Today is the beginning of our salvation; the revelation of the eternal Mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: “Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
I had wanted to continue my ruminations on The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by further considering The Moment that Søren Kierkegaard refers to when, after waiting in silence, “…the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”
I don’t know what that moment consists of for you, for me, for us as a world community, or in our cities or church communities or families. No doubt there are overlapping times and seasons containing infinite instants, and only by quiet listening can we make any sense of them. But this passage in particular I wanted to pass on, in which the writer discusses what is missed when we fail to make the proper, standing-before-God kind of preparation:
“Even though it is pregnant with rich significance, the moment does not send forth any herald in advance to announce its arrival; it comes too swiftly for that; indeed, there is not a moment’s time beforehand…. But of course everything depends upon “the moment.” And this is surely the misfortune in the lives of many, of far the greater part of humanity: that they never perceived ‘the moment,’ that in their lives the eternal and the temporal were exclusively separated.”
So many thoughts swirl in my own noisy mind and heart that I could not imagine how I might find a way to share even these few gleanings with you. Then, in God’s providence and the church calendar, appeared someone who is the supreme example for us of being ready for the moment, that time in history and that time in her life, in a particular moment of a day, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Today we remember that event, when Mary listened, and responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
The Word became flesh and came to live with us, taking on all our human experience, its weakness and suffering and death. He defeated death, and opened the gates of Paradise. The Incarnation, the beginning of our salvation, is The Moment of history; our own “Yes” to God, echoing Mary’s willingness, can be the essence of our every prayer as well, as we wait on Him.
Kierkegaard exhorts us, in words that seem especially fitting for this time of uncertainty and change: “Would that in the silence you might forget yourself, forget what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the lowly name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans concerning your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your kingdom come!’ Would that you might in silence forget your will, your willfulness, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your will be done.'”
We know that God’s will for us is good, now as ever. Our inability to see or understand that is due to our weakness or sin, or His hiding of His works. May He give us grace to wait and to pray, and eventually we will see the full salvation of the LORD.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
“Let us now look more closely at the lily and the bird from whom we are to learn. The bird keeps silent and waits: it knows, or rather it fully andfirmly believes, that everything takes place at its appointed time. Therefore the bird waits, but it knows that it is not granted to it to know the hour or the day; therefore it keeps silent. ‘It will surely take place at the appointed time,’ the bird says. Oh no, the bird does not say this, but keeps silent. But its silence speaks, and its silence says that it believes it, and because it believes it, it keeps silent and waits.” -Søren Kierkegaard
I worked very hard last week to compose a second post on Kierkegaard’s The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air, which I am reading along with Mags. No good fruit seemed to come from my effort, though I wrote many words in a draft and searched for appropriately themed photos. When earlier this week I heard from Simone Weil through her anthologist Laurie Gagne, who was interviewed on Mars Hill Audio, that a writer must often wait patiently for the right word, it made me think more hopefully about the outcome.
I had begun at least two weeks ago, writing about the new bird community just on the other side of my fence, a few feet away from me when I garden. They are tropical birds in several large cages, temporary residents while their owners are between houses, and they are noisily chirping and even screeching from dawn to dusk. That long time ago, as it seems now, I was focused on their being jungle birds, surely not the sort that inspired Kierkegaard’s contemplations. I cleverly speculated that if Kierkegaard had lived in the jungle he wouldn’t have been likely to write the book he did.
But more pertinent to my present situation, only days later, is the fact that they are caged birds. And right now, many of us the world over feel like caged birds, in our efforts to slow the spread of a quickly spreading virus. Some are less restricted than others because they are in a type of helping role, but they also are at more risk. I, who am healthy and feeling in some ways younger than ever, have been grouped with The Elderly; I am trying to submit meekly, in my mind as well as my body, to my classification and assigned task: to stay home. In this regard, what Kierkegaard writes about seeking God’s kingdom first is something to take to heart:
“But then, in a certain sense is there in fact nothing I shall do? Yes, quite true, in a certain sense there is nothing. You shall in the deepest sense make yourself nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent. In this silence is the beginning, which is first to seek God’s kingdom.”
