Originally published at http://clearstorycollective.org
Let’s say that you take your kayak onto a pond one October morning, and you’re in no hurry to get somewhere else. You’re simply here, awake and still, welcoming each moment as it comes, floating wherever the breeze may take you. From your boat in the middle of the pond you watch the dark water, the birch trees leaning overhead, and the golden-green grasses on the shore. You feel warmth on your face as the sun rises, you see a pair of bluebirds sitting motionless in a tree, you listen to the lapping water, a yellow leaf floats beside the boat, and you need nothing, want nothing, exclude nothing, and welcome everything. You drift as freely as a feather that is carried on the breath of God, open to all that comes. Then the birch trees release their leaves and a cascade of tiny yellow leaves is tumbling through the air above you, landing on the field, the pond, your legs, even your face. What can you do but laugh for joy?
October has always been my favorite month, and in these glorious autumn days, I sometimes feel like St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote something that has been rendered like this:1
Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
I think that God is always courting us, always beckoning us into relationship, always luring us to fall in love. It can happen in all sorts of ways, that moment when our heart quickens and we suddenly see what is going on, what God is up to.
Maybe you go to a concert one day, in which the orchestra will perform a piece that is particularly dear to you – in my case, it might be Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto. The concert hall falls silent, the French horn plays the haunting opening notes, the strings enter, the pianist sets his fingers to the keyboard, and as the music flows into us, at first we may want to be the piano player. We want that music to be streaming through our own hands and body, to be singing through our fingertips. And as we listen intently, absorbed in the music, maybe we say, No, I want to be the conductor: I want to stand with open arms, listening with such pure attention that I hear the whole of it, every note and every space between the notes, receiving it all into my body and guiding and responding to it as it takes shape around me. And then as your listening deepens, you give yourself even more fully to the moment. You become very silent, very still. You forget yourself, and you become the music. Moment by moment the music is giving itself to you, and moment by moment you are giving yourself fully to the music. You’ve relinquished all sense of who you are, and yet in that self-surrender you’ve never felt more fully yourself or more fully alive. If someone asked you who you are, you’d have to answer, “What can I say? I am Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto.”
It’s the ecstatic experience that T.S. Eliot speaks of in Four Quartets:2
…music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
I think of moments like these as moments of experiencing the deep-down union between God and the soul. Half the time I’m not aware of that bedrock love relationship that my soul already enjoys. But then – maybe when I’m least expecting it – something happens. I discover that when I give myself fully to the present moment, in all sincerity and with an open heart, I notice that moment by moment God is already giving God’s self to me.
1. St. Francis of Assisi, “Wring Out My Clothes,” in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, New York, Penguin Compass, 2002, p. 48
2. T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages,” Four Quartets (New York and London: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1943, p. 44.