Thursday, June 23, 2011

the tide in the affairs of men: midsummer, beginning to breathe in

"stay in your cell, and it will teach you everything."  i am of course aware of these famous words of a desert abba, but i don't always follow them.  i blame it (it's always convenient to have something to blame) on my welsh ancestry.  nearly all of the welsh saints i find so fascinating were wanders.  today, for instance, is the commemoration of s. mewan, who wandered first over the bristol channel into cornwall and then over the english channel into brittany.
  so most summers i wander off to the northwest corner of washington state, where there's a great inland sea and even a real ocean.  i do it because i like to visit the people there, but also because i spent three of the most important summers of my life there, paddling around the whulji in a skin-on-frame kayak named for s. brendan the navigator.

it was wandering around on the face of the deep that i learned about tides.  any fool can learn about tides in a kayak, and if he pays any attention at all, he learns to use them rather than to fight them.  i am happy to say that i learned mostly to paddle with them, although occasionally i would have a larger-than-necessary adventure on purpose by going against or across the tides, and once i had a very strenuous adventure indeed because i accepted an invitation to a leisurely lunch with a friend who, although observant for the most part, is a land-lubber who ignored my protests that i needed to make the tide.  the incoming tides on a full moon in the straight of juan de fuca are not to be ignored.  fortunately i found a place to camp after two miles of fighting, and started again the next day towards neah bay with more favourable seas.

this summer, however, started with a trip to austin, texas, a place about a different as possible from the san juan islands.  i went to visit some friends at the seminary of the southwest, and it was very good to see them.  then i stayed with their cat while they wandered off, and i read a lot of wonderful books from the library there, and met some great trees and creeks, and found a few good coffee spots, one of them next to a creek where a night heron was kind enough to share vespers with me several evenings.  i also found out how much of a country mouse i have become.  but there were two half-price books stores in austin, and i made an embarassing number of purchases.  one of them was the rhythm of the christian year by emil bock, an important leader of the the christian community renewal movement.  it was an unexpected gift.

bock's book is a collection of "festival meditations" he wrote over the years, which are reflect an profound understanding of the cosmic implications of the incarnation of christ, an event which includes the redemption of all of nature.  he describes the period from the nativity of jesus to the nativity of john the forerunner as the time the earth breathes out, and the period from midsummer to christmas as the time the earth breathes in.  and he says that this pattern is repeated in our own lives, if we but notice it.  the first part of our lives, we breathe out, we expand our motion and our knowledge, our spirits are at high tide, embracing the shores of the world.  but in the second part of our live, we breathe in.  our spirits are incarnate in our own bodies.  we become one within ourselves.

i recognize that the pattern bock describes, i am feeling and desiring.  i no longer need to travel to the ocean to know the tides.  the water of the ocean is my own blood, the tides are always moving:  we need only to be aware of them.  i remember very vividly the afternoon, in june, 2000, paddling across the largest part of puget sound, just north of the kitsap peninsula, a part of the sound for which  i have never found a name, when i realized this.  a friend sent me a letter today in which he mentioned bjork's song "oceana", which ends with the wonderful line, "your sweat is salty, i am why."

so i rejoice to sit at my cell this s. john's even, watching the waves break on the bark of the pine trees, while the ravens swim in the currents of the earth's spirit, and breathe in, absorbing, hopefully, some of the gifts of the first half of the year and of my life.

but i know myself well enough that i would not be surprised if i were at the whulji again this fall.  and for those of you who do not know the word "whulji," don't be surprised.  not even google knows it.  it's coast salish for "this sea that we know."