He does talk about how humans often enter into this silence when they are praying: “…as he became more and more fervent in prayer, he had less and less to say, and finally he became entirely silent…. indeed, he became what is, if possible, even more the opposite of talking than silence: he became a listener.”
Currently, the whole world is waiting. The necessity of waiting is a gift given to us, an opportunity, but if I only wait on the decisions of authorities and on the latest statistics, my waiting is of little value.
“This is also how it is with the lily, it keeps silence and waits. It does not ask impatiently, ‘When is the spring coming?’ [see Pippin’s daffodils at right] because it knows that it will come at the appointed time; it knows that it would not benefit in any way whatever if it were permitted to determine the seasons of the year. It does not say, ‘When will we get rain?’ or ‘When will we havesunshine?’ or ‘Now we have had too much rain,’ or ‘Now it is too hot.’ …. Then the moment comes, and when the moment comes, the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”
Obviously I myself know little of this subject experientially, but Søren Kierkegaard and the birds and flowers and all of nature have a lot to share, which I love to pass on! Glory to God, that He somehow arranged for me to find this particular book, chosen for its brevity. Ha! Every paragraph seems to have a world of meaning that one could meditate on for a year. The author must have known how to wait for the right word, as Simone Weil talks about.
Suffering. Are we not all suffering right now? Suffering at the most superficial level by our own movements being curtailed, or because we can’t find our favorite food in the stores, all the way to those who are suffering in a holy and productive way, deeply in their souls, expressing coinherence with the healthcare workers of Italy or with the helplessly panic-stricken of any place. When I think of all the monastics and even my priest, who are accustomed to self-containment and waiting on God, who are praying for all the rest of us who pray little, I feel both grateful and ashamed. When I pray with them at all, via their live-streamed services, it strengthens my ability to wait.
Charles Williams coined that word coinherence that I used above, but I don’t think he invented the truth that each of us is mysteriously and mystically united to the other. Simone Weil knew about this, too, and not in a theoretical way, but in the compassion and solidarity that emanated from her heart. When she was only five, she heard that soldiers (in the first World War) had no ration of sugar, so she refused to eat sugar. And much later, when she was at the Sorbonne, we learn more from fellow student Simone de Beauvoir’s writings. When Weil heard about a famine in China, she burst into tears; de Beauvoir envied her for having a “heart that could beat across the world.”
Christ suffered on the Cross in taking on Himself all the death and suffering of mankind, and He calls us to do it for each other, to be little Christs, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a mystery to me, for sure, but I hope that praying with my fellow creatures everywhere will help me to acquire more of this grace.
Regarding our own personal pain and death, Kierkegaard says that when we are silent, it makes our suffering less. This runs counter to modern culture in which we all want to talk in an effort to relieve suffering.
“The bird keeps silent and suffers. However much heartache it has, it keeps silent. Even the melancholic mourning dove of the desert or of solitude keeps silent. It sighs three times and then keeps silent, sighs again three times, but is essentially silent. For what it is it does not say; it does not complain; it accuses no one; it sighs only to fall silent again.Indeed, it is as if the silence would cause it to burst; therefore it must sigh in order to keep silent.”
And by that silence under suffering, Kierkegaard lists several ways suffering is eased; the bird – and potentially us humans! – are freed (I put these points into list form):
“1) From what makes the suffering more burdensome: from the misunderstood sympathy of others; 2) From what makes the suffering last longer: from all the talk of suffering; 3) From what makes the suffering into something worse than suffering: from the sin of impatience and sadness.”
Oh my, I’m afraid I have tempted you to the sin of impatience by my long post, so I am going to stop for now, though I still haven’t come to the end of my meditations on Kierkegaard’s First Discourse. Let me say, in closing, that I am praying with and for people everywhere who are distressed, joining my sighings with yours. I pray that our afflictions may be turned into the sighings of the mourning dove, who after all may be understandably melancholic about the true and sorry state of mankind. Her heartache and sighings become silence, and that is her prayer.
