Saturday, September 08, 2007
Our first reaction to our first look at the Grand Canyon was visceral; it knocked the wind out of us like a body blow, made us weep. It was sheer, impossible, incomprehensible, and overwhelming, more than we had ever imagined.
I wanted to, but didn't, fall to my knees, then into a full prostration. There was nothing to say. We just held on to one another and looked. Looked into a vastness and stillness beyond anything we'd ever seen. Looked into expanses of light and form and color like an enormous library of the visible vorld.
I had a sudden thought, a thought I'd also had a week before when a sublime lavender sunset had caught me by surprise in the supermarket parkinglot. It had been a strange thought, practically a non sequitur.
I would like to show this sunset to Archbishop Akinola, I'd thought.
How could he look at this sunset and remain so bitterly fixated on using culturally archaic scriptural texts to anathemize GLBT Christians ? This sunset would speak to him, a living revelation of God's goodness and bounty and love !
The canyon seemed a grand enough manifestation of God's infinite love and goodness to convince all of CANA, AMiA, and all the other heterogenitally-fixated acronymic Anglican splinter groups (with Bishop N.T. Wright thrown in for good measure) that they have become dreadfully sidetracked -- that they've driven right off the road, really -- and need to stop and take a deep breath. Maybe even Pope Benedict, ne Ratzinger, would fall under the Canyon's holy charm, and announce a Vatican 3 in which Paul's There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus would be the reigning principal.
Later, when we had recovered our senses, I shared this thought with DK. He was skeptical. Deeply skeptical.
I realized he was probably right.
We were, after all, a fearful, greedy species, fond of lording it over one another in countless absurd ways,
always clinging to bits of our world and our self-image as if we were building a fortress that could save us from all perils.
It was hard to hold onto the notion of that fortress here. The canyon's immensity flung me right into the breathtaking, existential improbabilty of my own tiny existence, into that swirling, vertiginous point of nausea that had always been at the core of my spiritual life.
I had been reading recently deceased Anglican theologian John MacQuarrie's "Principles of Christian Theology." It, more than anything I'd ever heard or read, had addressed this point of thrownness and facticity in a way that convinced me I'd chosen the right spiritual home.
"We could, however, say that "God" is synonymous with "holy being;" and the descriptions and analyses that have been put forward in earlier pages of this book have been designed to show us that, in spite of admitted ambiguities, it makes sense to recognize the holiness of being, and to take up before it the faith-attitude of acceptance and commitment. Our final analysis of being as the incomparable that lets-be and is present-and-manifest , is strikingly parallel to the analysis of the numinous as mysterium tremendum et fascinans. (MacQuarrie, p.115)
Yet even MacQuarrie, I'd learned, despite having no theoretical objection to women having a full role in the Church, had opposed women's ordination as potentially divisive to the Anglican Communion. The roadside bushes were full of theologians. It was disheartening.
That evening we returned to see the sunset. A thunderstorm had been gathering in the west all afternoon. The sky was full of bulbous, lowering clouds, ranging from brilliant white to bruise blue, interspersed with rifts of bright blue sky. We gazed west at thin strip of sky between a towering cloud and a flat outcropping: that's where the sun would show before falling behind the rocky horizon. Intermittant fat raindrops were splashing down, and thunder was rumbling. I'd left my camera in the car and, after a few minutes of separation anxiety, felt strangely liberated. We watched the colors of the rock flare and fade, and, finally, blinding orange-red appeared in the slit between rock and cloud. There was a collective gasp from the small crowd, and then applause. We watched the sun sink below the horizon. But the light remained. I watched the west side of a beautiful, conical rock glow with an uncanny, unearthly rubor. It was the most sublime light I'd ever seen, light like a sharply indrawn breath, a celestial, transforming light. I turned and looked at the faces of the people around me: they were glowing with the same indescribably beautiful light, shining, literally, like the people in Thomas Merton's famous Louisville sidewalk epiphany, like the sun .
I turned to DK, barely able to speak.
We don't deserve this beautiful light, I whispered, choking on tears.
We didn't deserve it, but there it was. Pure grace.