Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surrender to facts

I'm currently reading two books. One I found in the house when I arrived, presumably left by a previous visitor: Cheryl Strayed's Wild, a young woman's attempt to sort out her messed-up life and grief for her mother's death by hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail, many hundreds of miles along the ridges of California's Sierra Nevada and Oregon's Cascades mountains. The other, my friend Douglas Christie'sThe Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology, grounded in Doug's extensive knowledge of the Christian monastic tradition.

Two ways thoughtful people over the ages have sought inner peace: rigorous outer pilgrimage and quiet inward turning.

Blisters, aching muscles, raw skin, fear, exhaustion.

Silence. Immobility. Staying put.

What do they have in common? Solitude. Simplicity. Surrender.

I've been drawn in both directions in my life, but never with sufficient gumption to seriously exploit the possibilities of self-transformation. As a young man, especially, I was drawn to a Thomas Merton sort of monasticism, but was foiled by falling in love and the itch of sex. I have done my share of mountain climbing and long-distance walking, but generally with a soft bed and bottle of wine at the end of the day. No blistered feet in my life. No fasts. No waking up to pray in the middle of the night.

And yet, and yet… I've tried to learn to pay attention. To resist the noise of life. To step aside from the race to the top, which always seemed to me not much different than the bottom. And in all of this -- my easy, middle way -- science has been my walking stick and my psalter.

There is a simplicity in facts, in the isness of things, in taking things just as we find them without the need for theologies or ideologies. Things. Ordinary things. Of which I am one, blessed by evolution with the capacity to enjoy and celebrate the others.