Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A mouse is miracle enough


I believe a leaf of sea lettuce is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the sea-grape is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the hummingbird,
And the free-toed frog is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the wings of the bat moth would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the gecko inflating its dewlap with raised head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it is the famous passage in Walt Whitman's Song of Myself with substitutions from my plot of sandy island. Like Whitman, I feel no need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca or Mother Ganges. There are as many miracles in the puddle of rain water outside my door as in the holy fonts at Lourdes. I read Whitman to keep myself awake to the uncommon commonplace.

The biologist Francis Collins (of the human genome project) tells us in his book The Language of God how he came upon a beautiful waterfall that so struck him with wonder that he fell to his knees and embraced Jesus as his Savior. The response puzzles me. Confronted with the journey-work of the stars, he turns to the human, to the anthropomorphic. From "the parlors of heaven" to literal parlors of heaven. Perhaps I have not been blessed with Collins' gift of grace, but when I consider the narrowest hinge in my hand I am struck with inarticulate wonder. With silence. My response is not belief in a personal God who may after all be only a projection of myself, but in the god of organic hinges -– whatever that might be. Anything else seems to lessen the experience, to substitute the part for the whole.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.