27 March 2011

The Mountains

Last week I took in some views. I was situated in a place that butts up to the Rocky Mountains, a place that requires the inhabitant to be aware of his smallness, his existential insignificance in relation to those looming, snow-covered giants. I remarked to a friend I was visiting what it must have been like for early westward-leaning explorers or pioneers to find this wall of rock. "Now what?" most certainly was the consensus.

A young Carmelite nun told me some years ago that there is no such thing as "awkward silence." The two terms simply don't go together. She could get away with this, of course, living a monastic existence in which not even a nod of hello is required in passing. I often think of this remark of hers and the people in my life and with what comfort I find in being mutually silent. That we rely most heavily on the exchange of language is no surprise. What's surprising is to what extent we find ourselves strangers without it. They say Lent is supposed to be such a time of interior reordering. We give up things - not for God (he does not depend on sacrifice) - but for our own sense of need to display something, some sense of vigor or discipline we ordinarily don't.

On my last full day in the mountains I was met with a wind so strong at times it was difficult walking against it. I had never experienced such a sensation. Coupled with the sheer size of the mountains before me, the wind reinforced the fact that my stay here was as transient as any other stay, that those mountains and some similar manifestation of wind had no doubt humbled the first men who ever laid eyes on them, who felt their feet like concrete in the ground while walking.

I thought of that, and the silence that can never be awkward. I thought, too, I'm trying too hard to stay relevant, on top of things and present, permanent. There is an attraction to asceticism insofar as it forbids any kind of sense of physical permanence, any notion of trumping size and strength. The attraction lies exactly in its proportion to letting go and, as it were, riding with the wind instead of pushing helplessly against it.

Too many friends, and in too many personal instances have I seen this chaotic refusal to be released. We get caught in quagmires of ill-suited relationships to the point we find it impossible to identify ourselves without them. We get consumed in the goings on of our pedestrian lives and the stresses they consistently present. It took a few glances at those mountains for me to see I'm holding on too tightly to what the wind can take away with the slightest effort. Freedom doesn't come in clutching onto the past, but in letting go of that gnarled clutch of what was.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills; from whence cometh my help.
Ps. 121.1

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