Sunday, November 15, 2009

At Night By the River

Several weeks ago I blogged about being called into our Church one night when I was very tired and thought I was too tired to go. Well, it happened again this week, in a rather different way. There seem to be two factors at work in these summonses - night/dark, and tiredness.

We've all been worn out this week. The week before was glorious: 2 celebrations of the 125th anniversary of our founding, a profession of life vows, a really productive meeting of our Council. It was really good, but it was also a major disruption for people who live by a schedule, as we do, and it took all our energy. Not only that, but we started this week in the Guesthouse earlier than we usually do, and we had to hit the ground running because we had a group of about 40 people from the Diocesan Staff of the Diocese of New York. It was a great group, and from what we hear they had a wonderful time, but......

So we've been going through the week, each of us looking for the time or the place for some recovery, some respite.

This time it was after Compline one evening early in the week. I always love the sense of quiet that comes over our place after Compline. It almost has its own texture. And as I was headed for my room and savoring the evening silence there came again the sense of an intuitive invitation, this time to come outside. And this time I wasn't quite so worn out as the last time so my initial resistance wasn't awakened. I just turned down the hall and went outside.

When I got there I did the thing that seemed most natural: I went to the edge of the little bluff that our buildings sit on and looked out over the river. This is what I do every night from the window of my room, so it seemed like the thing to do. And I stood and looked.

Then I thought about my regular nightly exercise of praying for the people whose lights we can see across the river. I've done this for many years and it's part of my bed-time routine. But here's where my resistance came into play. Doing even that simple prayer seemed like it would take more energy that I had. It just didn't seem right somehow, and I'm in the process of learning that at times like this it's best if I follow the promptings that got me to this place. So I just stopped making any effort and looked at the river and waited.

The first thing that happened was a puff of wind from the cold front that was moving thought tousled my hair. It was just like someone messing my hair with their fingers, sort of saying: "Hi." "Hi", I said back. Then I waited.

Then I heard the sound of the river. Actually the river makes layers of sound. When it's moving there is always a sort of grumble; a low sound just about at the threshold of what can be heard, the sound of millions of gallons of water flowing. And because there was a cold front coming through and a fair amount of wind was blowing I could hear the noise of the wind and the sound it makes when the wind hits the surface of the river and then the sound of the waves stirred up by the wind. It was a restless, high sound, the sound of ceaseless energy.

Then I waited again. And I became aware of the lights across the river - lights from houses that are now beginning to be visible again since the leaves are dropping from the trees, and street lights and floodlights on the Vanderbilt Mansion and lights in the park land around it, and a couple of lights down by the river shore, and over all of it, the winking of the laser-like beams from the radio towers on the hills back from the river.

I watched all of those lights, just letting the sight of it sink in and became vaguely conscious of the people and the life that each of them represented. Then the next thing was spotting a winking light just above the horizon that was moving very slowly; a plane, so far away that there was no sound connected to it, probably out over the ocean, which is 80 or 100 miles away to our southeast. As it crept slowly along, so far away, I thought about the 200 or 300 people on board and wondered where they had come from and where they were going. Many of the planes that cross the North Atlantic pass this way, so there is always much to guess about when you see their contrails - so many dreams and expectations and lives.

Then the smell of the night came to me - damp, moist, fresh, overlaid with the smell of fallen wet leaves. This is unusual. I don't have much of a sense of smell and never have had, so I tend not to relate to the natural world around me by its smells. This was an extra little gift. And then another little gift, the feeling of the old, warm, moist air mingling with the cooler dried air being pushed in. I'm not sure I've ever been so aware of a cold front coming through and sweeping the old air out before it. And I saw the textures of the clouds, low and thick, sweeping along before the wind.

This gradually melded into a sense of the river itself, this great conduit of life that has flowed back and forth between these shores for a couple of million years or so. The Hudson is actually an estuary from New York to Albany, but it is so nicely river-shaped that no one thinks of it as anything else. The Esopus People who lived here before the Europeans came called it "The River that Flows Both Ways" and their story was that they originally lived to the West and were told by a prophet that they should move and should travel East until they found a river that flowed in both directions. And we are, in some ways, their heirs.

And then, slowly and gently, I became aware at last of the unity of all who live here or who have ever lived here - those represented by the lights across on the other shore, and those on the plane and those who came before electricity was invented, and those who lived here before people were here at all and those who live in the river and on its shores and in the air above. The great unity that joins us all became very evident to me.

This is one of the places to which the spiritual path is said to lead - to the knowledge of our unity with each other and with all life and with the earth and with God. I stood and felt that oneness.

Then I realized I was hungry and went to get a bed-time snack of a nice trail mix that I have that consists of some dried fruits and some raw nuts and some seeds. It seemed like the right food for the right time.

I tell this story partly as an account of one monk's experiences in the living of his life in this place, and partly just to say that I don't think that what I experience is particularly unique. I think that God calls out to us with the experience of unity pretty much all the time, 24/7. We just sense that call rarely. Only when the veil that is constructed by our minds and kept in place by the busyness of our lives is drawn aside for a bit do we let the reality of that call be heard. But it's there. It's always there - always. We just need to learn to listen. And how you do that is particular to your own circumstances and the conditions of your own life. But the testimony of the holy women and men of the ages is that we are drawn to this realization and we need to open to it to truly know who we are and where we are going.

No comments: