limits to our escape

As I mentioned previously, an important part of vacations for me is relaxation. And reading has always been a primary mode of rest in my life. This vacation was no exception, although I’ll admit, I had to deviate from the norm somewhat with the presence of a near two-year-old, as this picture shows:
In particular, I want to comment on my reading of Frederick Buechner’s book, Godric, which tells the tale of a 12-century gallivanting adventurer turned hermit holy man - an individual revered for his faithfulness, yet as Buechner’s explores, perhaps a more complex character than saintly legends remember. At one point in the book, Buechner explores Godric’s practice of silence and meditation. And in the context of my own rest and reflection, I was especially drawn to Godric’s own description of experiencing silence:

Voices that I haven’t heard since I was young call out to me. Faces long since faded bloom afresh. Legs that barely hold me up grow strong again in dreams to carry me wherever I would go and where I wouldn’t too.

“That hermit Godric!” people say. “How holy must he be to rest in one place, rooted like a tree, so he may raise his shaggy arms to God alone while holy thoughts nest in his leaves like birds.”

They do not guess that in my mind I’m never still...oh the thoughts that come to roost in this old skull!...hermits sleep like other men, alas, and in the dark all men go mad.

I fill the box of empty years with thinking back on how things were--some good, some bad--and dreaming into life again what’s dead and gone (selections from 139-141).

Not quite the idyllic picture of holiness from one whom some call a saint, eh!?! But to Buechner’s credit, even if embellishing the Godric historical account, he reveals how too often we idealize the holiness of religious folks, and forget the challenging realities all people face in seeking faithfulness to God in their spiritual practices. Attaining perfection, however we envision it, is no easy task.

Now, besides reading, vacations (especially road trips) offer a chance to listen to new music. So prior to leaving, I downloaded Keane’s latest album, Night Train, a creative and collaborative effort offering quite the musical variety - a good listen in my estimation. Anyway, shortly after reading Godric, I listened to the song, “Stop for a Minute,” recorded with rapper K’naan. Besides it’s catchy tune, I was struck by how the lyrics touch on ideas I was thinking about from Godric - the idea that we all have hidden imperfections as humans, often experienced as this busyness of the mind that Godric described. The beginning of the chorus admits it like this:

And if I stop for a minute
I think about things I really don't wanna know

Again, like Godric, this song admits to the dark side of reflection - we all carry with us an inability to consistently live and think the way we would like. I find such honesty refreshing. I think religious and non-religious folks alike would do well to admit their own internal struggles in attempting to be better people.

Interestingly, both the book and the song allude to a critical component to living well despite our imperfections - our reliance on and need for others. Despite being a hermit, even Godric valued the role his few companions played in his solitary life, often represented in the simple services they provided him in his old age. And in “Stop for a Minute” the chorus continues like so:

And I'm the first to admit it
Without you I'm a child and so wherever you go
I will follow

And so rest, silence, meditation, vacations, etc..., while valuable practices for bettering our lives, are incomplete, perhaps even harmful on their own, lest we allow our “busy minds” as Godric would say, to overcome us in our silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love vacations full of rest and relaxation, but as I return to the real world this week, Buechner and Keane have helped me realize the limits to my escape and my ongoing need to “follow” more than myself.

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