There is an ancient saying:
A single sacred tree
Sanctifies the entire grove
Each of us is an unknowable mystery. Now, that’s not to say we can never know another human being at all or that we are always, only utter strangers to each other. Still, most of us have some experience in life that transforms us in ways we find impossible to communicate to anyone who stands outside the experience. Our words and emotions, instead of leading others to the meaning they point toward, become obstacles. We grow confused, frustrated, angry, sad, or turn mute. Naturally, artists, poets, composers, dancers, actors, athletes, priests, teachers, scientists, architects, and the like attempt to give us a taste of transcendent transformative experience, though they never completely succeed in their mission and consequently live haunted by that fact. No bit of computer code, no line from Virgil, no Byzantine icon, no Puccini aria can replace the awe of a directly experienced WOW! moment in real life.
What could it possibly mean for me to tell someone that when I look in the eyes of another creature, I see someone who can’t possibly be there and yet there is no doubt in my experience? Is this what ancients referred to as theophany? But I’m just an ordinary man — who am I to bear witness to theophany?
What did Moses experience? What did the Delphic Sybil see? What about the Virgin Mary and Muhammad? What experience compelled our ancestors to leave their hand prints in darkened cave vaults? We can appreciate the artifacts left to us, but by their very nature artifacts abstract and detach from direct experience. Today we outfit our mystics and shamans and astronauts with body cams, thinking ourselves sophisticated and empirical. Nonsense.
Nonetheless, flawed but useful artifacts have power to prepare us for direct experience. They remind us that knowledge of ourselves and the world is always partial and provisional. A meal can become something greater than just a meal. A brother can become another self. A vow can bring into being a new reality. A tear can change the world.
When the question What if? becomes What next?
Know that the time of favor has arrived
Our world is so wondrous that even a mongrel dog can become more powerful than the Sun in the sky. An unfailing source of light and warmth for those who know only darkness. An inescapable center of gravity stronger than any star in the heavens. A source of burning love for those who feel empty, unlovable and unable to love. But if you had such an experience — mediated by a dog, for fuck’s sake! — how could you not doubt yourself? Or doubt your ability to lead others to believe in what you know? Would you even bother and try? How could you not try and share something of your experience, risking empty sentimentality or even ridicule?
And when we experience that sort of transcendent mystery in another human being, in someone who means more to us than the whole world? Maybe the only thing to do in that moment is just to love and get on with life. Or …. we could write book, compose an opera, paint a portrait, engage the body through dance, adorn the body with tattoo, build a temple, design a satellite, make a baby, make a film, give someone a reason to continue living, pray without ceasing, protect the honor of the vulnerable, feed someone who needs food, work to the bone for the sake of something meaningful, perform a difficult duty without complaint or hesitation, live the present moment as if it could be the end of the world and then continue living that way even when the world doesn’t end.
Qui signa invenimus
Sicut et signa offerimus
In a family there’s place and purpose to everyone. No one is useless or unwanted. When you and I join together, we become a family of sorts. A family not bound by blood or limited by flesh alone. In a family of spirit no one’s deficiency or limits or unworthiness matters. Alone we are, each of us, too small. But together … we are many brothers and sisters, innumerable sons and daughters capable of saving each other and saving the world and saving those who have yet to pass through this world.
It takes only one tree to make all this — and all of us — possible.
June 24, 2017