Monday, December 27, 2010

Collecting Manna: Annie Dillard

One of the joys of being home for the holidays is digging around in books of bygone days, rekindling long dormant conversations with old and near-forgotten friends. As I prepare to re-enter regular blogging mode, here's a passage from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that, judging by the excessive underlining and pudgy stars in the margin, I must have read last during my freshman year of college. Its still just as good today:

Thomas Merton wrote, "There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagent and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have "not gone up into the gaps." The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind laces through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock - more than a maple - a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend this afternoon. You can't take it with you. (San Francisco: HarperPerennial, 1998, 274).

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