P is so easy. First off, there are the plans I have starting Sunday, to see all of my children over the course of only one week!! (I see that I have nicknamed three of my children with P names, too.) Kate is flying out from DC to see all the family before she starts her new job, and we will make a grand zigzagging tour to see the families of Soldier, Pathfinder, Pippin and Pearl, in that order.
So I need to get my place in order here, which mostly means planting. This week I bought a couple dozen pots of ornamentals, because I don’t have the patience to do the seed thing right now, and also I wouldn’t be here to water them next week when they would need constant moisture. I bought pincushion flowers and penstemons, just to mention the plants with “P” names.
My recent method of filling in the spaces in my landscape works like this: I go to the nurseries and see if they have anything that looks familiar to me, that I know from experience or from my research last summer that is both unthirsty and pleases me. I bring the plants home, and wander around for a while studying my 3-D horticultural canvas that has already been extensively “painted.” Each plant has color and shape, and I try to guess if it might, in a year or two, complement and fit in with what is already here. If I tried to do this process more systematically, it would not happen.
For five months I’ve been looking at pots to buy, in which to plant my two mismatched olive trees, and this week I finally made the big decision and brought them home. I’ve been using my little cart quite a bit to haul these pots, bags of planting mix, and pavers to put under the potted olives.
I’m still not sure that grey-white is a good color for the space, but it seems prudent to wait on that judgment until after the garden has grown up more around them. Twice in one week I heard the adage about what to expect from a newly installed landscape: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps. If after the leap, I decide I don’t like the color of these pots, I could paint them. They are made of fiberglass and have a matte and somewhat rough finish that would take paint well.
I did spy a packet of appealing poppy seeds when I was in the nursery — it’s risky going to those places! — and they can be planted in the fall, so that’s good.
After all my labors in the afternoon yesterday I slept well, to a point. Then I was awake for several pre-dawn hours. At first my mind fretted about all those projects that loom in my life, most of which never even get started, everything from cleaning the garage and pruning the rosemary, re-landscaping the front yard and remodeling the great room, to what I suspect are more important things like writing letters and visiting distant friends. But I couldn’t do much about any of that at 4:00 a.m., so I stayed where I was and continued my reading in the novel Laurus.
It is a philosophical book in the way that The Brothers Karamazov is, and a book that reveals the depths of the human spirit across the ages the way that Kristin Lavransdatter does. (Thanks to my reader Beth for reminding me of that.) It makes me think about the essential goal of my own life, far beyond “projects,” to acquire the Holy Spirit.
Both of my housemates were gone overnight, and though I’m sure the house was no quieter for the lack of them breathing in other rooms, I became aware of the silence, and was surprised by it. No traffic sounds intruded, no clocks ticked, and I felt the quietness like a tonic to my body, soul, and spirit, calming even my thoughts. Maybe the Lord woke me so that He could give me that gift, because the silence had presence, and it was the presence of Peace.
When in 1930 Jill Ker Conway’s father began homesteading a “block” of 18,000 acres in New South Wales, Australia, the change in lifestyle was jarring for his wife.
When my father left in the morning to work on the fences, or on one of the three bores [wells] that watered the sheep and cattle, my mother heard no human voice save the two children. There was no contact with another human being and the silence was so profound it pressed upon the eardrums. My father, being a westerner, born into that profound peace and silence, felt the need for it like an addiction to a powerful drug. Here, pressed into the earth by the weight of that enormous sky, there is real peace. To those who know it, the annihilation of the self, subsumed into the vast emptiness of nature, is akin to a religious experience. We children grew up to know it and seek it as our father before us. What was social and sensory deprivation for the stranger was the earth and sky that made us what we were. For my mother, the emptiness was disorienting, and the loneliness and silence a daily torment of existential dread.