the story room

Monday, June 26, 2006

the glimmers I've seen

In an essay entitled "Summons to Pilgrimage" Frederick Buechner writes this:

"Religions start, as Frost said poems do, with a lump in the throat to put it mildly, or with the bush going up in flames, the rain of flowers, the dove coming down out of the sky. . . . We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe - life is complicated enough as it is, after all. We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for."

I don't always know how to talk about it (and I often lack the courage to do so), but over the years I have seen and experienced things that have left me with a lump in my throat. In both waking moments and dreams, in both ordinary and extraordinary ways, I've sensed the hand of God and I'm left without words, unable to see the world in quite the same way.

I am especially struck by the times when I am startled awake in the middle of the night. My sleep is normally heavy and deep, so waking during the dark and early hours is rare. But there are times when, unexplainably, I wake with a longing for God that is acute and unquenchable, where the only prayer I can pray is, "Jesus." There are times when I wake to confess sins that escape even my overactive conscience during the day, though they were committed directly against God himself. I sometimes wake in the darkness to truths that are incredibly simple but that I somehow desperately need to hear. I wake sometimes to a sense of peace and comfort so deep that the presence of God is almost palpable.

They are moments I could try to explain away in the morning if I wanted to, when the sunlight streams through the window and the busyness and noise of life pick up again as soon as the alarm clock sounds. But I can't deny that in those sometimes-bewildering always astonishing moments, I experience something extraordinary.

I don't always know what to do with mysterious encounters like these or, to borrow Buechner's words, where exactly to go with them. But I know that I can't simply go on and pretend they never happened. So I've learned to be sensitive and still, to listen, to let myself be changed.

And when the time seems right and I have the courage, I talk about these miracles and mysteries, because I can't help but believe you've caught glimmers, too...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Er! I'm glad you brought this subject up. Lately I, too, have been thinking a bit about my own personal mysticism, and I've come to realize in the past few years that I'm much more of a mystic than I had previously thought. I think most people are, to be honest- granted, I'm using a broad definition of the word here. Even being a Christian: the incarnation, atonement and resurrection of Christ are all extremely irrational things to believe, precisely because of their mystery (though I'm sure that could be argued).

And I must admit, I am a bit envious of your mysterious waking encounters. That's cool. :)


27 June, 2006 11:43  
Blogger Erin said...

Hey Roz!

Yeah...I think I'm a closet mystic (except I guess I'm no longer hiding now!). : )

You mentioned using a broad definition of the word mysticism, and it reminded me of a chapter I recently read in a book about the mysticisms of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and John Calvin (It's called _Union With Christ_ by Dennis E. Tamburello). Here is a quote I really appreciated:

"Who is eligible for a mystical experience? Without going into detail, I should perhaps state here the conclusion to which the evidence points: that, all things considered, Calvin's mysticism is broader in scope than Bernard's. Calvin presents a mysticism that can be enjoyed equally by all the elect, whereas Bernard tends to see the monastery as the unique environment wehre mysticism thrives. Calvin describes 'union with Christ' using metaphors that are often virtually as powerful and graphic as Bernard's, yet with less emphasis on 'esoteric' phenomena such as ecstasies or visions."

I appreciate the broader way of thinking about mysticism...

27 June, 2006 16:21  
Blogger Allison said...

Mmmm...mysticism and poetry...Erin, I am so glad we're friends. I'm interested in this "Summons to Pilgrimage" article! I think that we sometimes contrast mystery and rationality, as if they are diametrical opposites, like faith and experience are in opposition to knowledge and surety. I'll have to look more closely at your entry, but it sounds like experiential knowledge, the lump in the throat, is a legitimate way of knowing and believing. Hmm.


Peace to you,

28 June, 2006 09:25  
Blogger Caranne said...

No wonder you like Buechner! I think I have caught glimmers. Moments when I am hit with some truth or hope that I can't quite explain or describe. Some moments I do ignore or forget. But there are some that leave me in awe, wondering where to go next.

Can you recommend a good book of Buechner essays? I do like what I've read of his so far. I also very much like your writings, Erin! : )

29 June, 2006 17:07  
Blogger Erin said...

Allison, I do think you would like this essay. It's actually an essay Buechner wrote about literature, and how he sees a difference between "religion books" and "religious" ones. He says that religious books don't even have to be about faith, per se, but one hears truth and finds oneself there.

And yes, I like what you say about experiential knowledge. You know what showed me that experience is a valid way of knowing? People I look up to sharing that sense of mystery. I'm grateful for that...

29 June, 2006 21:16  
Blogger Erin said...

Cara, I hope you come to love Buechner!

The collection of essays I've referenced here is called _A Room Called Remember_. I like that one a lot.

My favorite collection of essays, though, is a little more difficult to find, but it's so good. It's called _The Hungering Dark_.

There's also a new book out with a collection of essays, but I forget the title. I've skimmed it with Amanda before, and what we read looks great. And when it comes to the library or comes in paperback, I hope to read the whole thing (not just sit on the floor at Barnes and Noble!). : )

Hope that helps...

29 June, 2006 21:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin and Cara,

"Secrets in the Dark" is Buechner's new collection of essays. He calls it a life in sermons. I got it for my dad for Father's day and it looks great! Hope that helps.


30 June, 2006 14:28  
Blogger Erin said...

Caitlin, I think it's very cool that you got your dad Buechner for Father's Day. I wish I was your dad! ( soon as I typed that I realized how weird/funny that sounded!)

Thank you for the title, Caitlin!

30 June, 2006 21:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was finishing Marilynne Robinson's book, Gilead, last night and a part of the novel (well, the whole novel connects with what you are describing) connected with this post, for me. The novel is the writing of a dying minister, John Ames, to his young son. These words come toward the end of the book:

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?...

"Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm."

There is so much of God to see in the world, if only we would look. Calvin is right - you do not need to be within cloister walls to encounter the mystery of just need to be alive.


p.s. Thank you, Allison, for recommending the novel. (Erin, if you haven't read this already, I think you would love and appreciate it.)

01 July, 2006 20:42  
Blogger Caranne said...

Thanks Caitlin and Erin! I'm going to look at my local bookstore to see if I can find any of those!

Thanks again!

01 July, 2006 21:53  
Blogger Erin said...

Amanda, I really appreciate that quotation. It really makes me want to pick up the soon as I finish the ones that are due in the library soon!

I also appreciate your thoughts, Amanda: "You do not need to be within cloister walls to encounter the mystery of just need to be alive."

Thank you, my friend. : )

02 July, 2006 22:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.'

- Albert Einstein

-rz :)

04 July, 2006 18:20  

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