Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stunned by the Grandeur

Last night I went to bed not long after dark. I am staying in a hermitage cabin for the weekend, retreat-ing, though I am a bit more connected to the world than I usually allow myself when I retreat.

As a result of my early bedtime, I woke up early, but stayed snuggled in bed reading. An owl hooted outside. I realized after the fact that the owl deserved much more attention than I gave it: "Gee, I think that's an owl," as I continued to read. I don't hear owls when I am in my own house. I hope I'll get another chance to give an owl proper attention.

As I started to see trees backlit in blue, I turned the light off. As blues were replaced by pale yellows and oranges, I got out of bed. Looking through another window, I saw a brightness signalling the sun's imminent appearance. More excited than I usually am about a sunrise (another neglect of proper attention), I pulled on warm clothes and my winter coat and headed outside, compelled by the growing light.

Shining like the sun in India
As I walked, I was enchanted not only by the sun, but also by the intricate patterns of frost that covered everything I saw. At first I was sorry that I hadn't brought my camera, but then I remembered that, while a particular form of beauty may be fleeting, Beauty is inexhaustible. Having my camera would have drawn me away from the present in an effort to capture it for the future. I stopped a few times to peer at leaves or tiny plants, awestruck by the spears of ice that had formed on them.

Meanwhile, the sun rose; I could feel the light on my face. That dawn light that makes a person glow. I was reminded of Christmas Eve, when my cousin beamed as he talked about his recently born son, saying something like: "When I walk in the mall or anywhere, I feel like there is a ray of light shining down on him, because everyone who sees him smiles."

That is as it should be. Always. For every one of us.

My mind continued to wander to Thomas Merton (whose 100th birthday would have been today) and his epiphany:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud... As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. 

Imagine a world where we smiled or even laughed at the sheer joy of seeing one another,whether we knew each other or not, because we were awed by the light we saw. Some people do this well; many of us, certainly myself included, are distracted or preoccupied and fail to notice the light emanating from ourselves or from others. We may cover up our light, or if we've been wronged, question whether someone's light is worthy of our attention.

Rosy cheeks, warm body, beauty-drenched mind, I came in and cozied up to read from one of my favorites, Love Poems from God. Opening the book randomly, I found myself reading Rumi's words:

How Does God Keep from Fainting?   

The wonder of water moving over that rock in the stream
justifies existence.

The swish of a horse's tail - again I am stunned
by the grandeur of the unseen One
that governs all

I resist looking at the palms of my hands sometimes. 
Have you ever gotten breathless before a beautiful face, 
for I see you there, 
my dear. 

There is a wonderful problem waiting for you
that God and I share:

how to keep from fainting when we
see each other.

In truth:

how does God keep from fainting
looking at Himself all day?

Light is moving like a stream, and
the myriad celestial beings

May we notice. May we see that each person we meet is "walking around shining like the sun." May we be "stunned by the grandeur of the unseen One." 


A bit of beauty from a previous retreat when I did use my camera

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