In this morning’s chapter of Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner, he relates his memory of a trip to Sea World during which he and his family were surprised to find themselves moved to tears by the killer whale exhibition. I’ve seen what he’s talking about–the sheer beauty and grace of these massive sea creatures wriggling so smoothly through this liquid blue only to suddenly break the surface, rise into the air and hang for a moment, suspended between sky and sea, only to drift or plunge back into the wet with a silent vanishing or a giant splash. Either way, oohs and aahs of delight sprinkle the air like a light rain, and probably, perhaps in every show, there are a few who will keep their oohs and aahs to themselves, quietly nursing their own tears of…what?
Buechner calls it joy. I was glad to hear that’s what it was because I can’t always tell. I find myself nursing tears surprisingly often these days. For a few months last year, I’d catch myself in that state of tearful disequilibrium, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t joy going on. But now, one glorious Spring later, I’m not so sure.
Harry Potter moves me. My daughter in Merry Wives of Windsor moves me. Poor Cyrus in the emerging screenplay of Leaving Ruin moves me. Writing songs for the Christmas play moves me. Sitting still in morning shadow thinking of my ever-heaving faith, restless with thoughts of quantum mechanics and particles that are not things, the nature of which will not even allow us to formulate questions that have real meaning in relation to the notion of “where” moves me. Random articles in newspapers move me. That anyone reads this moves me. The love of my wife moves me. My son. Photographs. My friends in Africa vacationing there in order to serve a few of the thousands of AIDS orphans. Being with my friends–Nikki, or Sam, or Julie, or Marty, or Scott (there are several)–and our fluctuating nearness and distance as we sit over coffee together. My family’s brokenness. A early morning email announcing that a dear woman who was a virtual grandmother to my son for a few months would leave this earth in less than 24 hours. The sheer grace of flavor.
For me, life is all of a piece. At this level of “movement” or “being moved” there are deep feelings, or intuitions, of something I can’t explain. Sometimes I call it an ache, other times it’s grief, or I’ll call it joy, but always I recognize there is a sameness in each iteration of God calling me. I say it that way because in those moments of experience, my intellect and emotional life agree, saying this, this is your soul. When I say “God calling me” I don’t mean anything like God revealing to me what I should or shouldn’t do or Him delivering some cognizant message. It’s no churchy thing. It’s more like an awareness that I am staring at or listening to or touching the surface of or tasting the flavor of or smelling the aroma of…(again) what? Atheists may deny God, but no one denies the something I’m referring to. The bigger-ness of that which stands behind and beyond life.
Buechner calls it joy. I tend to call it Beauty.
Lest anyone think I move through life in constant spasms of joy, I need to do a post on fear. Maybe tomorrow.
Awe is another word for it. Slack-jawed astonishment at nothing in particular but at the very fact of being. Unplugged thumping hearts and racing cells in the billions trundling around fussing over this and that and having the audacity to use the miracle we are to kill and maim and sit around head in hands wishing for more slips of paper with pictures of presidents. What is music but visitation, the breath of a greater Being’s life swirling on unseen waves into our very deep? What is art but the arresting presence of Spirit hovering, clinging to the material chosen, be it pigment, light, or word? Who are we but soaring (even on the bad days) wonders, having never asked to arrive on the planet, but here we are, pausing only once in a great while to reverberate, resonate, and otherwise bask in…what?
The love of God. Joy. Beauty. Potentiality (say the quantum guys).
And in the line of Alejandro Rivera-Garcia…the abyss as well, an abyss bridged by awareness, worship and of course–most true–the Christ.
Somewhere in the world, killer whales leap to applause and tears…