Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Annunciation


Once again a great white heron has taken up residence in our yard. It's as if an angel, Gabriel say, has come to visit.

My camera is on the fritz, so I can't share a photo. You will have to rely on my words.

Crowned and gowned in nuptial white. She moves along the dune at a bride's pace -- step, pause, step, pause -– her gaze fixed, bride-like, straight ahead. Her long yellow legs so thin and insubstantial her body seems to float like a tethered balloon. Daintily, she lifts a foot, offers it forward, places it ever so precisely. Pause.

The neck, with the improbable crook. Like swallowing a fish through a twisted straw. But then, she extends her head, and the neck unfurls. Her head rises like a periscope, that lance-like beak, that gleaming eye.

"Thou," I whisper. "Thou."

Martin Buber's most famous work -- I and Thou -- was first published in English in the 1930's, but a second English edition was brought forward by Scribner in 1958, just as I was beginning a struggle to reconcile my scientific training with my childhood faith. Buber offered me, and others like me, a useful vocabulary for understanding what we felt -- a naming of two kinds of experiences, what he called the I-It and the I-Thou.

Ordinary day-to day experience -- the scientific experiment, for example, or how I feel just now as I stare at the screen of my word processor -- belongs to the realm of the I-It. Such experience is necessary for living in the world. We put on our shoes, go to the bank, and change the oil in the car in the realm of I-It. "Without It man cannot live," says Buber. And he adds: "But he who lives with It alone is not a man." There is a different kind of experience that is relational, mutual and transcending that Buber calls I-Thou. It is an experience we feel most commonly in interaction with another human being -- a partner, a parent, a child, a friend. But it can also be experienced with other living beings, a bride-white heron say, pacing with a nuptial grace across the dune. A grace that for a moment lifts me out of myself and into –- dare I say it? -- the infinite.

"Thou," I whisper. "Thou."