November 20, 2005
It’s only the middle of November, but a new year is beginning. I’ve had the same list of assessments and resolves for ages—haven’t we all. Occasionally there’ll be something fresh, and something I considered important might be excised from the current draft. The same big issue items appear every year, moved up or down the page depending on whether health, wealth or wisdom are uppermost. But New Year’s Resolutions are for one’s inner committee to debate and agree upon on Saturday morning after a big breakfast and two cups of strong coffee. Resolution embraces resolve, synthesis, clarity and rest. A night away from everything, no matter where or how you spend it, allows resolution to speak as though from nothing. It arrives like a small furry creature that creeps across the grass towards you when sleep has become deep and soundless.
On a beach near Torquay
I’m three hours south of Melbourne, parked on a lonely stretch of beach on a dirt track off the highway, with the van I borrowed hidden from view by a couple of sand dunes.
Putting my picnic things away in the dark I’ve banged my ankle severely on the tow-ball of the van. I get such a shock I begin to shiver violently. I’m shaking as though my body is unzipping itself. With all my body zippers slowly ripping down and the flesh falling off my bones. I stumble into the driver’s seat and sit there shivering and holding my shape together.
The invisible prison rises and breaks across the sky. I can see the bright half moon in the deep well of heaven between thick arms of cloud. I wonder what the moon would look like seen through a glass of red wine? I have so much wine but no glass to pour it into.
In the right hand corner of my field of vision appears a small half circle of peachy orange light rising from the beach town up the coast. The clearing sky is brightly black. Silhouetted against it is a long low stretch of thick dead-black bushes. They have a little bit of shape and dimension to them. Under it is a band of grey beach gravel.
In the left corner of my vision there’s a small shed on the far side of the parking area. It’s a little broken down toilet block with two doors. One door painted white is closed. I sense rather than see its whiteness. The other door is open, flapping in the wind, an inky hole, banging and winking. As I imagine, inside that door a naked man is seated. There is writing and strange symbols all over the walls. The naked man is still alive but he has been half eaten. He may have been eating himself to death. I can see the stump of his arm reaching out of that doorway. It is the image of a man not yet ready to let go of his debts, paying his devil the remaining interest due on past transactions.
The shivering has left me. I’m drawn for a second or two into deep and soundless wakefulness, a cool and dry clarity, not hot and humid and decisive. Questions dissolve. Tiny bubbles, perfect little answers, float to the surface of the cup and foam for a moment before they burst and disappear.
Waiting for the complex to be simple again
Anything new that strikes the heart-mind has no image yet, because images are formed out of what I already have. In the first confusion, what strikes seems too big and too complex to cope with at face value.
I could fire up my school brain to reduce it to something intelligible, something theological. But maybe I’d take the life from it by doing so. Theology is like attempting to build the model of a waterfall out of a Meccano set, or to construct a feathery wing of cirrus cloud out of Lego blocks.
I’m learning to sit with what I cannot see. Whatever it is will be made visible through what I already possess. It will be a rich and tangible truth for as long as the form is needed, before it resolves back into an unknown and total presence.
Where is the seat of faith?
If the seat of faith is the mind, is faith threatened every time the hinges of the mind are broken open by a prying question?
If the seat of faith is emotion, are joyful, hopeful feelings the truth of faith, and dryness and despair the absence of faith?
Can I see, touch or taste faith? Perhaps faith rests where it cannot be expressed at all, but where it might influence the architecture of thought and the effulgence of feeling.
How do I imagine God?
Do I mean the God I constantly refashion in my own evolving image?
What else can I know? All I know is, my God prefers honest shit to “pious ejaculation.” At worst, he averts his nose from pious crap. No, no, God does not avert his nose at anything. That’s what I do. It is we, the proud ones, who avert our noses at things.
The God I sense loves best our clumsy loving, our naked, foolish hearts.
Who am I?
When someone asked, “define yourself,” and I rattled off an answer, I was describing a mask. I don’t have these answers any more, though I still have my masks handy.
A proud man or woman, bluffing against the terrors, says firmly, “I know myself. I can look myself in the eye, in the mirror any day.”
Someone who accepts that they possess no full self-knowing might say, “I cannot always look myself in the eye, and I must wait.”
What is vanity?
Vanity gazes into the mirror, searching desperately for signs of ugliness and decay.
How will I end?
I will not die alone. I must take my self with me when I go. How long I spend with this self at the time of passing will depend on how well I know and how much I have come to accept.
I fall asleep, and wake up at 4.30; pull on some pants and a jacket and walk away from the salty rumble of the ocean, lifting my legs over a slack barbed wire fence to get onto to some fields with a few sheep and cattle in them.
Before dawn the Otway hills are made of cloudy glass. There is a soft dreamy solitude about the dawn. As the sun rises the land is like a wet painting. The dewy grass looks like frosted glass in the chill early morning.
The mist lifts its white tendrils off the water of a muddy dam, the water flat, not yet ruffled by a breeze. The tendrils of mist rise like a chain of ballerinas in gossamer tutus slowly dancing Swan Lake on a brown linoleum stage.
I pass a scraggly patch of bush, and then a broken down wool shed. Its timbers are no longer hewed from trees, but cast in pewter. In the distance big black rectangles of cattle, their tails sticking out, graze and shit. The grass is sage-blue in shadow, and like butter where the sun shines across it.
And so back to thoughts about the New Year, and quiet resolution: After a messy climax, during which dissonances have begun to untangle and relax, I’ve arrived at another cadence, one of several in life that are regional, oblique, and plagal.
Resolution is hidden in these cadences. The perfect one will be the final return from dominance to tonic. This cadence, which is the resolution of life in all its meanings, is always present in the air, more easily sensed at night under an open sky. You can also feel it in the ground underfoot, in the prickle of thistle and gravel in your heel after you’ve kicked your shoes off.
This essay first appeared in the monthly magazine Black Lamb, which can be seen at http://www.blacklamb.org