'A Sunday Morning Walk... Deerfield, MA'
The following is an autobiographical writing from the 1990s, regarding an experience in silent retreat at Greenbough House of Prayer, Scott, GA.
This morning at the retreat center, the lighted candle on the Eucharist table spoke afresh to me. There was the living flame sitting in a little metal vase. Rising from a wick, it danced back and forth, up and down, unpredictable and wildly free. It was in constant motion, a motion inherent to itself. It lived out from its own nature. Its dance was not choreographed by another. There was no authority saying, "Do this. Do it this way." There were no "Thou Shalts" demanding submission to an alien and unnatural unfolding. Fawning servitude was foreign to the flame. It was freely itself, uniquely itself, itself by the grace and goodness of Life. The flame shared common traits with all fire. But it was unlike any fire that has ever been or will be, totally unique.
I looked prayerfully at the skipping flame, making its way into the receptive arms of the air. I waited. What will the flame teach me? What living Word will the dancing colors share? The fire became a sacred text.
One lesson the fire taught me relates to a video the retreat directors and I had seen the night before. Bill Moyers was interviewing a great scholar of world religion, Huston Smith. Smith referred to the Hindu god Vishnu. Vishnu is one of the more important celestial deities in Hinduism. Smith spoke of a statute of Vishnu, wherein he dances and is encircled by a ring. Located on the ring are evenly distanced flames of fire. The fire speaks of continual change. Vishnu's many arms speak of the myriad expressions of the one Life. Like a flame and many flinging arms in a cosmic dance, Life and our lives are in constant motion. Change is natural and essential to continuity. We can resist life, or we can dance with It.
Ultimate Reality is often spoken of in static terms. However, since all nature naturally is in process and motion, this statute of Vishnu dancing amidst fire and with slinging arms must - it seems to me - reflect the infinite mobility of Ultimate Reality. There is a mystery of infinite pointedness in Reality where constancy and change are one.
Life is like the flame around Vishnu and on the Eucharist table. It is a contented dance, art in motion. Life is a gentle and innate and constant move into the embrace of Life. Air itself is a witness of the provision for movement, extension, alteration - the dance.
It is joyful when we open and invite continuous newness to blow through. And there will be enough constancy to keep us grounded. Even when we feel without ground, there is the continuity of our historical past from which the new emerges.
After the communal worship at the retreat house, one of the directors walked to the table. She extinguished the candle. The smoke from the candle ascended into the air. The fire ceased to be fire; it experienced death, or a new form of life. The only conditions in which it could be itself as fire were kindly taken away. The flame had blessed us with its lively presence, had served its sacred purpose, had witnessed to the Presence among us. The candle remained to mother another flame soon. This spoke to me again of change. There is a rhythm, a mysterious cadence to life.
Change is happening even in our respites of waiting. God has not forgotten us. The movement of the wind, the flight of a bird, the rustling of leaves, the passing of a vehicle, a sound that rises and ceases, … all speak of movement. All we have is this fluid and moving moment and the Sacred in it. That is enough. Be grateful for the creativity and creation of the present and the ever-renewing Life in the Heart of all things.
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When I served as a Christian pastor, a church member told me I needed not to speak of change. He said, "It makes persons uncomfortable." I disagreed. I told him change is good news. I, therefore, continued speaking of change to the people. Change is good news! How? With change, we can remain in a posture of welcoming newness. Without change, we would lose the possibility of being in a welcoming posture for freshness to flow into our lives and through us to enrich others with the same freshness. That many persons do not live with a sense of freshness is due to a lack of sensitivity to it. Yet, Life is always happening, and this makes living truly adventurous.
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.