Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach-waiting for a gift from the sea.
*Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gift from the Sea.
Mary Oliver. Devotions.
Early in the morning we crossed the ghat, Where fires where still smouldering, And gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges. A woman was standing in the river up to her waist; She was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it Over her body, slowly and several times, As if until there came some moment Of inner satisfaction between her own life and the riverís. Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her And carried it filled with water back across the ghat, No doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives, For this is the holy city of Shiva, maker Of the world, and this is his river. I canít say much more, except that it all happened In silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt Like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived In accordance with that certainty. I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back To America. Pray God I remember this.
* * *
I traveled to attend a worship meeting in a nearby town. My friend, whom I made hospice visits with, a social worker, had pleaded with me over many months to attend and affirming I would enjoy the gathering. I doubted so, it being a conservative, independent evangelical congregation. I had retreated from organized religion.
I resisted and resisted more and, finally, said "Yes." I truly hoped I would find this experience enjoyable, though with meager hope it would be. I parked on a Sunday morning, got out, walked into a movie theater, down a hall, into a dimly lit Number 5. Music was loud. Worship leader was exuberant, yelling into a microphone, and I found this grating to ears and menacing to brain, as well as blocking a spirit of solace. This seemed too emotional, too much like worship being entertainment, directed more to the self, to one another, than to the Divine. What public worship I had attended the last many years, it was Episcopalian, much quieter than this din of clamor. Even there, however, I became weary of words, often sitting in silence, not participating in the creed or prayers sounding about me.
Most persons stood, obviously thrilled, I saw as I surveyed Number 5. Almost everyone was moving the body, swaying, especially the arms. Most persons were singing loud. I looked back and saw my friendís husband in the far aisle, arms lifted, hands open, singing, and near him, so my friend. They were having fun.
I remained present mindfully, relaxing silently to see if I might slowly sense a fitting into this place and among this people, at least for the next about hour. Soon, I walked out quietly, and for me to leave like that is always the last option. I thought, I have got to do this, to affirm, not to anyone, rather to the truth of the way I have chosen, this is not I, this is not my way of being in this world.
And, this day, thankfully, I could walk away grateful for the way being enjoyed in that theater, just not my way. Years before, I might have walked out in a rather condemnatory manner, not now. This is their way. That does not mean it is a way I would recommend to anyone, yet, it is their way, not my way.
The Sea has gifted me with a way I cherish as sacred, as mine, though shared by many over the centuries, a way leading to a deepening experience of Life that I do not believe possible, at least not probable, in the clamorous way going on in Number 5. And the way of being with Life gifted me, and others, was chiseled out of my over-all experience, taking a form I could relate with, and this took many years, much pain, and, yes, much rejection from others who felt uncomfortable with that way. I was not a mis-fit among those of my native faith, where I had served in varied roles, including professor and pastor, yet, to them, I was an un-fit. Thankfully, I no longer live among them, while I honor the time I had with them.
* * *
I once yearned for the delicate breathings of Silence, the mute intimations of Stillness, yes, peaceful simplicity. I, now, feel little need for excitement, rather contented solace, like the deep within the oceanic waters. And, more so, it seems with age, almost as if my body and mind is finally relaxing into the movements of this ebb-and-flow of Grace. My prayer is rarely a word, more the Quiet being prayer. And rarely, if ever, is there the previous yearning. Ironic for a man who wrote a book on that inward ache, an ache he then thought was the norm for the rest of his life in the body.
* * *
I saw a photograph of Walt Whitman, aged, bearded, looking out, still and silent. He seemed not to need to move, to go anywhere, to do anything, only the needless to be. I know I am projecting onto the photograph, yet, I write what I felt, and feel; though, now, I would prefer to be not by myself, but alone sharing the aloneness with someone beside me, one to share with within this stillness of Heart, heart-with-heart. I thought, that is what I want to be when I become old like he was, that look of utter peace, that quiet contentment, that man united with and without. To me, his look, that look was the Stillness.
* * *
Yet, this life of interiority, though apparently passive, is all but passive. Neither passive nor active apply. The Stillness, the Quiet, is alive, both passive and active, a unity, a movement in which neither is lost nor separate to itself, apart from the other. One is not less alive, but more alive. In the wise words of Thomas Merton, "Detachment is not insensibility." And, speaking of the erroneousness of denying the play of the senses in a strict asceticism, so creating a desert devoid of the feelings of humanness, "For if our emotions really die in the desert, our humanity dies with them."
I am, then, not less human than I was, but more human and becoming more human. From the Silence, in the Stillness, I feel all things human, I think all things human, only differently than once. Thankfully, I am not an unperson, but a person, not an unman, but a man, yes, a human glad to be among other humans. I am not a negation, I am a celebration.
* * *
Words from a few years ago, when I lived on the Santa Fe River, in High Springs, Florida, and after leaving my last employment. This a saying goodbye to what many now call the rat race, a way of living in which persons are just running through the days, not taking the time to appreciate the glory of life, the preciousness of each moment, denying the mortality that can awaken us to treasure each moment, this moment, as a grace from the Sea.
My walk to the river on which I live, for calm contemplation as night begins to unfold, ... And, to me, life is worship, nothing more, nothing less, and I love it most intimately in quietness, which is to say, I feel its subtle movements in and upon me most intimately in quietude. And, yes, I do believe there is a closeness to Life that will never be found within noise, even the most loving or the most holy. Silence is a depth, words cannot touch.
* * *
Now, thankfully, I feel the integration of the quiet with others more than once. I used to be quiet, so to be silent, I used to stop, so to be still. Now, Silence, which is Stillness, is the spaciousness in which speech and movement occur, when before speech and movement formed its own environment, silence in the background, unhonored, unheeded, and uninvited to enfold the sharing with another or simply the being among and with others. And Mary Oliver's words, these fit so well with what I sense in this moment, and about what I am trying to witness to...
In silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt Like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived In accordance with that certainty.
* * *
Have I arrived? No one arrives. We keep arriving. Once we find a place within of the Silence, more Withinness invites us deeper, deeper, into the bottomless Sea of Infinity. Deep calls to deep. Intimacy, a ceaseless invite. We are always just beginning, yet, always already Here.
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