Sunday, August 17, 2008

Leaf Peepers

“Walking through the woods, you can never see far, either ahead or behind, so you move without much of a sense of getting anywhere or of moving at any certain speed. You burrow through the foliage in the air much as a mole burrows through the roots in the ground. The views that open out occasionally from the ridges afford a relief, a recovery of orientation that they could never give as mere ‘scenery,’ looked at from a turnout at the edge of a highway.”[1]

There is a certain sense of comfort in not knowing. It is a sense that creates an edge of anticipation, an important element that seems to be lost to so many people living in this modern economy, people that, more often than not, appear to be facing and dreading life’s drudgery of gathering straw, mixing mud, and making enough bricks to meet someone else’s expectations. This is one of the cruelties imposed by the false gods of modernity where most people spend their lives making banks, corporations, and employers richer than they already are.

This is not meant to be a scathing remark. These modern times are what they are with billions of people simply trying to get through the crowded territory. I just happen to be fed up with living artificially, superficially, looking at the leaves, rocks, and streams from the turnouts but never touching them, never listening to them, never learning from them.[2] There are plenty of proponents insisting that the best most of us can do is look and most of us are so ground down by the daily grind that it’s easy to believe them. We run frantically, like Frodo, straight into the spider’s thick, sticky web where we are eventually captured, injected with venom, and hopelessly bound as table fare.

Had I picked up a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict ten years ago it wouldn’t have meant much to me. I would not, at that time, been able to see the freedom being offered to me in its simplicity. I was too caught up, entangled, anesthetized, in the spider’s spun web of false realities, always trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. Oh the blessed chain of events, that earthquake and its subsequent series of tremors, that reduced my prison to rubble and set me free![3]

This is not, however, a freedom devoid of standards and expectations. This is not a life of anarchy toward legitimate spiritual authority. It is, to the contrary and in every way, a surrendered life, one governed by legitimate spiritual authority. This is an acceptance that goes far beyond mere performance and show, things that can be put on outwardly with little or no interior change.

Confucius was right when he said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” One step. Whether it is inspired by some interior yearning or curiosity or by situations and circumstances that rock our worlds and knock us into the woods, it’s all the same. We get into the woods one step at a time. We travel through the woods one step at a time. The slower we go, the more attentive we are to our surroundings, the more we are apt to see in an adventure that’s filled with more than visual perception.

[1] Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness, p. 63
[2] Psalm 19:1-4
[3] Galatians 5:1

Photo: On a walk with a friend in the Manitoba bush.