How often do you think big….sooooo big!?
How do you keep the bigger picture in mind in a culture so enamored of minutiae? What reminds you to “look up from your life”? What words do you use to communicate the unknowable edges of the universe? How do you maintain a posture of humility in an egocentric nation? How often do you forsake the light of a screen to seek the light of the stars?
After traveling for 4 weeks to the west coast and back, my favorite memory became the night sky over Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico. The heavens came down to the horizon without tall trees to push them back. The stars spoke to me of vast possibilities, of fates and predictions thrown to the night winds. I had the feeling that anything could happen. I was far away from home, far away from my past. I looked up and felt that it was time for me to dream new things. I felt that my younger ambitions had already played their hand — I had been married to my teenage sweetheart until we were parted by death, I had raised 4 children to the age of majority, I had dabbled in the entertainment of various interests — and that greater things still revolved untouched before me. I cried tears of relief and felt rested in the engulfing spaciousness.
My former spiritual director used to talk about “the MORE” of life. The MORE is the mystery, the vastness, the infinity of which we can be aware without ever grasping. The trick is to be aware of that while living out a particular life of responsibility. Loving the whole universe can be done by practicing love for a specific part. Here are some ways that has been illustrated: Mother Theresa used to say, “We can do no great things only small things with great love.” My husband and I used to lead workshops for engaged and married couples for our church. I told the couples that “my marriage informs my image of God and my image of God informs my marriage”. Wendell Berry writes (in The Body and the Earth) “To live in marriage is a responsible way to live in sexuality, as to live in a household is a responsible way to live in the world. One cannot enact or fulfill one’s love for womankind or mankind, or even for all the women or men to whom one is attracted. If one is to have the power and delight of one’s sexuality, then the generality of instinct must be resolved in a responsible relationship to ta particular person. Similarly, one cannot live in the world: that is, one cannot become, in the easy, generalizing sense with which the phrase is commonly used, a ‘world citizen.’ There can be no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.” So, think universally, act locally.
What is thinking universally? How do you keep the MORE of life in mind? And how do you act on this mindset?
Wendell Berry, again, from Home Economics:
“To call the unknown by its right name, ‘mystery’, is to suggest that we had better respect the possibility of a larger, unseen pattern that can be damaged or destroyed and, with it, the smaller patterns. This respecting of mystery obviously has something or other to do with religion, and we moderns have defended ourselves against it by turning it over to religion specialists, who take advantage of our indifference by claiming to know a lot about it. What impresses me about it, however, is the insistent practicality implicit in it. If we are up against mystery, then we dare act only on the most modest assumptions. The modern scientific program has held that we must act on the basis of knowledge, which, because its effects are so manifestly large, we have assumed to be ample. But if we are up against mystery, then knowledge is relatively small, and the ancient program is the right one. Act on the basis of ignorance. Acting on the basis of ignorance, paradoxically, requires one to know things, remember things — for instance, that failure is possible, that error is possible, that second changes are desirable (so don’t risk everything on the first chance), and so on.”
Remembering that we act on the basis of ignorance (because we really have no choice) should keep us humble. Allowing that every seemingly random thing, like the way the rain falls from the sky, might be a pattern that we are just too myopic to recognize should keep us looking to the bigger picture. Practicing love without the will to power (as Jung defines it) in particular relationships should keep us honest. That is the way I want to point my canoe.