Waiting in Wilderness: In the Interstices

As the deer pants for the water so my soul pants for you, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
from Psalm 42

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

~R.S. Thomas “Via Negativa”

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
as unknown, and yet well known;
as dying, and behold, we live;
as punished, and yet not killed;
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
as poor, yet making many rich;
as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
2 Corinthians 6: 8b-10

The way of negation (via negativa) – describing who God is by describing who He is not — is like describing the interstitial spaces between my cells rather than the cells themselves, or the blackness between stars rather than the light that emanates from them.

It is impossible to understand God unless I absorb what He says about Himself. Yet I am too finite and He is too infinite to grasp fully.

So, like a deer panting for water, I thirst for Him, seeking more than a reflection of water for my real thirst. I want Him tangible and warm before me like Thomas thrusting his hand into Jesus’ wound, crying “My Lord and My God!”

The mystery of God is how He is so much more than mere reflection and the spaces in between what I see and feel in this existence. He is all things, all at once.

So I continue to seek Him, thirsting.

A January Partly Cloudy

Today is one of those
excellent January partly cloudies
in which light chooses
an unexpected part of the landscape
to trick out in gilt,
and then the shadow sweeps it away.

You know you’re alive.
You take huge steps,
trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”

There are January days
when I am surrounded
by mist and fog and partly cloudies-
a brief gift of blue sky
and gilt light.

God is felt on days like this,
neither seen or heard,
His stilling presence
overtaking me
with each breath I draw,
following the path of each glistening tear,
becoming the arcing ground
reaching to meet my foot
with each bold step I take.

Help Me Push Myself Aside

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”

The secret of seeing is, then the pearl of great price. 
If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever 
I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts

after any lunatic at all. 
But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought.

The literature of illumination reveals this above all: 
although it comes to those who wait for it, 
it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, 
a gift and a total surprise.

I return from one walk 
knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek

and the hour the laurel blooms. 
I return from the same walk a day later

scarcely knowing my own name.

Litanies hum in my ears; 
my tongue flaps in my mouth. 
Ailinon, alleluia!
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to.
You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see
and my self is the earth’s shadow
that keeps me from seeing all the moon.
The crescent is very beautiful
and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see;
but what I am afraid of, dear God,
is that my self shadow will grow so large
that it blocks the whole moon,
and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

I do not know You God
because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.
~Flannery O’Connor from A Prayer Journal

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God…
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The hardest thing is to step out of the way so that my own shadow no longer obscures what provides illumination.  I am regularly so blinded by discouragement, busyness and distraction that I lose sight of God Himself.

Surprise me, dear Lord. Cram this common bush with heaven. 

Though I regularly lament in the shadows, help me lift my voice in praise and gratitude for your gift, the pearl of great price you generously hold out for me to take each day.

The Crumbling Air

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”

There are mornings surrounded by His stilling presence~
when God is felt,
neither seen nor heard,
overtaking me
within each breath taken,
following the path of each glistening tear,
the air crumbling down around me,
its rich manna becoming the ground
reaching to meet my foot
with each step I take.

Crossing the Threshold

hayfield

earsgrass

John O’Donohue gave voice to the connection between beauty and those edges of life—
thresholds was the word he loved—
where the fullness of reality becomes more stark and more clear.

If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.

There are huge thresholds in every life.

You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love is suddenly dying, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.

But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.

So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative.
And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.

When we cross a new threshold worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition
that were in us that had us caught somewhere.

~John O’Donohue from an “On Being” interview with Krista Tippett on “Becoming Wise”

clouds7816

I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”

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These past few months of mass shootings, tragic deaths and never-ending conflict have forced us all to a threshold needing to be crossed. Yet we stand stubborn, immobilized, frozen and dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward for self-examination.

Instead of submitting to the crushing winnowing that must happen to blow away the chaff of our lives, to get down to the kernel of truth that sustains us, we cling to the old and familiar. It is we who have delivered ourselves a non-choice between two deeply flawed individuals for president. They represent what evils we tolerate as a people: celebrating entitlements, tolerating their legal, moral and financial shenanigans simply because they are rich and famous.

Unwilling to change attitude or perspective, reluctant to move forward into largely uncharted territory, mired in a tribalism only skin deep, we wonder why history repeats itself, why we are dying every day, by our own hand or by others’.

How to cross worthily? How to cross together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves?

We need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy. We need to reach out our hands into the unknown that lies ahead, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day.

 

thimbleweb

A Surprise No Longer

paths

sunset43016

 

About living in the country?
…peace can deafen one, beauty surprise
No longer.  There is only the thud
Of the slow foot up the long lane
At morning and back at night.
~R.S. Thomas “The Country”

morning32116

 

I must not forget my
astonishment
at the beauty around me
even on the grayest of days,
trudging the barnyard path
on dark nights to exhausted chores.
If ever I fail to see
what is right in front of me,
this grace-given gift
to my eyes and ears,
I do not deserve to put on boots
or hold a pitchfork.

thesisters1

sunrise4316

Between Midnight and Dawn: Eternity Awaits

sunnyfield

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
~Matthew 13:44-46

 

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
~R.S. Thomas “The Bright Field”

 

The gospel is not about giving up and going without for its own sake; it is about making room for something wonderful.  Here (in Thomas’ poem) we discover that what we thought was lost and receding is in reality still ahead of us; we are not declining towards a sunset, but traveling towards the dawn!
~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter

***************************

I too must learn to turn aside,
and truly see, as if for the first and last time,
the brightness that illuminates even the darkest day.
We approach the dawn, even when it is midnight.
We know the Light is there, even if hidden, buried in that bright field.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Sourceless Light

sosoft3

sunset15161

Some ask for the world
and are diminished
in the receiving
of it. You gave me
only this small pool
that the more I drink
from, the more overflows
me with sourceless light.
~R.S. Thomas  “Gift”

______________

A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath,
One group of trees, lean, naked and cold,
Inking their crest ‘gainst a sky green-gold,
One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.
~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”

_______________

I am astonished at my thirstiness
slaked by such simple things
as a moment of pink,
a burst of birdsong,
the softness of fluff about to let go,
a glimpse of tomorrow over the horizon of today.

sunrise1226153

sunset822151

sunset17163

 

The Air Crumbled

grassdrops

januarysky

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”

 

There are mornings surrounded by His stilling presence~
when God is felt,
neither seen or heard,
overtaking me
within each breath taken,
following the path of each glistening tear,
becoming the ground reaching to meet my foot
with each step I take.

cherrydrop2

sunset15164