November 2020 Touchstones Theme: “Spirituality”

In his poem, “The Blessing,” poet James Wright wrote, “Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break/ Into blossom.” Has life ever seized you in that way? Have you ever had a spiritual experience that filled you with awe? A good friend tells of driving to Banff, a town near Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. What she saw so overwhelmed her that she stopped driving, parked on the side of the road, and wept for the beauty of it. I suspect that if she had stepped out of her body in that moment, she would have broken into blossom.

Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” and yet many of us miss it most of the time. This is the point of Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1924 poem entitled, “A Walk”. He writes, “My eyes already touch the sunny hill,/ going far ahead of the road I have begun./ So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;/ it has its inner light, even from a distance—/ and changes us, even if we do not reach it,/ into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;/ a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave…/ but what we feel is the wind in our faces.”

It is a very simple poem. It’s just about a walk up a hill in sunlight. Except he says, we are grasped by what we cannot grasp. Something grasps us and we stop by the side of the road to weep at the breathtaking beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Something grasps us and we know if we step out of ourselves, if we move just beyond the boundary of the body, we will break into blossom. I have in mind becoming a common dandelion, now bright and yellow, now snowy white, a bouquet of seeds about to be set free by the wind.

These epiphanies, these peak experiences, these moments of grace, these spiritual experiences change us, Rilke says, into something we already are. Isn’t all life change in which each change seeks to bring us closer to our true nature? Yet most of the time, we miss what is happening. Life or God or Mystery, you choose the name to call what is most precious and most profound, waves to us, beckoning, but what we feel is the wind on our faces.

We are grasped by what we cannot grasp: by mystery, by love, by the spirit of life itself. Such is the nature of spirituality, but what we feel is the wind in our faces. The Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) is wind or breath. We can explain the wind, measure its direction and velocity, and relate its intensity to changing weather systems and various atmospheric conditions. We can experience the wind, but we can’t control it. We can feel the wind on our faces, but it is much harder for many of us to embrace with our arms or our minds this thing called spirituality.

Spirituality involves a heightened sense of connection with the deepest part of oneself, with others, and with a transcendent reality, whether that is understood as nature, the unfolding universe, God or, as the seventh Unitarian Universalist principle affirms, “the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” This sense of connection relates to a desire for wholeness, which is seen as a goal of life.

Join us during the month of November as we explore the importance of spirituality in our lives.

Exploring Spirituality

Touchstones Journal

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