Before I begin writing this piece, I’m going to go take a nap. Don’t worry, for you, it will seem as if no time has passed at all. I’ll be right back…
Ok, I’m back; thanks for being patient. Turns out I also had to go make some post-nap coffee, since I’m writing this last minute and needed both a nap and coffee to give me the necessary energy to get up and frantically write about doing things in a restful way.
I just caught myself holding my breath. I sometimes do actually forget to breathe. I hadn’t realized it until I ran out of oxygen and was forced to take a long deep inhalation. Meanwhile,
The silent tree’s mingling shadow-leaves
Swim upon late-day walls all eddy-ease
Blurried, filmy traceries of their unhurried vagaries.
I’m half way through my coffee now, and this piece of writing is off to a rough start, maybe. I got distracted, happily, by the way the shadows are undulating on the wall in the room where I sit. The late afternoon sun is traipsing around in the bazillion naked criss-crossed oak branches and, like an out of focus projector, sending patterns across the books sitting in the window-sill, a few piled up coats in the corner, the wall, and the closet doors. They make a kind of underwater effect in monochrome. The pale sun, peering through thin branches and the few stubborn leaves left – all somewhere out of my sight – is sending a slow-quavering smoky softness through the lens of the window to play absentmindedly upon whatever surface it touches.
Come, touch me here, a grey wall, this afternoon.
Lay a light palm, here, and hold the wall up.
Or, if the wall is to tumble, with your forefinger
Root through the crumbles, and keep what is sound
Once the echo of the fall has died down.
Just a few days ago, I sat on the floor of this very room and assembled a new wingback recliner. The first chair I’ve ever purchased for myself. The idea is that it would be a chair for reading and writing. Were you aware that you have to get to know a new chair? I still don’t know how to sit in it. It isn’t comfortable yet, but I don’t think it’s the poor chair’s fault. Of course, the chair is being just as chair-y as she knows how. The thing is, I’m used to the other chair, which I’ve been sitting in since I was a baby on my Grandmother’s lap. That’s the big brown chair with the overstuffed ottoman that my brother and I inherited and now resides in my living room. I know how to watch movies, read books, even fall asleep in that chair. But this new one, well, I’m just figuring things out. It’s awkward.
Still, I’m dreaming of a time, many years from now, when this chair will have become the resting place for lots of sweet stories. Kind of like “The Giving Tree”, I’ll sit down like the little-boy-turned-old-man sat on the stump and wonder at the comfort of that then-old chair.
Rest here awhile, old friend, and sit
Where many days we’ve met before,
Remembering all the times we’ve spent
Weary, worried, wandering. More
Stories woven than these threads –
Worn where your restless arms have bent
In prayer, in fretting, or sleepless dread
To sit and learn what stillness meant.
Maybe it was the word stillness popping up in that last line, but something made me think of a phrase from a poem. The phrase was “the still point of the turning world.” I couldn’t remember where it was from, and when I searched for it, turns out it was from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Burnt Norton. That led me to a recording of Eliot reading. Now, I’m thinking I’ll try something dangerous – not for you, for me, since I’ve written a few little poet-isms already here. I’ll tremblingly paste a few lines of Eliot’s next and see where they lead us:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
The life of the Trinity has been likened to a dance, the interweaving and co-inherence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only the dance. In Eliot’s poem, the world is turning, turning and the still point is what constitutes the dance and the Dance substantiates everything. This paradoxical point of neither arrest nor movement is the only hope for all things to find rest. St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
The phrase I half-remembered from Eliot shows up again a little later in Burnt Norton:
…After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.
I assume he’s alluding to the opening line of G.M. Hopkin’s poem, “As kingfishers catch fire”. After that light flashing off the kingfisher’s bright wing has borne witness to the Light that is the light of light itself, it returns to the still point, the dance.
Do you like to dance? I want to like to dance. Self-conscious, I have to warm up to it and that takes a long time. If the place of rest in a turning world is a dance, if the dance is all there is, then, I need to learn to dance, I guess. But it’s hard, because we’re not used to dancing; we labor and spin, toil and twist. Dancing, in my mind, is not associated with restful movement, elegance, or ease. So, I most often sit in the cold metal folding chair at the room’s nervous periphery, like a quaking high schooler, and wish I could relax enough to go take someone’s hand, put my arm around them, and feel the whole world grow still. Feel the whole world grow still like the silence from which music springs. Like the rest that is the Dance. To grow still and to buzz breathlessly with joy. All the breathing and buzzing and growth of the endlessly expanding universe pinwheels out from the substance and stability of that Dance.
Move me, with-moving me, into your still-step
Turn me, song-silent, held-breath thus given
Wind-rush of life rush, of nest-thrush’s brooding
Sleep-eggs on wreath-twigs of round-going
Soothing by sitting while crest-waters clashing
Trouble, unsettle, and fuse-to the Music
Confusing the spin-state, afib the heart-rate
The Dance, still, will not break, inheres mid-most noise.
Fleet upon waters, free-fluent foot-glance whirlpooling
Waltz-stance: 1 – 2 – 3, One. Breath-time in no time
The world-spooling love rhyme, we contemplate
Inscape and trace-pray the template, Our Father
Makes grace-sway through cumber-crook’d lines
And time after time times seventy times
Leads with his right mind, to twine-inter dead vines
and – Jubilee! Foot-fall is all-lithe and sky-tall!
The bruise-heel, turned joy-reel, calls all to the ball!
Ok, I’m back. If you made it through that poetic excursion (incursion?), you really are patient and ought to be praised. I’ll praise myself if I manage not to skip over that poem next time I read through this. It’s probably too much. But the whole world is too much; there’s too much good stuffed into the world – the Lord has blown the whole planet up like a party balloon with the Breath of his Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life. What would G.K Chesterton say about it, I wonder? Maybe something about the world being so sacred that we ought to be silly over it.
I am rambling, tumbling, and a little dizzy from the dance. And, at this point, I’m writing near midnight – I’ve clumsily danced at the ball in the palace of the Prince of Peace, but, I am merely mortal and cannot keep up with either God’s stillness or his graceful movement. For that, I’ll need to shed these old cinder-smudged rags and put on the body imperishable. Till then, I’ll take a nap; you will too – don’t worry. It will seem as if no time had passed at all; rest.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Matthew Clark is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller from Mississippi where he lives with his brother Sam, a ceramic artist. Each Fall he sets out in his homemade tiny-house-on-wheels named Vandalf the White to play concerts in churches and homes all over the country. Matthew is a lover of words, music, coffee, and conversations. Currently (and slowly) he is studying the interlacing of Theology and the Imagination at Fuller Seminary, while writing new songs for his next recording project. Matthew has several albums available at his website (www.matthewclark.net), including a Bible walk-through sequence called “Bright Came the World from His Mouth”, and a collection of songs celebrating God’s presence in the ordinary called “Beautiful Secret Life”.