Picture
Sound sculpture by Linden Gledhill

Be like a fox who makes more tracks
than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
(Wendell Berry)

With the celebration of Trinity Sunday yesterday, the church officially moves firmly into Ordinary Time, those months in the liturgical calendar where the truth of the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ (celebrated during Advent, Lent and Easter) are lived out in our every day lives. Like a fox who makes more tracks than necessary, living in the Spirit has a bit of trial and error built in. We know that we are meant to live in the power of love, but what that looks like requires attention to the present.

Several weeks ago I ran across this poem on Better Living Through Beowulf, a site I often mention, hosted by my friend Robin Bates. It was quoted during an end of the year address to students, and I was intrigued especially by one of the recurring lines which are necessary for the villanelle style of the poem. In this poem, entitled The Waking, the lines that are repeated are: I wake to sleep and take my waking slow and I learn by going where I have to go. It is this second line that I see shifting during the poem so that we begin by "having to go" somewhere for the learning to happen, and end by embracing that learning only happens "by going."

I'm not sure what the impetus for this poem was for Roethke, famous for his deep introspection, but it speaks to me about the process of practicing resurrection. First, the poem, and then some comments.

The Waking
By Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go. 

We think by feeling. What is there to know? 
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 

Of those so close beside me, which are you? 
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go. 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how? 
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 

Great Nature has another thing to do 
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go. 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know. 
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I  learn by going where I have to go.

The waking which this poem explores is the experiencing of one's own death or mortality. Here, rather than waking from a dream into life, the poet wakes from life into death. What has happened? Befuddled, there is nevertheless the commitment to going slowly through this process, paying close attention to what is going on. The fear of death is now irrelevant; since he has been forced to go into this realm, he may as well learn.

First, what is it that he feels, since feeling is a means, perhaps the most accurate means for the poet, of knowledge? He feels his being dance from ear to ear. Death does not mean the end of life. No, his whole being is not only alive, but dancing. Death is also not the end of community. There are others in the ground with him who are in the same state. The ground is sacred, holding the souls of his companions.

In the next stanza the poet ponders the unpredictability of death. Lightning (light) comes from nowhere and takes down a giant tree. One can't know how or why a particular place is struck, yet instantly a great entity is toppled. Equally puzzling is the fact that a lowly worm can ascend to highest heights. These insights come slowly, and yet are profound.

Still, no matter if we are worm or tree, Nature will eventually bring death to each of us. We must take the light and lovely air and live our lives with a sense of openness. Since we do not know what will befall us, we must learn as we go, how to live our lives with meaning. It is this awareness of death, which though it shakes the poet, paradoxically brings true steadfastness. Death is to be expected, but not feared. This awareness frees us from a false sense of timelessness, today can only be lived in the present.

To live into the resurrection one must first be brought face to face with one's death. Jesus lives into and through his death as a way of helping us understand that death is no longer to be feared. "Grave, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" writes the Apostle Paul. Once we have grasped this great truth, we can live our lives in the moment, no longer in fear of what may happen next. But we must also commit to live life in the moment, for there is no map, only a guide. As we live in the spirit, we "learn by going" where is it that we need to go next. Our freedom opens the door into a life of discovery, where we are invited to breath the lively and lovely air, while anticipating the final dance of being.

Note on art: The above photograph was created using paint droplets reacting to sound waves. Article here.



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