Monday, April 6, 2015

So Close and Yet So Far

"A Thin Space"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

In the pre-dawn hours of yesterday morning my wife and I made our way to an Easter Sunrise Service held outdoors in an astonishingly beautiful desert setting not that far from where we live.  

About 300 people had gathered under an oasis of palm and desert trees - bushes bursting with yellow and gold springtime blossoms. As the relatively low-key service began with gentle music and some very good story telling, I could literally smell the freshness of the cool morning air as the sun was just starting to break over the peaks of the surrounding mountains. 

Then just as the morning sun appeared in the dawn of day I had this sudden flash insight and all my senses were heightened. I could literally taste the warmth of the sunshine that was blinding my eyes with its glory. I felt the presence of my spouse and the people siting all around us and I could smell the fragrances in the desert air on that crisp springtime morning. The whole experience was so mysteriously beautiful - a powerful sense of new life and resurrection hope. 

Yesterday was one of those thin-space moments that happen from time to time to me out here in the desert-a moment that I can only describe as being "so close and yet so far away," an experience of infinite transcendence so removed from my own feeble ability to explain or define it, so far beyond anything I could ever possibly control or even want to control,  and yet so intimately available to me that I felt like what I was experiencing was closer to me than I am to myself. 

Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine said this about his experience of the "Holy" in his life:

God is beyond my utmost heights and more intimate to me than my inmost thoughts.

Yesterday morning as the sun dawned on that Easter day I somehow knew exactly what Augustine was talking about.

It seems to me that we reduce our experience of the sacred whenever we attempt to contain it within the narrowed categories of our own myopic vision- we demote "God" within our own limited framework, neatly placed within our own carefully constructed "God box." So many believers fall into the trap of clinging tightly to their "God box" - defending it at all costs.

On the other hand, those who reject "God" out of hand often close themselves off to the experience of great mystery available to our human experience. I certainly don't believe that "God" is a person in the sky who acts according to my definitions, but  I have experienced the mystery of a Holy Presence far too many times to believe that there is no power beyond my limited comprehension

In his book, My Bright Abyss:Meditation of a Modern Believer, author and poet, Christian Wiman, describes the spiritual journey in this way:

What I crave - and what I have known, in fugitive instants -
is mystery that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it,
some ultimate insight that is still sight.

Yesterday as I watched that desert sun rise on a pristine Easter morning, it was one of those "fugitive moments," a thin space, an "ultimate insight that was indeed still sight, a mystery that utterly obliterated reality by utterly inhabiting it."  

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"