The Birth of Venus by Botticelli
Here's a smorgasbord of art, music and poetry sparked by the transit of Venus, which occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday. The passing of Venus in front of the sun, which happens twice in 8 years and then not again for 130 more, had interest not only to scientists but also to those who are tuned into the meaning of astrological signs.
The planet Venus, named after the Greek Goddess, is a symbol of love, harmony and peace. Gustav Holst, in his orchestral work, "The Planets" entitles one of his sections, "Venus, the bringer of peace." (You can hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Holst at the bottom of the blog.) It was the desire for more peace, more harmony in the world, the longing for and yearning to partner with an outpouring of love which caused groups all over the world to stop and mark this event.
Love, harmony and peace are gifts that are eternally important. They make us human, and more than human. Mystics from many traditions find that the underlying energies of the world are love. Those who have near death experiences often describe a sense of peace and unity with a powerful love. But the discordant noise that makes up much of our days, our busyness and worry, wars against our living out of these gifts of grace. It is true that we catch glimpses of it in our interactions, but many times the most sure way to connect with this deep reality is to head into nature itself.
This is the path that Wendell Berry, the renowned writer, poet and essayist describes in his poem below. Throughout his life, Berry has been encouraging living in harmony with nature, including deep connections with the land, local sustainable farming, and intentional community. In this poem, he offers his personal remedy for those times he is caught in despair. Leaving his anxious thoughts, he wraps himself in the beauty of nature, comes into the peace of wild things, receives the light from the day-blind stars, and rests in the grace of the world.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Sound sculpture by Linden Gledhill
Be like a fox who makes more tracks
than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
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 RoethkeI 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.
What if each day is an invitation to love? This question came to me as I was out walking this morning. I've been struggling as of late to find some way to order my life. Choosing to live in the moment has been a great exercise (I'm sure it's expanded my capacity for something) but it's left me feeling a bit adrift. I thought perhaps it was the need to "find my rhythm," to get into a routine, although I had my doubts. No, what I think I need is a compelling world view, something that's big enough to encapsulate the changing circumstances of my life, something succinct enough to remember, to fit into my traveling bags as I continue to wander.
In Wendell Berry's "Hannah Coulter," an old woman reflects on her life. Her voice is saturated with love. It is as palpable as the humidity that blankets Washington, DC during the summer. She speaks out of her experience, the memories deep and rich as a forest floor, where years of decomposing leaves have created a nurturing humus. Early on in the book, she describes life as an invitation to enter a room of love. "Sometimes too I could see that love is a great room with a lot of doors, where we are invited to knock and come in. Though it contains all the world, the sun, moon, and stars, it is so small as to be also in our hearts. It is in the hearts of those who choose to come in. some do not come in, Some may stay out forever."
To enter into the room of love means to be willing to connect to the world around you. To risk being open and vulnerable, allowing the energy of love to flow in and through you, building connections, bringing purpose and desire, power and motivation, joy and delight.
I've blogged in the past about love, (see the categories along the sidebar for those posts) and how I believe it has three main components: giving, enjoying and partnering. Each of these requires an other (even if it means that I see myself in relationship to myself). To be "in love" with the world, is to be actively engaging in these three aspects of love. I choose to give to the things and people I love. I offer my time, my energy, my insight and encouragement. I may bring a casserole or mow a lawn, or craft a quilt. I can volunteer at an animal shelter, or be a part of conservation efforts for our local stream.
I also love by enjoying the world around me. I choose to be fed by the sunlight streaming through the trees on my morning walk, by the peach that's finally ripened and offered for sale by a local farmer. I see and appreciate the kindness of my spouse, and laugh at the outrageous scene cleverly described in the current novel.
Then there is the third component of love: partnering and collaborating. Creative companioning, I've called it. Writing this, I find myself aware that it is the area in which I feel the least energy. Although I am energized by giving (and it's an easy posture for me to fall into), and I am expanding my capacity for enjoyment, the missing component, I can see now, is that of creative collaboration. When I am involved with others and we are working together on what we love, then the energy is reinforced. Have you had this experience? This is what I think is meant by synergy - the concept that the energy of working together is more than the sum of the two energies of the parties involved.
Life as an invitation to love. It gives me my goal, and helps me evaluate where I'm missing out. I like it.
Sometimes the movement in our lives seem so small, we can't notice it. Like buds blossoming on the other side of the valley, the changes are imperceptible, as in this poem by Wendell Berry. But the cumulative effect may often be seen by those who have a different perspective. Thinking of a dear friend last night, I can see how they are so much stronger now than they were several years ago. That same energy that make buds swell and anemones bloom has been at work creating peace, confidence, joy and hope in their life. From my vantage point I can see the light is changing around them. Spring has truly begun.
Can I see the buds that are swelling
in the woods on the slopes
on the far side of the valley? I can't,
of course, nor can I see
the twinleafs and anemones
that are blooming over there
bright-scattered above the dead
leaves. But the swelling buds
and little blossoms make
a new softness in the light
that is visible all the way here.
The trees, the hills that were stark
in the old cold become now
tender, and the light changes.
(from the collection "Given" by Wendell Berry)
Part of the hope for this time of vacation was to be less intentional and a bit less reflective. (Can one do that while still being open to writing a blog?) My success is proportional to my ability to be out in nature, and keeping my mind from musing overmuch!.
This poem, another from Wendell Berry's book "Given: Poems,"
was a found treasure this morning.
I know for a while again
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which even I may step
forth from my self and be free.
The blare of a power washer has chased me from the sunlit patio to the quiet conference room here at Shell Point now that it's finally time to settle down to write. I find it ironic, knowing the topic of this post.
"Soul-making" is a phrase that is appearing in several of the books I'm currently reading. When the soul is sick, or immature, the body and mind can't help but be affected, which makes me wonder if the formation of our souls, our psyche, our spirit, is perhaps the most important task that we have as human beings. My body would like me to make sure I grab all the sun I can while I'm here in Florida. My soul says, please, give us a quiet morning. I am learning to trust that if I start with my soul, the rest of the voices in my inner community will get all that they need to thrive.
The following poem by Wendell Berry gives a hint on the importance of silence in this inner formation. The poem is included in a collection entitled "Given" and was received as a gift from my sister-in-law this Christmas. The picture at top of the post is that of a bellwort, a woodland flower that blooms in early spring.
Ask the world to reveal its quietude-
not the silence of machines when they are still,
but the true quiet by which birdsongs,
trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms
become what they are, and are nothing else.