“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.”
Full link to Annie Dillard quote: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/219914-our-life-is-a-faint-tracing-on-the-surface-of
But isn’t is also true that we are forever trying to engineer a paved highway right down the center of that mystery?
We are little Bob-the-Builders, even the least mechanical of us. We are busy little ants that never met a mystery or a tangle or a chaos or a strangeness we didn’t want to even out, make clear, or smooth.
I love that Annie Dillard piece from “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” Think about her imaginative critique: “If creation had been left up to me…” Even those of us with wild imaginations live more often than not,
by a failure of imagination – we fear to imagine expansively enough.
If we were the Creator surely our creation would prohibit loss – we simply could not or would not plan a creation with pain and grief sewed into every fold as it is because of loss, change and death. How could we? We would have to imagine and create beyond our own self-interest to make such a cosmos and that doesn’t sound like us, does it?
Mystery…we pretend to like it but secretly we hate it.
If someone is going to throw a party for us we want to know ahead of time so we can prepare our response. A lot of people even try to plan their last words – deathbed poetry or profundity. Leave nothing to chance because it may not be pretty.
Mystery…we know that Pascal was right: any religion worth its salt, or spice as the case may be, will acknowledge up front that God is hidden. We don’t like to admit it very much because otherwise, what good are we – religious folks I mean. But God is hanging out on the far side of the moon and we haven’t figured out how to fly there yet
Mystery…every religion has rituals and prayers, ancient texts, formulas and structures, and bunches of experts to unlock mystery. But none of them amount to more than a can opener on a Swiss Army Knife.
Mystery will not be opened against its will and it won’t be smoothed out, flattened, or standardized enough for us to ever feel comfortable with it. So if we are really honest, we never feel truly at ease and comfortable around anything approximating ‘the holy.’
The reason we feel slightly on edge with mystery, or should, is because we know deep in our bones it is as likely to get us in trouble, eat us alive, or pull the rug out from under us as it is to give us that trademark sense of serenity and peace we are always hoping to get.
We know that mystery, the holy mysteries, is tangled and twisted and sprawling and more complicated than a varicose vein.
The antidote to our compelling inclination to order, smooth out, and permanent press the fringes and fjords of mystery in our lives is to “stalk the gaps.”
For another piece of that great Annie Dillard pericope about stalking the gaps:
I’m talking about charging the dark, scary places within ourselves like a fearless maniac.
When we get complacent and find ourselves nodding politely at the mysteries; or we catch ourselves mechanically smoothing them out or cutting the tangle of fringes away it is time for us to charge the gaps. Then it is time to take some dark, scary corner of our inner world, perhaps a fear or one of the little monsters that live within our shadow, and charge it.
Charge right into it screaming and raising hell all along the way. Gather up a serious head of steam and run toward it as if we hadn’t a fear in the world. We can’t think about what we are doing and must improvise along the way.
Charge the gap and encounter whatever is in it.
In addition to encountering where the wild things are that live inside us we will also encounter unparalleled mystery.
When we have let go and run like a banshee into those dark, scary places inside, we will encounter the fringed fiords of mystery that also populate the contours of our inscape. It is worth it; it really is.
So I invite you to let go of the reigns, unhitch the mule team and plough, and get on your fastest shoes and charge the gap – run into the parts of yourself that haven’t seen the light of day in years and when you get in there, scream like it’s Halloween.
Find out what and who is in there, and as you do, the power of mystery will reveal itself and you will discover a power greater than yourself that is utterly unpredictable and totally uncontrollable. You will be reborn as the wild chaos of mystery is unleashed.
(One of my new poem on this very subject, “Listening to Dark Angels” will soon appear in print in “Poetry Quarterly,” published by Prolific Press).