Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dusty Treasure

* * * * *
Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!

~~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~~
from “The Starlight Night”

* * * * *

A rediscovery. Buried treasure from long-ago, unearthed most unexpectedly; savored most deliciously on this sweet summer’s day. I hear the poet cry “look!” and I stop to “look” . . . and then I “see.” I see with my eyes, ears, and heart. There are fire-folk sitting in the air, and I’m not alone in seeing it.

Today a scant bit of poetry nestled in my morning reading launched me on a journey back in time to renew an acquaintance. In my days at university I chanced by print to meet Gerard Manley Hopkins -- monk, professor, poet. In my rush to mingle with the “Lost” of a generation led by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I nodded courteously to poet Hopkins and hurried down the path of learning and letters. Today the lines of beauty I stumbled across by chance sent me searching for my old Norton Anthology of English Literature.

I know I met G. M. Hopkins once upon a time, but where is he to be found now? Where can I find that quiet monk-professor who once burned all of his poems upon entering the Society of Jesus, fearing they would not meet with approval? And where can I find that monk’s body of work that lay unpublished (intentionally so) until nearly 20 years after his death? “Where is he?” I mutter as I scour the dusty shelf allotted to poetry, largely unread these days judging from the uniform film Time placed atop each volume. Each volume that has been lovingly packed and carted with me from one address to another as I graduated, married, set up housekeeping, moved, birthed babies, moved again, birthed more babies, and moved again. The poetry books settled comfortably into a bookcase and set about the business of aging beautifully and peacefully . . . until today.

Blowing puffs of dust, prying thin volumes away from thick, rustling pages dormant for years, I cringe at the shameful neglect. On occasion, when a fevered child suffered through the night, I would carry them away on the worthy words of Wordsworth or Keats, Shelley or even silly Mr. Carroll, but Gerard Manley Hopkins remained at rest. And the looking goes on.

A-Ha! The anthology appears and my memory guides me directly to the time period hosting Hopkins ’ offerings. I peruse the bio and breeze past the literary style notations – deeply ingrained from years of university work, I need not review – and reach out to grasp the meat: the poems. Dancing through the sprightly verses I skip over the footnotes included to define troublesome words (such as enlightening the reader that the “oil” referred to comes from an olive rather than a tanker – would one ever confuse the two herein? I hope not!) and journey up and down and all around with my monk friend as guide and songmaster in praise of the Lord’s amazing canvas – our world.

I read . . . I know . . . I smile . . . I see . . .

I lie back in the grass and seek the treasured gems dropped from heavenside down to this tarnished Eden that Hopkins sees so clearly. Even death and pain find beauteous glint from poet’s pen. I read . . . I read . . . I read long into my day.

Unlike the hurried introduction so long ago, today I linger and walk stanza by stanza through the wonderment and praise. Whereas I knew nothing much of monks when we first met, I have since undertaken many a reading voyage hosted by monks (such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen), as well as followed pilgrims through the pages of recorded retreats and solitary stays in monasteries world-wide. I now greet Hopkins the monk comfortably, as well as Hopkins the poet. Those days of yesterday, when I wondered why someone would destroy their work, have been replaced with a pilgrim’s knowledge; a pilgrim knowing that sometimes SELF destroys a poem or thought as surely as a match.

I once knew someone who wrote a book. Upon notification of intent to publish, the company sent the author a list of things to “add” for completion of the book. The list called for “salty” language, snippets of sensuality, etc. The book remained clean and unpublished in the author’s possession.

Years later, lying in a hospital bed, the author revised his tale, intending to reach a younger audience. I saw the excitement in his eye as he worked anew on his book. Publication would surely happen this time around . . . or so I thought.

The man healed, left the hospital bed, and lived the balance of his life with fresh vigor. I never saw the book again.

In declining health at the end of his life I inquired about “The Book,” hoping to self-publish this achievement for his grandchildren to enjoy.

“I destroyed it,” he said matter-of-factly. “I feared that someone may think that Science could replace God and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to lead anyone astray, so it’s gone.”

Simple. Truthful. Pure. Good.

I had always anticipated reading this book as a way of knowing more about this unemotional, enigmatic person. With so little on display to be observed, I longed to read from the inside. I never did get that chance, but the brief exchange regarding the book’s destruction told me volumes.

As this summer’s day passes from dew-kissed morn to dappled afternoon, as I seek respite from the heat until the twilit sky ushers down the velvety curtain of a star-spangled night, I will marvel and delight in the lingering words of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he weaves a tapestry of poems bound in parcels addressed to a magnificent God. I read. I nod. I delight.

I’m so glad I paused to meet up with this poet over a cup of tea as he guides me through nature’s beauty: simple gems dropped heaven-side from the hands of God to bury in Eden ’s dust as treasure for this seeker.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quiet Treasure

A friend wonders (and worries, methinks):

"Where have you gone?"

I reply:

"Treasure Hunting in a Quiet Cave."

* * * * *

Pages from my Journal:

July 9, 2010

I have found this quiet niche. Silence flows around me as the heat of the day persists into evening. I will write . . .

July 18, 2010

Sweet Silence.

Quiet. I love the sound of the word “quiet” as it slips past my lips – hushed tones, sweet invite to peace.

