Written on a glorious fall day.
High above the towering forest the sky is a brilliant, summertime blue but the air on the ground is cool and fresh. Fallen leaves crunch beneath my feet as I stomp along the wooded trail. Through shafts of light that slice through the overhead branches I see that the the air is not actually clear but full of minuscule debris, bits of the forest, dancing in the breeze.
A sense of the sublime hits me as I absorb this perfect moment. Forgotten are the to-do lists, the chores that are waiting to be tackled and the many sorrows of the greater world. My mood, which seconds earlier had been dark as I rehashed the worries of the day, has lifted. I lean against a statuesque tree and look up, the green tree foliage juxtaposed against the cloudless sky and I let the beauty soak through me…
And then a crow squawks, breaking the stillness of the afternoon. I sigh, check my watch, and continue to plod along. The spiritual longing that is my constant companion settles over me again.
C.S. Lewis describes the feeling as “an inconsolable longing for we know not what”. How true. No matter how even-keeled my life is on any given day I can always feel that pang, that need to understand the meaning of it all. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Is there even a purpose?
Around the world people turn to organized religion to find the answers and yet we’re the one species who regularly rages war on one another (often in the name of religion) and we’re also the one species who (supposedly) has the greatest intelligence yet ignores what we know and continues to destroy our one and only planet with our wasteful, polluting ways. There’s such a disconnect between what we know and what we do. How can a person reconcile bliss (ie. a walk on a perfect fall day) while also knowing that our lifestyles are such that people only a few generations from now may not be able to experience this same beauty? Indigenous people from every corner of the world seem to have a more balanced relationship with the planet, recognizing the interconnectedness between all living things, and yet we don’t listen.
So what do we do with this?
We can only do our best, living in a manner that treads as lightly as possible. We can pursue knowledge. The sublime may be beyond our grasp but we can live generously and with kindness. And we can pay greater attention to those simple pleasures that stimulate the sense of wonder, that dew-covered, extraordinarily intricate spider web sparkling in the morning sunlight. That smell of decomposing leaves beneath our feet. That deep, unexpected connection with a stranger or the warmth we feel in our beloved communities. Perhaps if we do pay attention, much closer attention to these many simple joys the sense of the sublime will push aside the spiritual longing for longer and longer moments and we’ll “find the sacred in the midst of the mundane.” (John Robbins)
And we can hope, deeply hope that our elected leaders will take the necessary actions that begin to resolve the many problems in the world.