A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.
William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …
And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.
Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.
How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?
Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.
While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.
A friend has just acquired a book I’ve loved for a long time and – as is the way with such things – her interest in it has me turning the pages of my copy, years after the first of my many readings of it. And I have entranced all over again. Quaker, Palmer J Palmer always hits the spot for me.
The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek …
… And I hope that the reader who sits with this book can hear the silence that always surrounds us in the writing and reading of words. It is a silence that forever invites us to fathom the meaning of our lives – and forever reminds us of depths of meaning that words will never touch.
Many people have favoured books they return to again and again. Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness, 2006, is one of mine. Sometimes it just jumps off the bookcase next to my fireside chair. And each reading offers new love and new light.
This evening I’m resting in some words from Parker J Palmer’s Foreword to the book:
Jerry’s last words were spoken to his daughter, Julie, but they could have been spoken to any and all of us: “Trust in Love, Trust in God.”
With Jerry May’s death, we have suffered a great loss. With this book – forged in his living and refined in the crucible of his dying – we have received a great gift. I think Jerry would say that painful but promising paradoxes such as this are at the heart of the wilderness experience, and of the wisdom traditions that have merged from our encounters with wilderness, both inner and outer. I think Jerry would urge us to go beyond our simple-minded dualism about death and life, to see into – and live into – the wild unity of it all.
Jerry opened his now-classic Will and Spirit with these words: “We all have secrets in our hearts. I will tell you one of mine. All my life I have longed to say yes, to give myself completely, to some Ultimate Someone or Something.”
I believe that Jerry’s longing has been fulfilled. Thanks to this gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful man, our stores of significant thought, authentic prayer, and shake-the-rafters laughter have been replenished, on earth as they now are in heaven.
We’re living, in many parts of the world in 2016, in bewildering and turbulent times. Few of us, if any, have much faith in politicians assuring us of their ability to “make us the greatest …” Many more of us are turned off by such language. How, for heaven’s sake, could we measure what being “the greatest” would look like anyway? By whose definition?
In the midst of the world’s clamour Gerald May’s words resonate still: “Trust in Love. Trust in God.” Simple “last words” that led into new beginnings – for Jerry, for Parker Palmer, and for innumerable readers of his wilderness experiences. What would I give, what would any of us give, to be able to imagine that maybe, some day, some blessed friend or loved one might truly be able to speak of us as gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful – ?
I have an abiding image of the late, great Irish poet John O’Donohue sitting at his peat fireside, notebook and pen at hand, apparently completely at peace with the world. A big man with a big and generous heart. Again and again his words are a tonic to me.
The great law of life is to be yourself. Though this axiom sounds simple it is often a difficult task. To be yourself you have to learn how to become the person you were dreamed to be. Each person has a unique destiny. To be born is to be chosen. There is something special that each of us has to do in the world. If someone else could do it they would be here and not us. One of the fascinating questions is to decipher what one’s destiny is. At the heart of each destiny is hidden a unique life calling. What are you called to do? In old-fashioned language: what is your vocation in life? When you find that what you are doing is what you love, what you were brought here to do, it makes for a rich and contented life. You have come into the rhythm with your longing. Your work and your action emerge naturally: you don’t have to force yourself. Your energy is immediate. Your passion is clear and creative. A new calling can open the door into the house of your vision and belonging. You feel at home in your life. Heart and hearth at one.
Yes: a big man – whose heart was – and remains – a hearth.