‘Do you ever just close your eyes on winter evenings to remember summer?’ my friend asked me, earlier today, with a wistful look in her eyes. ‘On winter evenings, certainly,’ I replied, ‘and pretty much most mornings, too.’
Sure enough, I’m an advocate of living in the present, but part of the joy of living now is time found here to re-member the past, thereby inspired to breathe deep today, and begin to imagine and to shape the next second or two, as we do.
So here’s a little revisiting Summer ’16. You’re invited to stay here, now, for a little space, and – hopefully – some present grace …
I’ve tried to count
your petals but lose
track each time
around and recall
that numbers never
touched my senses
with clarity of cold
or warmth or taste or
touch or sight or
scent or sound and
after rain this late
I note that tall
and elegant you’re
not much of an
and for you too
life is celebrated
sometimes by each of
these but in the main
by radically returning
your searching face to
We who are water know
familial communion with
pond and river
lake and ocean
and we abide and communicate
by way of ripple and reflection
warmed by amniotic held
flotation – raised from
which our primal gasp and
cry signalled alpha and omega
of incarnate gradation – and
sight of mothered Wisdom
and taste of liquid nutrition
alongside growth spurt’s
Yes: our infancy born from
someone else’s depths never
leaves us – we are forever
embraced by it and so return
to reflection and histories
and promise as though to the
breast – and in gazing into
layered depths see at the
same time the light of height
yes: we who are water know
familial communion with
pond and river
lake and ocean
and we abide through all
Some joys that come to our doorsteps, inevitably, outshine others. Perhaps because some such joys carry a particular measure of comfort. Something along the lines of – no matter how awful things may appear at times, this life is full of so much richness and goodness that we cannot help but tumble into the kind of response that is the very name of this treasury of awe and wonder. Devotions.
There was once an old man lived on Martyrs
Bay who, pipe in hand, told of a foot tall
soul whose hair was green, and – many a long
year since – skittering about the Old Nunnery
garden, he had seen
quiet as a mouse and quite inoffensive, she
whispered in human ears: ‘I’m come from a
schlemaig just West of the highest mountain on
Mars by way of light years, aeons, suns and moons
and I whisper a missive from Mother
who sent me: though legend and myth
may sometimes purport otherwise, nothing
in the Universe is ever wholly ruined – for
every atom retains
potential, giftedness and grace, ever cheered
anew by Wisdom’s breeze across its face: so on this
rock though your roof be blown off and you’ve
neither window pane nor door, allow the little
one from a Martian schlemaig a paean to more –
for you came here to learn that not only is She
our family name, but Wisdom, dear taller siblings,
is eternally ours, and Her Source, the Same.’
And I honour the old man on Martyrs Bay sand, who
content with tobacco and pipe in his hand, speaks
gently even now of a skittering he had seen, and of
whispers shared with a delightful pint-sized sprite
with hair of Iona green
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that travelled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.
The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.
We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
John O’Donohue The Inner History of a Day
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
I’ve been enjoying photos of the Eclipse as seen in the US; and good and brave souls embracing and ‘getting back to normal’ on Las Ramblas in beautiful Barcelona; and hundreds of other snapshot fragments of life around the world on the 21st August 2017.
And I’m so grateful for John O’Donohue’s calling our attention to the ‘eucharist of the ordinary’ – that quiet inner life, the dawn ‘born quietly from deepest night,’ where all humankind and natural phenomena together are joined in the ‘work through which the mind of the day / and wisdom of the soul become one.’
Recycling in the UK has had a bad press this month. I read I’m not as good at it as I once was, and need to live in one of four counties to pass muster. Boxes and bags are out. Ubiquitous and ugly wheeled bins host the nation’s best-ordered recycling efforts.
Mary Oliver writes of the social self that might be cycling life through ‘twelve little bins’ – the hours of the clock – more concerned with keeping pace with the ‘regular’ governor of time than with whether or not it gathers ‘some branch of wisdom or delight’ along the way.
Containers play their part, like the hours. But both the regular and the irregular – coupled with an ability to reflect and to ask ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’ – are essential elements whatever we’re talking about, wherever we are, and whatever we do.
Another day of surprises in British politics – and a new Prime Minister lined up for Wednesday evening. I wish outgoing and incoming leadership every possible success. The burdens of high office are immeasurable – and are incalculably demanding across any and all party boundaries.
