Saturday, March 26, 2011

Seen or Unseen

From Elk Rock Gardens - Mount Hood

I was welcomed here—clear gold
of late summer, of opening autumn,
the dawn eagle sunning himself on the highest tree,
the mountain revealing herself unclouded, her snow
tinted apricot as she looked west,
Tolerant, in her steadfastness, of the restless sun
forever rising and setting.
Now I am given
a taste of the grey foretold by all and sundry,
a grey both heavy and chill. I've boasted I would not care,
I'm London-born. And I won't. I'll dig in,
into my days, having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price
of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.
-Denise Levertov

I’m spending the day at a Centering Prayer retreat in a beautiful setting that’s owned by our Episcopal Diocese. The chapel and gardens overlook the Willamette River, which runs right through the middle of Portland. From the west side of the river, there are breathtaking views (on a clear day) of Mt. Hood, the highest point in Oregon and only about fifty miles east. (The above picture is taken from these gardens, borrowed from someone's Flickr.) I’m a little jealous today, for there is nothing to be seen but clouds east of the river. Regardless, I consider myself lucky to have found a sunny bench in the midst of tall trees on this cloudy day in order to journal my thoughts. Portland, it seems, is cloud-trap, a deep valley surrounded by mountainous terrain. Still, we have our clear days, days when mountains that are hundreds of miles away in the Cascade range seem close enough to touch. Not to give cloudy, coffee-shop days a bad rap, but those crystal clear days are really quite something. Of course, it’s a package deal. Perhaps this is why I’m especially drawn to Levertov’s poem; this is the agreement I have made with beauty. “Grey is the price…of knowing a mountain’s vast presence, seen or unseen.” And if you'll forgive the extended metaphor, perhaps this is why mountains are helpful for understanding our relationship with God, however common and familiar the analogy may be.

Back in the chapel, I sit in silence in a circle of fellow pray-ers. By faith, I know that we are in the midst of God; in a sense, we are in God, yet we may only catch a glimpse. Maybe there are days, those rare days when God’s love is especially felt or sensed, but today (and probably most days) shrouded by clouds, only knowable by a faithful prayer that says, “I will sit.” Or, as the speaker of the poem declares, “here to live, not to visit.”

It is my prayer to continue to know God in this apophatic way, with greater sincerity and fidelity… and maybe just a glimpse here and there.


RC said...

Wow! What a beautiful and profound meditation. Thank you, Daniel, for investing in this and sharing it with us. It strengthens and encourages me in my relating to God. It sounds like your retreat is a special one. And I love the Levertov poem. What a great connection to the spirituality we share--for which I am very grateful.

living stones said...

Daniel, I love the picture and the poem. And I am so happy to read you were on a retreat! I didn't mind the familiar analogy at all. It had freshness because it came out of your own experience in that place and that hour. I'm encouraged that across the miles there are pray-ers who share what I value. Thank you for this deeply meaningful reflection.

Paul Corrigan said...

I love the combination of picture, poem, and reflection. I have special feelings towards Levertov. And I like this line in particular, the same one you zero in on: "I'll dig in, / into my days, having come here to live, not to visit."

I want to cultivate an attitude towards place--whether a particular place or this earth in general--that adopts both a "here to live" and "here on a visit" attitude. In other words, I don't want to simply be a careless tourist anywhere. But I want to be aware of the transient nature of everything. I'm only here for now. But while I'm here, I really want to be here.

For me, this is a contemplative posture--directly connected to the fact that, as you point out, we are in God. That's a good analogy. But it's also more than an analogy: Being in a place is both like being in God, and it is part of being in God.

Also, I'm glad for your retreat and your mountain experience, even if you only got to see clouds.

Thank you for sharing.

Mark Wills said...

Daniel, Thanks for the reflection. After reading your post, I thought about the sensation I get when I hit a point on I-81 every weekend I drive home from Nashville to Greeneville, TN. The point is when I top a hill and can see Viking Mountain, under whose shadow my hometown lies. It is a spiritual moment that transcends nostalgia which I can't fully explain. I think about this quote from Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace: "the greatest difference was the knowledge of the few square miles in Kentucky that were mine by inheritance and by birth and by the intimacy the mind makes with the place it awakens in. "

Thanks for sharing!

Vivian said...

This is beautiful, Daniel. I can relate to cloudy days (both from my years in Portland and from the metaphor of sensing God's love and presence only vaguely :) ). Thank you for sharing the poem and the thoughts it generated for you! - Vivian

Daniel said...

Friends, thanks for your encouragement and contributions! And, Vivian, it's good to hear from you! PDX misses you.

Blog Archive