I have been blessed with quiet these days: A way through the forest of life. A silent path taken by many a pilgrim throughout the ages.

With feet firmly tethered to my homestead for this sun-kissed season, I nestle down in the cool afternoon retreats, I stroll in the twilit evenings, and I sit quietly in the hours following a new day’s dawn.

No parties. No guests. No busy-ness. Simply quiet days that I fill as I go. This has been a most marvelous gift. I cannot recall such a time in my life . . . EVER! All health is good, worries flat, outside calls null. Without a landline to home I have not even the blinking box of recorded robo-nonsense to handle. Without a sodden schedule of “musts,” I find freedom to be . . . as I am . . . just as I am . . . and it is wondrous good.

Hereabouts reading becomes diving expeditions wherein the seeker finds treasure and delights in recounting the journey, displaying the jewels uncovered, and dreaming of those still to be found. Evenings suffused in gentle candlelight under the starry skies entice all to linger, and in lingering we relax, relate, unwind, blossom. It is a way of life gifted to me . . . us . . . all who pause . . . and wait.

The silence carries immense quantities of treasure; but sadly, all too often the flurry of hurry in life masks sight and the treasure lies overlooked.

Now that I have tasted of such sweet, unhurried peace and quiet I hope NEVER to battle the flurry of hurry again. Now when loss occurs, I will sit still. When pain stabs, I will sit still. When fear grips, I will sit still. I want to hear His voice.

. . . and after the fire a still small voice.
1 Kings 19:12

Wind, earthquake, fire . . . He was not in these. His voice rested in a quiet moment after the passing of the clamor. I have sat amongst the rubble in quiet . . . I have found that the voice remains still small – ever constant. My silence bears more fruit than cries or activity or pleas ever have. My silence says it all . . .

Thy will be done.

The peace surpasses all.

Each “need,” “want,” “hope,” and “hurt” fades in the midst of this incredible peace. I cannot comprehend it . . . as He knew I wouldn’t:

. . . the peace of God, that passeth understanding . . .
Philippians 4:7

I do not understand it, cannot describe it, will not try to peddle it to seekers. Instead, I will remain at peace with the doorway open to all. I have no monopoly. I judge not the merit of others. I only know this peace – unlike any I have ever known.

Am I in a chrysalis? Have I walled away from the world? Am I swallowed up in sorrow? No, I’m in His presence . . . abiding . . . nourished on manna . . . protected by His wings . . . satisfied by His promises.

When I step into the world and taste/see/smell the tangled ways of life, I recoil. The many LOUD, bright, noisy, competitive calls for attention buffet me; without my cloak of peace I must don armor. I must resist the temptation to walk in the old ways: judge, compete, outshine, perform . . . The pull, the memory, the natural inclination tear at my very fabric. What do/will/have I gain(ed) from this fleshly walk? How have I changed at rest in the peaceful place? Can I retake my old stage? Do I want to? Questions tumble. I hear others goad and chide me for “escaping,” for failing to reach out. It stings. The barbs seek and discover my prideful need-to-please nature and lobby me to abandon my peaceful treasure.

Thoughts rush to my lips (or pen). The queries provoke me to launch a defense, but I hesitate . . . look back to the peaceful place . . . savor the memories of truth . . . and drop my weapons . . . drop my defenses . . . step back to peace. I have no wish to battle. I have nothing to gain by hacking down another’s Babel so soon after I have dismantled my own. I risk my peace and tranquility to gain only bloodied bruises.

The still small voice in my heart whispers,

Be still and know I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Tears fall; I sink with relief (or is that re-life?) back into the quiet – the “wings” of life’s stage. My soliloquies will not ring throughout the theater of life. I will not reap applause and adoration on a grand scale . . . only peace and quiet here in the wings with the One who loves me.

As my eyes adjust to the darkness offstage, I see shadowy forms all around me. Silently I reach out and touch. A touch returns and grows into an embrace . . . and another . . . and still another . . . These wings brim with other quiet ones. I never knew . . . I never knew the quiet held so much and so many. Knowing hands clasp and unclasp over time and space, but no words break the silence – hearts do not need vocal chords, or microphones, or even blogs . . .

I settle into the dark, quiet realm . . . and live . . . at peace.

At times the noise of the hearty applause showered onstage snags a memory and a wistful sigh escapes – a wondering – but the quiet hugs me close. When I hear the plaintive wail of a broken-hearted one I part the curtain and beckon, but often times the lure of the applause on a stage tugs at the hurting one, and I have no desire for a tug-of-war. I leave the curtain parted, a shaft of backstage light seeping through – a beacon bathed in dust motes . . . a retreat – and return to the shadows. Having played my time upon the stage, I know the applause fades, the roles lose luster, and the foundations of the stage give way with time; whereas, the quiet never fails.

No one needs hear my treatise. Many will never comprehend the difference between a shamed or depressed retreat and a quiet-seeking journey. I will not waste breath or ink to tell the tale. If the Lord sees fit to call me centerstage, He will use His still small voice – I best not be bellowing my own hot air, lest I miss a true calling.

So here I sit . . . silent and still . . . smiling.

I am here.

I have not gone.

I am silent and still.

I am simply being.

I am . . . with I AM.