Saturday, July 22, 2017

But something else does

The first time I picked up a book by author Annie Dillard on recommendation from a friend, I rushed into it, only to find myself deep in a bog, barely able to pick my way through.  And then, I began to walk at her own slow pace.  And a whole new world opened.

Sometimes an entire essay of hers doesn't move but an inch or two.  But profound truth, so embedded in creation, peeks shyly through the trees and astonishes me every time.

"Muskrats are cautious.  Many, many evenings, I wait without seeing one.  But sometimes it turns out that the focus of my waiting is misdirected... For when the muskrats don't show, something else does."  (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

And from her writing, I learned how to meander in my own life. Stop, stand still, and study what is all around me, to cease from always moving, always rushing, always looking for the next big thing, always watching for something else, always seeking another open door, a fork in the road, a different trail, or a path through the thicket or the miry bog. 

Having done all, to stand, right where I am, no need to go somewhere else.  What is right here, right now, right in front of me. An entire universe is under my feet, and I am looking everywhere else.  I have learned to be silent, and to realize only then, that nothing is silent, watching for what moves, studying what does not.  To watch the clouds creep across the blue and change their personalities, and look slowly like an elephant on its back, or a duck holding hands with a flying dog.

The brook does not gurgle, but it breaks into a million different levels of sound, the voices of its chorus rushing past the rocks that fail to stop the ongoing requiem.  And ten feet away, on the other side of the wooden foot bridge, the moving water sounds like a foreign language, a strange country from where I was, an entirely new section of the symphony.

We drove past a black bear the other day on the side of the road.  This huge lumbering pitch black marvelous creature was skirting the edge of the deep forest where she would become invisible, suddenly passing from one dimension to another.

A little further down the one lane gravel road, we stopped the car on the border of a field of tall prairie grass, so deep, if full-grown lions had passed in front of us, we would not have seen any more than a breeze rippling over its surface.  I reached for the binoculars which we usually forget to bring.  I scrolled along the huge trees on the far side of the field, one tree dead and barren, one smaller tree reaching up to the sky, and another next to it, its ancient limbs raised like an  enormous Y.  That is where I stopped moving the binoculars and watched and waited and focused and refocused on a dark spot I saw there, a shadow, I surmised, just a murky swath of bark.

But then I saw it move.

"I think there's a bear in that tree on the right," I said as I passed the binoculars to Bill.  I was a bit skeptical that it was.  Not likely.

Yet there was not one bear, but two.  In a tree where, with my naked eye, there was nothing but green, way too far for me to see anything on my own.  But with a deeper vision, there was the wonder, the reality, not at all a figment of my imagination, nor conjured up from all the years of nights my grandma told me the make-believe story of the three bears.  They were real as life.  Because they were real.

I was not looking for anything in particular.  But as Annie says, "when the muskrats don't show, something else does."

I just couldn't see it before.  And the people parked around us in their jeeps and minivans and sedans  were oblivious to this astonishing sight, as if in an invisible dimension right next to them.  How many hundreds of times I have passed that way and not considered it as much as an empty field?

That kind of vision, that kind of insight, does not happen on its own.  And that is why I read the Bible, because it matters, to see the supernatural all around me, not to make connections but to realize them, to be sensitive to what only appears invisible, to know, to stand still, to stop even before the day begins.  I don't want to miss any of it.  I don't want to miss the wonder.

And something always comes I never saw before.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech,
    nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

                                 Psalm 19. 1-6

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