On July 13, 1798, William Wordsworth returned to a specific place along the banks of the Wye River that flows through England and Wales. He sits above the murmuring waters, leaning against a dark sycamore tree. Years have passed and now he sees again the orchard trees, the steep and lofty cliffs, the wreaths of smoke curling up from cottage chimneys below. It is a scene of deep, abiding peace, beauty, and joy—food for his soul.
This moment, captured in “Tintern Abbey,” reminds him of his earlier wanderings in nature. In those youthful days, he remembers, his forays into the woods and vales were not so peaceful. He was, he recalls,
more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.”
I first read those lines over forty years ago, sitting in a library at the University of Chicago where I was studying English lit. Just a few years earlier I had been a South Dakota boy, and now I was a long way from home. I was supposedly seeking a career I loved, but I knew even then I was “more like a man/ flying from something that he dreads.”
If there is some other way to launch a young life, I’ve never seen it. We all start with a bolt. But Wordsworth shows us what can eventually happen. After running away from the small, constraining life nipping at our heels, we can sit still and rest awhile. Long enough to breathe. Long enough to hear the “still, small voice” at the core of our being, telling us what it needs to be whole and well. As Mary Oliver wrote so brilliantly,
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.
What we finally come to love is usually smaller, simpler, plainer. In other words, all the things that once filled us with dread. There is a kind of circling home, returning to whatever was given us by birth and the ordination of time and place. It isn’t perfect or complete, but it calls to us by name and we learn to love it, again, as-is, until it becomes, by some miracle, the most beautiful thing we know.
What are you running away from?
Question #10, “Why am I my own worst judge?” comes Thursday March 16.
Matt Edwards says
Man, this is good. I’ve been running my whole life and I’ll be damned if I know what I’m running from. I ran from North Carolina after college to Florida and then to NYC and CT. I did the “reverse run” because now everyone seems to want to run to NC and Fla. I think I wanted to prove that I could do it. Now, as I send my kids to college in NC (man could I have saved a ton on in-state tuition!) and see my friends’ thrive in the booming economy down there, I’ve started thinking the joke is on me. I ran from a loving family, good friends, and missed opportunities. And yet I feel I am on the right path, go figure.
David Anderson says
Thanks for that honesty, Matt—as for the “go figure” part, that’s pretty common. We look back at all the crazy and wrongheaded things we’ve done, and somehow it was all necessary to get us to this point. In theological language, it’s all grace all the time!
Lida Ward says
Oh this is good David. I just sent it on to Charlotte who is headed to college in August and beyond eager to get moving with her next chapter and leave our small, uniform town and all she sees as confining behind her! I also thought as a future English major she’d appreciate the image of young David in his college years :). We spend so much time running from the things of our past – yet that’s what makes us the people we are today – the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you for a beautiful and thought provoking start to my day.
David Anderson says
Charlotte as an English major—I knew there was something special about that girl!
Michael Moore says
Like T. S. Eliot said:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
…by birth and the ordination of time and place
Love that phrase, David! I wouldn’t change the life I’ve had for the multitude of lives I didn’t because of my choices. There’s something quite unique about what is – and I’m sure if I’d gone another way, I’d feel the same about that life, too. Thanks!
Hey, David, thanks for this one.
A few days ago, we were running after fake rabbits. Today, we’re just runnning away. From what? It can be so many things, but for me it was the Hound of Heaven. It all came down to that.
I was in and out of two vocations before I stopped, turned and opened my arms.
David Anderson says
As I just replied to Monte, we can name the thing we all flee as Great Love. We’re not ready for a too-great love, not ready for surrender. Thanks, Michael
I suspect that on a level below our conscious awareness (the proverbial tip of the iceberg), what we are chasing and what we all are running away from, regardless of how those actions might appear in the world of perception, are actually the same thing.
So what is this same thing?
I believe that what we are striving to obtain and simultaneously running away from is all encompassing, all inclusive unconditional Love. Not a special love that we might have for a particular person or thing that we don’t have for any other person or thing but an all encompassing, all inclusive, unconditional Love i.e., the Love that is God.
Somewhere within the concept of the myself we identify ourselves as being, there is a knowing; the “still, small voice” that tells us the myself is not our True Self. And what is our True Self if not the Love that is God?
The myself is a product of an aberrated system of thought that is referred to by many names but a common one is ego. From the ego’s perspective anything a myself might desire, need or want can be found out in the world. However, if we do happen to find what we desire out in the world, once found it never lasts for there is no thing out in the world that is not inherently transitory.
The world is an almost world. We almost find what we’re looking for and if we do happen to find what we’re looking for it’s not enough, and if there is enough it doesn’t work right and if it works right it doesn’t last. Note: as I write about an almost world I’m thinking of shopping for a tool at Home Depot but whether I’m shopping for a tool or looking for happiness, it plays out the same.
Supposedly we have been created by God in God’s image. Personally, the “still, small voice” within has, for me, confirmed this notion as being the truth. Consequently, this is one of the few things that I don’t just believe I know but I actually Know. Furthermore, that “still, small voice” has informed me that my True Self is an Extension of God and there is no place where God ends and I begin as God and God’s Creations are one and the same.
It is the ‘knowing’ within that is constantly nudging the myself to seek to find the True Self, however, the myself, listening to the ego, looks in all the wrong places. For the ONLY place, that is not even a place, where the True Self can always be found is in the quite, stillness within. The True Self will never be found out in the world for the world is a pretense. Obviously, it would be impossible for the True Self to run away from anything for being an Extension of God, like God, is Everything. Therefore, it must be the myself that is running away from all encompassing Love aka True Self aka the Love that is God. Indeed, the myself is terrified of finding the True Self for the ego tells the myself that if you encounter all encompassing Love, it will be the end of the myself and, more importantly, the end of ego.
David Anderson says
Yes—as I was writing that reflection I thought of naming the thing we flee as Great Love. You’ve made that point for me—thanks, Monte.