I recently began a book that has quickly become a warm smooth stone in my pocket, a book I am pleased to have with me whether I have a chance to read it or not. When I do have the concentrated time to savor it, usually in the morning, I do so with a pencil in my hand…bracketing things, starring sections, freely annotating, carrying on a running commentary with the text/author. It is as much a gift when this intimacy happens with a book as when it happens between friends.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit had me won over in just a few pages. She begins with the distinction, “losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.” (p.22) And by referencing Walter Benjamin, a twentieth century philosopher-essayist. “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” (p. 6)
This speaks so directly to my deepest desires about God and to those moments I have known when I am certain that with just a bit of effort and a bit more letting go of gravity, I would rise and be enveloped by what was present to me…Listening to the choir at Saint Francis Xavier in NYC, listening to a live performance of Handel’s Messiah, staring at the Pieta and being captivated by the aliveness of the question in Mary’s upraised hand, feeling the depth of silence created only when a community gathers to weave stillness together…
Rebecca Solnit has another phrase that delights me as well—“the blue of distance.” How easily and readily I can lose myself in this blue…how it calls to me. Standing against the wall in Assisi, looking out over the textured patches of land and history, out toward the horizon; Sipping coffee and having an apple turnover by a window looking onto Halifax harbor on Saturdays at the farmers’ market; stepping outside the hospital at sunset and looking past the mountains toward the unknown ahead when my father was dying… This blue draws me, entices me… “These nameless places awaken a desire to be lost, to be far away, a desire for that melancholy wonder that is the blue of distance.”
And she closes this chapter with a knowing reminder—“Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.” (p. 41)
These first chapters have me thinking about Augustine’s restlessness of heart and my own. A restlessness born of desiring God. Born of a call to the blue of distance. Born of a desire to be fully present, in uncertainty and in mystery.
January 30th will mark the 6th anniversary of my final vows, when I gave my life to Love, forever, in the Society of the Sacred Heart. I like that this book will accompany me as I mark the date and wonder at where the journey ahead might lead.