Friday, December 24, 2010

Gifts of the Magi

In his book The Wild Places, the British naturalist Robert MacFarlane says this of the early Christian monk/hermits who settled on Europe's wild Celtic fringe: "For these writers, attention was a form of devotion and noticing continuous with worship."

This is a thought I have explored here on several occasions and at great length in Climbing Brandon. The formulation I like best is "Seeing is revelation, description is praise." It is a way of thinking about the world that works well with or without a transcendent or supernatural referent.

As one who hews to Ockham's Razor I prefer to do without the superfluous deity. But, as readers of my books will know, I have nothing but admiration for those men and women who in the first millennium of the Christian era sought out beautiful, wild places to commune with their God. By putting the comforts of civilization behind them they sought the infinite, which they thought was more readily to be encountered in wind and water and wildness than within in the four walls of a palace.

And so tonight I will join with them in spirit in celebrating the birth of their transcendent polestar, their fixed referent. I will be like the Magi, knowing the beauty of the sky and the waves and the wild places betoken something -- what? who knows? -- that we perceive dimly but powerfully in nature, some mysterious force that stirs in every termite, hummingbird and eclipsed Moon that asks us to pay attention, and, in seeing, to describe.

I will add description to gold, frankincense and myrrh.