I kept noting words- even if some of them were about feeling devoid of anything to say. I wanted some new thoughts, but that hour offered no written developments. So that’s exactly what I wrote. After returning home from work that night, those bedraggled words re-appeared as I opened my journal again. It seemed I’d been foraging for glowing embers using a pencil. It happens, ungratifying as that can be. The aspect for which I do express gratitude is for knowing to reach. Even a few scribbled sentences reveals forward motion.

Throughout this recent season of Advent and Epiphany, I’ve travelled to parishes throughout the region, providing music and creating contemplative spaces. Last Sunday night, during the long meditative silence, I glanced up from my sheet music to the front of the sanctuary. Lit only by scattered flickering candles, warm-toned icons met my gaze. These are the same icons that I’ve hefted across thousands of miles, beginning in Taizé, France. Occasionally, I am surprised by the austere mystery on the painted figures and faces. The Spirit invites. Such images are not sources, but brilliant reflections of light that confounds the dark. If darkness is prelude to light, then I must consider my failings and frustrations as prefatory to discovering.

Consider how a physical space appears transformed in our eyes, as our perceptions evolve. The same venue that witnessed anguished desperation can be the setting for elated recognition. Contrasting connotations can be noted anywhere: a café, a busy street, a schoolyard, a workplace, a room in a house. My apartment has been something of a stage for human drama. A downtown diner has been a repeating backdrop for scribing trepidations and for calligraphic catharses alike. Noting how a space is transfigured is to recognize changed realities perceived.

Amidst this reach for understanding is the unfathomable mystery of the origin of light. From there follows the wonder of how a spirit can be re-ignited. If to discover is epiphany, then to arrive is to be present: to alight. The act of alighting is to descend from one place and come to rest in another. Perhaps there is something to note, in my journey, about coming to terms with the Source of life without having seen the Eternal. In Tauler’s exhortation to endure in good cheer, we are to abound in good works for God’s sake. “And then,” he wrote, “shall you be made partakers of overflowing measure that runneth over on all sides.” This alighting touch of grace reaches the brimming human vessel, which “pours itself back again into its Divine source, from whence it has proceeded." In Tauler's description of this mystery, "all knowledge, love, perception are all swallowed up and lost in God, and become one with God." This grandeur challenges my own belief, in that it is more than I think I should ever expect. But perhaps that wouldn't be reaching as I ought. While trying to comprehend these things, why not keep working and keep the pencil moving on the page?

A good friend of mine is a historian of tool-makers and their utilitarian creations. His enthusiasm and expertise has breathed new life into our local Charitable Mechanics' Association- which dates back to Colonial times. Our friendship inspires in both directions. I am becoming attuned to the old ways of production, and he now uses antique typewriters. One day, as I spoke of the "tools of the spiritual life," he quipped, "you've said it all right there. Tools are spiritual." Indeed, we speak in two different senses of the word: implementation of a practice and the physical implements themselves. Surely, the actual tools of the writer (along with the builder and the mechanic) deserve their due. With these writing instruments at our ready, we experience the miraculous- and can create documentation.

As with light, our documenting tools help us liberate our thoughts, our stories, and our voyages. I have seen the worth of keeping the pencil moving- even while reaching and straining for description. And the tools do accommodate, no matter how cold; graphite cannot freeze. These exterior sub-zeroes teach us the value of continual movement. In time, the frozen granite steps will be bathed in spring rains and adorned with ivy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

beyond this point

“I wandered about for a long time in different districts,
having for my fellow-traveller the Prayer of Jesus, which heartened
and consoled me in all my journeys, in all my meetings with other people,
and in all the happenings of travel.”

~ The Way of a Pilgrim