As I’ve suggested many times before, it would be the sea of words that would most get to me. Something in me insists on reaching deeper than mere words – and it’s a reaching inwards that I aspire to, every bit as much as a reaching outwards. Richard Holloway has put a finger on why:
… we are creatures who use language and sometimes only know that we know something when we have put it into words. We are, therefore, destined to struggle with language and concepts, to find the words that approximate to the realities we encounter. We must recognise a fundamental difficulty with this at the outset: language can sometimes suggest the reality of the thing to which it refers, but it can never be the thing to which it refers. This is true when we are talking about one another and human experience; it is trebly true in our attempts to describe spiritual realities. Language is analogical, it describes by likening one thing to another; or it is metaphorical, it operates by using dramatic figures of speech that suggest the reality of the thing described in an image or a sound sequence, such as Tennyson’s
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.
Language is revelatory. It can bring us close to the reality described but we always have to remember that it is not itself the reality. It is an interpretation, a way of thinking about something, but never exactly the thing itself; it is flesh made word.
So be we president, prime minister, prophet or observing person in the street, any and all who write, or place their hope in human manifestos must also “hear” them, deep within, if ever we’re to believe that flesh made word might truly be turned into word made flesh.
Yes: leadership on the one hand and “ordinary” human lives on the other are tough calls! Talk is not the same as action – and shouldn’t always be allowed to trump the wisdom found in deep reflection and silence. And too hasty action can sometimes be worse than none.
There are no easy answers to be found when it comes to the governance of nations, nor even of our own governance of ourselves. All humankind then ought to do everything it can to reach deeper than mere words in sincere attempts to encourage one another along life’s way.
Not for the first time Dr Bill Wooten set me on the trail of another good book today – and I’ve tracked down Ecopsychology a collection of essays that includes one on The Way of Wilderness by Steven Harper. I’m looking forward to its arrival here in a day or two – having a sense that I’ll be as taken with the collection as I was when I read the late, great Dr Gerald G May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness seven or eight years ago.
It’s Lent, of course, and every year, and for that reason, I have an eye out for some new insight on wilderness and what it might have meant for the Hebrews, and later for Jesus of Nazareth, and might mean for any of us, wherever in the world we are, in our own personal growing, in fractious, stirred and evolving times, physically and metaphorically – refugee camps and modern-day exiles in mind on the one hand, and the miracle of the International Space Station on the other!
Harper is writing about opt-in experience of course – a privilege not presently granted to refugees, who are where they are because they had little or no other choice. Dare we hope that the “leaderless teacher” (again, physical or metaphorical, outer or inner work) may instil something of “faith, hope and love” in any and all who encounter her? I need to hope and so dare I must …
When we are truly willing to step into the looking
glass of nature and contact wilderness, we uncover
a wisdom much larger than our small everyday selves.
Uninterrupted and undisturbed nature takes care of
itself. One of my favorite guidelines for facilitators
comes from Esalen Institute’s cofounder Richard Price,
who used to make the same distinction I am making here
between therapy and practice with respect to Gestalt.
Price liked to say, “Trust process, support process,
and get out of the way.” He frequently added, “If in
doubt, do less.” Personal evolution then becomes like
nature; instead of being a struggle, our process,
uninterrupted and undisturbed, becomes unfolding
growth. Wilderness is a leaderless teacher; there is
no one preaching change to us. The only personal
transformations that occur arise from within ourselves.
The entrance door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was among the very many things that touched me deeply when I first visited the Holy Land twenty-one years ago. Why this particular door? Because it’s tiny. Most adults are required to stoop to half-height to gain access and many are the cries of “mind your head” – though the entrance itself seems to suggest precisely the opposite.
The door seemed to be saying “Come down from your lofty heights! Worthy Magi, wisdom-seekers all, get down from your camels. Come, by all means, whoever you are and from wherever you’ve travelled, offer your gifts gladly and quietly. But pay less mind to what goes on in that head of yours! This place is about wisdom of the heart, known only by persons willing to bend the knee, to stoop, to enter in to the cradle of a quite different and very particular kind of “nativity”, an epiphany Now: veritable adoration, wondrous contemplation, most glorious meditation, healing and restoration, Otherness-in-ordinariness.
Some Carol words come to mind: “Do you hear what I hear?”
This nativity is about a baby, and about all babies, about the baby – the promise and potential – at the heart and in the soul of everyone, everywhere, and so about you and me. This is Emmanuel-revelation, a manifestation: something in littleness that all of us need to see, and to be … “Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost [and thereby found] in wonder, love and praise” *
* from Charles Wesley’s hymn: Love divine, all loves excelling