You’ve heard me refer from time to time to certain pieces of writing as my “personal scripture.” You may well have your own collection; a collection, that is to say, of those bits of writing, by a various authors, that stay with you over the years, and continue to bring inspiration and enlightenment into your lives.
One such piece for me is a passage near the end of Annie Dillard’s book A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The book is Ms. Dillard’s account of a period of time she spent living on her own in a rural area outside of Roanoke, Virginia in the early 1970s. In fact, it sounds like she lived right over the creek. Here’s how she describes her home of that time: “I live by a creek, Tinker Creek, in a valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. I think of (my) house clamped to the side of Tinker Creek as an anchor-hold. It holds me at anchor to the rock bottom of the creek itself and keeps me steadied in the current…It’s a good place to live; there’s a lot to think about.”
She then goes on to relate much of what she thought about and experienced during her time there. The book has a mystical/spiritual/religious aura about it—all told so well that it won Ms. Dillard a Pulitzer Prize.
Annie Dillard has long since re-located to New England. She is married, appropriately enough, to a biographer of Henry David Thoreau, Robert Richardson. Their wedding took place over at our sister/brother UU Church in Concord, Massachusetts; but I don’t know if Ms. Dillard considers herself a UU or not.
The piece of personal scripture she provides for me comes, as noted, near the end of Tinker Creek. It took place at this time of year, which is why I’m drawn back to it as another Thanksgiving approaches. Here’s it is:
“Last fall I saw three migrating Canada geese flying low over the duck pond where I stood. I heard a heart stopping blast of speed before I saw them. I felt the flayed air slap at my face. They thundered across the pond, and back, and back again: I swear I have never seen such speed, such single-mindedness, such flailing of winds. They froze the duck pond as they flew; they rang the air; they disappeared. I think of this now…
“It’s the shock I remember. Not only does something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind.
“I have glutted on richness…This distant silver November sky, these sere branches of trees, shed and bearing their pure and secret colors—this is the real world, not the world gilded and pearled. I stand under wiped skies directly, naked, without intercessors. Frost winds have lofted my body’s bones with all their restless sprints to an airborne raven’s glide, I am buoyed by a calm and effortless longing…
“Thanks be to God.”
For all the times I’ve read this passage, when I came back to it a few days ago a thought crept into my head that had never made it there in all my previous readings. I wondered what Annie Dillard did right after the experience she describes. Did she go back to her house over the creek and wash up some dishes, or make her bed, or do a little cleaning and dusting? Maybe she had to run into town to take care of a few errands—pick up some groceries, go to the bank. Maybe she had to call her agent or publisher to let them know how the book was coming. Who knows? She’s probably forgotten about it herself by now.
What she’s relating in the passage just read is one of those moments that lifts one out of the ordinariness of living, and offers a reminder—fleeting as it is—that we are held and blessed by that which is greater than ourselves, even if we cannot fully know or name it:
“Not only does something come if you wait, it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave…I have glutted on richness.” Ms. Dillard is describing a moment of “realized abundance”, let’s call it. Abundance is the Soul Matters topic for this month. This kind of abundance has nothing to do with possessions. It’s actually about the absence of possessions: “You wait in all naturalness…emptied, translucent…”
To be sure, we attend to the things we need to attend to in order to live the lives we live. And so much of our lives are taken up with just that kind of “attending to.” I don’t disparage or belittle that. How could I when I do my share of attending to as well?
But a true moment of Thanksgiving comes when we can move beyond such attending to, if only in a fleeting way, to connect with that which truly makes our lives abundant—for those times when we can say, as Ms. Dillard does, “I have glutted on richness.”
Her response to the experience she describes is a simple “Thanks be to God.” I don’t see her attempting to make a theological statement here, as much as she is looking for some words of profound gratitude.
However you may experience it, and however you may give voice to it, I wish for you—in what will probably be some hectic and possibly challenging days just ahead—your moments of realized abundance and transcendent gratitude. Stay open to such possibilities.
After all, “not only does something come if you wait, it pours over you like a waterfall.”
November 19, 2017