Sunday, February 03, 2013

Prodigal Daughter

The meadow, of course, like the rest of it all,  goes about its business just fine without me. It does not miss my boots or my macro lens or my shadow crossing the dried grass or the clouds of my breath in the cold air. And yet, when I return, it extends a queer hospitality -- one that, like the best sort of love, lets me be. And I, in turn, reciprocate: love, in the form of looking. 

These are the weeks when the winter light begins to lengthen palpably, only, it seems, to illuminate a landscape in extremis, its denizens all brittle, dessicated, bled of color and frail. Form is poised above the abyss of emptiness, awaiting the moment when it becomes a dustcloud shimmering in pitiless sunlight, then naught.

But there is an implicit jouissance to all this. Not, of course, the joyful gamboling of spring lambs or the unfurling of yellow daffodils. The dying fall does segue into the green shoot, but we should give its long cadence the hearing it deserves. Like the prayerbook says: even at the grave we make our song -- alleluia ! One could hope for such an end: a final explosion of absolute gratitude for the utter mystery of having been let be.

But the lengthening, pitiless light also illuminates the things that slaughter all possibility of gratitude, vistas of beings in such extremis, that all metaphors, botanical or otherwise, fail.  One's heart could burst, not with gratitude, but with sorrow.

I have long preferred the non-human world to the human. I am a weed photographer, not a street photographer. I have spent my rather anthropocentric career muttering  I should have been a librarian, and, last summer, fled my anthropocentric (God in man made manifest !) church for a wilderness -- where ? -- far from the maddening crowd ? Or, more to the point, where the crux of the metaphysical matter is not a scandalously particular human being ?

We are all scandalously particular, that is to say thrown and contingent then gone -- thrown into a song whose melody means more than its words -- thrown into an existence we navigate/construe/construct with our sensate bodies and our words. Thrown into relationship -- with humans and the non-human world.

It's all so dire and so beautiful and heart-breaking that the only response seems, at times, prostration.

A word that comes up with respect to the shape of practice in in the Episcopal/Anglican neighborhood of Christianity is homely. It struck me (during my time in the wilderness) that I'd been looking for "God" in all the wrong places, hoping that some blinding, Damascus Road-like revelation would come to me by virtue of thick books and strenuous pieties and practices, a bolt from the heavenly blue.

But, I discovered that the very thing I'd fled -- relationship, congregating, fellowship -- is where the pearl of great price lies hidden, in the homely particularity of a parish and its people relating to one another and the world, and engaging a tradition day by day, week by week, year by year -- until the dark mirror yields up a bit more light.