It’s a quiet, foggy morning here in Seattle, and I’m thinking about ontology — the philosophical study of the nature of existence. There is something deeply dissatisfying about a choice between reductionism and hierarchy, for both seem to me equally wrong. Although in naturalistic philosophy hierarchy no longer needs the divine sanction of a god to justify it, the supremacy of human culture and human consciousness remains unchallenged, the assumed pinnacle of evolution, with the masses of quarks, quasars, oak trees and elephants relegated to the same old mindlessness of mere objects, only so much stuff.
But rather than go into any more detailed analysis of these dense and sometimes unwieldy philosophies, instead I want to talk a little bit about fog…
So what exactly do I believe? To answer that question, I have to go back to basics. And in going back to basics, I have to face my fear of being forever shrugged off as a newbie fluff bunny who can’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to say, “So what? What do you care if people take you seriously?” But as a member of a scattered, small community, a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture, it can feel pretty devastating to be shrugged off or shuffled aside even by those you thought would welcome you with open arms. But that’s the risk you have to face if you want to cultivate an open and free relationship with spirit and the sacred world. The world is far stranger and wilder than the books and experts would have you believe.
I look up from my work at the computer and notice for the first time the gray curtain of rain outside my window. That sacred presence that crept upon the land so slowly, opening itself up into a downpour over this city of steep hills and huge rivers with such unrelenting patience that it’s easy to believe the rain could go on forever, pounding over the black slate rooftops and gathering into the gutters.
And it does. I turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to let the breeze and noise-song of the storm in. The smell of summer is delicious and sweet and warm in my lungs. The red brick of our neighbor’s house darkens to a deeper, mottled red across the narrow span of the alley. Our tiny garden nods and nods…
There is, I think, an old, white-bearded man who has taken up a place in my soul, like a seed of light or a hermit’s lantern held up in the surrounding dark. His staff is heavy, planted in the ground. His brow is bright. In his dark eyes, that have seen such sorrow, there is still a star, a gleam like wisdom or stubborn joy. And he is a leader of a people, and he would lead them into the wilderness, that they might make of themselves whole constellations with the patterns of their dancing.
That darkness is my body. That wilderness is my spirit. That constellation is the soul-song rising, woven from the sound of my breathing and the blood turning through my gnarled, twining veins.
At the heart of my spiritual life rests the deep knowing that ritual is a way of listening to the Song of the World as it moves through the earth and the land, and engaging with that Song as something holy, wholly challenging and transformative. Shared ritual is when we accept the burden and blessing of being embodied beings of this dense, physical world that gives us life, and when allow ourselves to respond in kind, to speak back to the natural world with its energies and currents and wild mysteries. Ritual is not for our sake alone, but for the sake of the whole world. It is for the sake of the solitude and silence that surrounds us, that frightening shadow of void and absence that makes us who we are, makes us whole.
“The room where I live is plain as a skull, a firm setting for windows. A nun lives in the fires of the spirit, a thinker lives in the bright wick of the mind, an artist lives jammed in the pool of materials. (Or, a nun lives, thoughtful and tough, in the mind, a nun lives, with that special poignancy peculiar to religious, in the exile of materials; and a thinker, who would think of something, lives in the clash of materials, and in the world of spirit where all long thoughts must lead; and an artist lives in the mind, that warehouse of forms, and an artist lives, of course, in the spirit. So.) But this room is a skull, a fire tower, wooden, and empty. Of itself it is nothing, but the view, as they say, is good.”
– Annie Dillard, from Holy the Firm
Tonight, reading David Abram’s musings on the language of our embodied selves and this thickly expressive world in which we live, I wonder about the internet.
As my friend Cat has taught me, the Quakers have a saying: “This Friend speaks to my condition.”
The Quaker Meeting is one of silence and unfolding into Spirit. When a Friend speaks in Meeting, it is with Spirit moving through them. The breath is Spirit in the flesh, and when it stirs, the Friend opens and allows the music of Spirit (the Song of the World, as we Druids call it) to rise up and overflow.