Friday, December 27, 2013

Sailing to the Moon

It's like fishing in the dark.
Our thoughts are the hooks,
Our hearts the new bait.
And so, China has soft-landed a rover on the Moon. A splendid achievement of which that nation must be very proud. I'm proud too, for humankind.

I think of what Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts in Solitude, at a time when some far-seeing rocket scientists were considering the real possibility of going to our sister satellite: "What can we gain by sailing to the moon, if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves."

I've read much of what Merton wrote, and at least one biography. Did he succeed in crossing his personal abyss. You tell me.

Certainly he seems to have achieved a degree of self-knowledge that I have not obtained. At seventy-seven I lay awake at night contemplating the abyss, the dark wood, the chasm. What I wouldn't give for the sleep of the just, without the futile worries, the wearisome self-doubt, the hoo-has.

I wonder if the abyss of which Merton speaks in in fact uncrossable. Certainly, consciousness is a mystery yet to be unraveled, and that must include self-consciousness. Are there dimensions of ourselves that are intrinsically beyond our grasp, stirring down there in the opaque pool of the subconscious? Are the dark woods part of our being? Does the abyss rive our very hearts?

Maybe the secret to sleeping the sleep of the just is not to bridge the abyss, but to accept it.
The hook left dangling
In the abyss.

(The quoted lines are from a poem of Charles Simic, "Mystic Life".)