Sunday, September 11, 2016

A shell, dishabited

This blog is named after a book by Madeleine L'Engle, one of my favorite authors and, as I have written about elsewhere, a great comfort to me in my childhood onwards. In one of her books, Meet the Austins, she quotes a poem by Thomas Brown (no, not Thomas Browne, the riveting author of Religio Medici, but a more obscure poet) called "Indwelling":

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say — "This is not dead," —
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says — "This is enow
Unto itself — 'Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me."

The poem made an impact on me all those years ago, and now as my sabbatical begins and my Camino stretches out before me, I am drawn back to this poem again. I have been "all replete with very thou." A busyness, an urgency of the immediate, has had me in thrall lo, these many months.

Could possibly the Camino, whose symbol is (an empty!) scallop shell, be the vehicle by which I might, at least in moments, "empty all myself of self" and lose this "shrewd activity" that has gripped me of late? I hope so. The internal monologue is not easily turned off. It may be the meditative weariness of the pilgrim's road can produce the needed atmosphere. Desiderandumst!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Sixteen years ago, Liam and I walked the Dingle Way in County Kerry, Ireland, accompanied by Liam's sister, Maire, and her husband, Sean. It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Sure, we often walked in pouring rain; we had to climb down one mountain by holding on to a fence, and had to forgo another due to heavy fog; the shortcut that took us through a too-boggy field also contained a too-protective bull, and Maire got electrocuted (just a bit) by a hidden electric fence, but all in all, we loved it.

Now, we are walking the Dingle Way again, sixteen years later, but this time our nephews Curran and Gareth are walking with us. Curran is 12 and Gareth is just turned 14. I hope they love the walk (and Ireland!) as much as I do.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The experience of mystery

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.
It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."

--Einstein, The World as I See it