Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A wind in the trees


How do you know you've been traveling too much? When you walk into the concourse at Denver airport's terminal C and say, "There's a pretty good sandwich shop at the end." My kids were duly amused. The Boy wanted to know just how many times I'd been in Denver recently, and I found I wasn't certain.

I will miss the pockets of silence at my dad's. Though at one point there were thirty five people sitting down to eat, and the crush in the kitchen threatened the resident Labrador retriever's tail, it was a short walk down to the edge of the pasture. The wind runs up the canyon most afternoons, sending towels and suits hung to dry on the wall near the house sailing into my late mother's rosemary patch. The rosemary on the hillside hums with busy bees, making the retrieval of items caught in its clutches a perilous undertaking.

Late one afternoon, I sought the stillness and silence of the lath house I had appropriated early in my stay. I sat on the old steps, and watched the hawks circling lazily above. I could hear the odd horse nickering in the field down the hill. The silence was so profound I could hear the gusts gathering strength at the bottom of the canyon a mile or more away. I could hear the wind hit the almond trees at the canyon's mouth, stir the live oaks in the gully below me, finally tumbling through the high barley until like a giant's breath, or perhaps the Spirit's, it burst through the open wall of my temporary hermitage. Not even the chapel in the depths of a winter's night at Wernersville is this silent, this still, this pregnant with possibility.

I've been reading Evelyn Underhill for the course I'm teaching on silent spaces this fall. She writes of St. Cuthbert, who longed for his hermitage on the river Farne, but enjoyed it rarely, and of St. Francis Xavier, who wanted a orderly life on Rome with his companion Ignatius, but found himself bound for the far side of the word on a moment's notice. She is unsympathetic. The externals of place and how it is ordered toward prayer and contemplation seem very much secondary considerations to Underhill. Prayer is simply what you do, whether in the deep silence of my hermitage, or in the press of the boarding line for the plane. Prayer may be an interior work, but it orients what is external, not so much the reverse.

In the end, I return to the Principle and Foundation, I desire not so much silence or tumult, but whatever draws me closer to God. Or so I pray.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God's deepening his life in me.


David Fleming, S.J.'s paraphrase of Ignatius' Principle and Foundation.

Photo is of the lath house at sunset.

1 comment:

  1. "Prayer may be an interior work, but it orients what is external, not so much the reverse."
    In a conversation about meditation, I told my coordinator that it causes one to bring oneself back to inner breath. He responded that it also enables one to quite literally inhale the outer world. The line between meditation and prayer is fuzzy and perhaps non existent, but I think both mediate between the two (inner and outer) worlds.

    All that to say, yes.

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