We were set loose to stand in silence, but my head kept filling up with words.
There I stood, yesterday. In the middle of this difficult time, grappling with some very hard things. It ended up working out that I could attend a sort-of spiritual retreat, in the middle of nowhere, at the cabin owned by the pastor of the church I have been attending.
As it began, he set us loose for a little while in the wet and chilly forest. Oaks and maples stretched their limbs out in the hill next to the tiny cabin. A meadow filled the space behind it. The long dirt driveway was in front, next to a tool shed, a fire pit, and some chairs. And on the other side of that, a bit of a crevice, and a river perhaps twenty feet below.
A little awkward, wordlessly, we all filed out of the cabin. Set loose to stand in the silence. My head kept filling up with words. I traipsed across the corner of the meadow. The land swept downward gradually, leading me to the river I could have put my toes in, if it wasn’t November in New England.
I wondered about rivers and why I am always so very drawn to them. It is partially about that amazing white noise they create, the wonderful ordered dynamic way they roll left and right and back and forth. Not staight and not crooked, I have this sense there is a pattern that rules over them, but a pattern to intricate for me to wrap my brain around.
I know there is all this stuff about the spirituality of water. I thought about this and I dismissed it as a suitable explanation for why I love gurgling, burbling streams so. And after this dismissal, I told myself again about how this was supposed to be a silent time.
I know a half dozen ways to escape what the Buddhist’s call monkey mind. When I am at my best, I can get past the babbling and eternal monologue of my thoughts. For at least a few minutes. I was not at my best, though. And also, I wondered if maybe there was some important things I was meant to see.
Perhaps I was just hiding from the silence we had bidden to stand in. Silence is pretty terrifying.
Or maybe there was something bigger than the pastor at work. He is a gentle guy, Lucas. I thought if I asked him, he would have laughed, and shrugged, and said, “Whatever, man. If you don’t feel like you should be silent, don’t be silent.” Or maybe he would have found a deeper way to express it, something more Yoda and less surfer dude.
Whatever the reason or rationalization, I quickly gave up on the quest to fill myself with silence.
I let my always churning mind do the thing that it loves to. Analyze and ponder and synthesize.
I began to think that the river is not a thing at all.
The river is not the specific droplets of water that runs through it. Because that water used to be clouds and rain. And soon it will sink into the ground or it will join a lake or merge with the ocean itself.
Nor is the river the rocks and dirt that make up the river bed. These are all constantly being worn down and moved down stream. If you could swoop in and take every last grit of dirt away, every last pebble and boulder, you would not have taken the stream.
The stream, at best, is a negative space. It is a process. It is a becoming.
This was scary, or sad. Kind of both. Because it felt like a statement about me.
We all know how we are not just the collection of the physical elements that comprise us. The molecules are replaced within the cells. The cells are replaced within the body. There is not a single piece of us that was with us more than a few years ago. This idea about our physicality is not new or unique.
But what if it runs deeper than that?
Minds and souls are not made out of stuff. But if they were? This stuff is always growing, dying, being reborn. I had this sense that there is not a piece of my soul which was with me from the beginning.
It is not as bleak as it seems. There is something eternal. God’s breathed into us and made us human. But breath, moving air, it is not a static thing. It is not a thing at all.
We are a negative space. We are a process. We are becoming. That is the eternity within us. That is the little emenation from the creator of the universe that resides within us. Not a physical thing, not even a piece of soul… But a pattern, a verb, an unfolding, an interconnection.
The very deepest place of us is a relationship. A multi-tiered, multi-faceted relationship. Paradoxically, it is with ourselves. It is also with our maker, who we have been given this distant, faded echo of. And it is with each other.
I hope that you will connect today. Perhaps with someone you love. Perhaps with someone you will grow to love. Or maybe you will just smile at the person who rings up your coffee. Or maybe you will leave a comment below, and build or build on a connection between you and I.