Sunday, October 4, 2015

perfect patience of mountains

i do not worry if longer nights grow longest; 
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing 
 winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to 
merciful Him Whose only now is forever: 
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence 
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)
 ― E.E. Cummings, "I am a Little Church"

Recently, I have been contemplating a fruit of the spirit I never fully appreciated until now.
That would be peace.

I have--I'll admit--never been overly fond of peace.

Naturally, I am much more attracted to the Romantics; to the sweeps of emotion in roaring waves of the ocean; to the magnificent trembling in your heart as you stare at the stormy sky; to the crests and troughs of emotion that pepper love affairs.

Historically, I am attracted to the restless; and not to the peaceful.

I love airports: with their excitement of comings and goings. I love trains, and watching the countryside roll by your window. I love driving through mountain roads, winding, turning, rolling over hills. I love movement, and seeing all there is to be seen. The world is so enormous; how can you not want to see every single bit of it?

Appetite. I have always had an overweening appetite. For sweets. For books. For sunsets. For people. For kisses. For conversation. For the world.

But appetite is a vicious cycle: demanding more and more and more and more, and never fully satisfying. And there is a difference--a very clear difference, I would say--between appetite and desire. Desire is different than appetite. Desire seems more focused; it has a clearer telos. Appetite just wants everything. Desire is an arrow, aiming for its mark. Appetite is a yawning pit, that just swallows up everything. Desire is a joy in and of itself, for desire seems to almost be a sacrament of the entity desired. What a joy it is to desire someone; you feel their presence already in your heart.

Desire does not seem to be the antithesis of peace, as appetite often is. In fact, it seems to me that peace is necessary to experience that desire. The roaring appetite must cease to gorge and come to rest before you find the clarity to actually desire anything.

I prize clarity so much more now than I ever did before. The world seems murky and muddy, and the truth which was once pellucid, luminous, and ever-obvious now seems hidden in the layer of city smog that Papa Francesco spoke of. My own self seems warped in many layers of identities, masks, personas, new roles I have obtained and doffed as quickly. My own self is no longer laid out before me with the clarity it once was.

In my search for clarity, I have found peace. In order for me to see anything, I must have peace. The surges of Romantic appetite must still, if just for a moment or two--perhaps I will always be riding those waves--and I must find peace in order to see anything clearly.
Peace is, I think, requisite to clarity. If there is no stillness in your heart, the world becomes just a blur of color. And everything that you desired to see in the first place passes by you too quickly for you to even catch a glimpse.

My world was once very still. It was trees waving in the Minnesota wind, and peaceful lakes with long grasses. It was quiet Indiana college campuses, and small country lanes in Norfolk. It was quiet pavements with stars overhead and quiet along the Thames. It was the Prince Albert Bridge at night, and just a few river barges floating by. It was Jasna Gora in the moonlight. It was midnight by the Grotto. Perhaps all the stillness of the world goaded my appetite to be always yawning, gaping, roaring, surging, rolling, moving. I longed for motion, and so my heart was always pounding, running (late), from one thing to the next.

New York is not still. New York is always in motion. Subways shake church basements. Someone is always shoving you aside. The buses and the ambulances are the background to your phone calls. Even my bed at night is moved by the motion of the train on the tracks. New York is always in motion. It is not peaceful.

So, now, in the movement and the motion, and the rush of people fueled by yawning appetites, I have been taught peace. It lives inside the movement. It is deeper than the movement, and its depth sustains the motion. Peace makes the world larger, because the world has finally escaped the bounds of you. Peace is when the world is quiet candlelight in a red restaurant on a rainy night. Peace is when rumblings in my head and heart subside so I can see the world around me. Peace is learning to form the appetites inside me into one strong arrow of desire.

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