You don't have to know me very well to know that Silence is not my preferred modus operandi. However, I have lately gotten quite a few nudges in the direction of more contemplation and meditation as a way to get more in touch with God and my grounded center.
For instance, a guy from church gave me the book Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contmeplation as a sabbatical present and invited me to read it slowly. I have read the first chapter, all 6 pages, slowly. Twice. I am challenged by it, including the koan-ish that silence is a skill not a technique. By which I think the author means that silence is a thing to keep doing although there is no tried and true method.
Actually, the very first words of the book are already a challenge: "We are built for contemplation."
"Well, yeah," I think, "maybe YOU are. But not me."
I remember an article I read by Anne Lamott years ago about why she does not meditate, think of how I kept that story as kind of talisman which I could hold in front of me and say "see! see! I'm not the only one." But the assertion in The Silent Land is not equivocal. It is sweeping and inclusive and simple.
"We are, all of us, built for contemplation."
I read it again. And again.
And I hate it less with each reading.
I've always been skeptical, I think, of retreats that insist you must go far away to get close to God. And yet, being far away - from familiar language, foods, geography, friends - is jarringly awakening in a way I had not expected. The house where I'm staying has its own ecosystem - geckos, big ants, little ants and (eek) a giant, thankfully dead, cockroach - have all been discovered so far. And I'm sure there are more in the dark corners that remain undiscovered. Outside I have seen mongoose, a beautiful kind of small speckled deer (which I also ate some of on Tuesday), varieties of birds unknown to me. In this place you just have to be part of all Creation. There is no choice, as there is in the Oregon suburbs, to shut oneself off from the natural world.
I think that awareness (which sometimes comes with a startled shriek when the awareness happens by night or unexpectedly) has opened me in a new way. Yesterday I went to visit the Phallic Rock - so called by the signage in the state park. I walked a trail up a hill to the rock because I thought it would be hilarious and because I thought I could send a funny sort of message to Jeff - Phallic Rock! ha ha ha!
A sign on the way advised me that this was a sacred site to Hawaiians, and that we should be respectful, which started to alter my mood. But as I made the short climb up the hill, things changed. There was a distinct shift in the temperature, colder. The air quality changed, less humid. At the same time, a mist began to blow up the hill through the trees off the right. I passed through a doorway, a walkway of giant stones, that seemed to have been placed there by hand. I wondered at the strength of people who could have carried these rocks - two or three or four times my size - to this place.
The phallic rock itself was not, as I thought it would be, funny. Instead it had a power that was quite surprising. The wind blew in the trees and I could smell eucalyptus, as well as a lot of other tree smells I did not know. Cypress, maybe? Someone had placed some long stemmed flowers in the top dimple of the rock. I looked for birds or insects in the trees and did not see or hear any. Except for the wind, it was totally perfectly quiet.
Until, a boisterous family arrived. A boisterous family was the last thing I was in the mood for. I started to walk away, back through the walk way of rocks, through the sacred doorway. I got to the bottom of the hill, but I felt as much as thought the words from the book:
"We are built for contemplation - all of us."
And suddenly I am seized with longing to be the tool I am built for.
So, at the bottom of the hill, I turned back, walked back up.
I did not go all the way in to the sanctum, the Rock itself where I can still faintly hear the family bouncing around. Instead, I sat one of the smooth rocks in the walkway.
The wind in the trees roared around me, the mist crept up the hill and dissipated in wisps before it arrived where I was.
I closed my eeys and breathed in and out.
A while back we did a centering a prayer practice in our prayer group at church and as part of that practice, we chose a name for God as we breathed in and out. I chose the name, the word "Goodness."
Now on the flat rock I settled into breathing in. Goodness. Breathing out. Goodness
The wind roared against my body. The rock held me firmly and gently.
Breathing in Goodness. Breathing out Goodness.
The family was still talking around the bend at the rock. I heard them and then I remembered to return to my breath.
The next time I breathed in, I did not say goodness. The word that came instead was Wildness.
I breathed out goodness and breathed in Wildness for several breaths.
The wind pushed the branches of trees good ness. wildness.
I realize I have been looking for the goodness of God and finding that plenty, but pushing the wildness of God away, ignoring it, trying not to see it. But here, the wind blowing in the trees giving voice to generations who had prayed in this spot, or who had giggled, or who had made love or sacrifices (the rock I was sitting on was just about the size and shape of a bed...or an altar table), I thought God is wild, wilder than anyone of us can contain or know.
Now, God is everywhere.
I say this all the time, and I believe it, too. But I also know that I had to fly thousands of miles, then board a ferry across dangerous waters, then stay in a house with its own visible ecosystem as well as an invisible one, then climb to the type of a hill of cypus and eucalyptus - those foreign trees - then sit on a rock resonating with stories and fertility and death - to see that wildness of God.
I had to do all that to see and know that I was built for contemplation. To KNOW that we are, ALL of us, built for contemplation.
I could have stayed in Beaverton and read those words, but I would never have understood them.