Risk Nearness

afterglow art backlit birds

I have a hunch we are steeped in enchantment, unawares. That just beyond the scrim of our distracted, worried, pre-frontal-cortex-bound lives, are goings on (vivid and undeterred by our inability to see) that we would not want to miss—if only we knew we had choice in the matter. In a way, quantum physicists are introducing us to this ubiquitous enchantment, the potential for weirdness, really, for randomness, for the unrecognized ways we alter and create matter, the far-more-than-material nature of our universe at its very essence. Some bring us back to ways of seeing we have lost in the modern era. I find myself reading the physicists alongside the mystics—the two participating in a grand re-joining, doing the reconstructive work religion has failed at (re-ligio/religare, ‘to join’). And perhaps, doing so unawares.

By using the word “enchantment”, I’m not suggesting there are fairies in your garden, or that we may wake up inhabiting the florid worlds of fantasy novels. But I do believe there is more than meets the eye. I call that more “spirit” when I have to put a word to it. And the realm of spirit is fully present within this work-a-day world we inhabit, equipped with videogames and traffic and soda; or books and gardens and braided rugs–if you prefer. Our material existence only masks what is around and in us, fully alive and real, trying to get our attention. Even trees and plants have a kind of consciousness, science is revealing—trees possessing ways of relating to one another, perhaps similar to the communications between animals. Stranger things occur.

One day last year, I sat writing. On this particular morning I was experiencing a fretful moment, the worry du jour being my first novel, Wren, for which I was not finding a publisher (still true, that). The rigor and seeming impossibility of publishing a first novel as an unknown novelist with no connections was weighing on me that day. Should I check in with that agent again, should I submit it for more first-fiction prizes, should I, should I…?  My novel is named Wren after the female protagonist; but the title also hearkens to bird imagery found in the book. In any case, as I sat fretting I looked toward my window. It was a sun-dappled day, and I could see the shift of light on vine maple leaves.

At that very moment, a bird hopped on my window screen. Not on the sill, not on something next to the window—but on the screen itself. Which is odd. And the kind of bird oddly hopping on my window screen that morning was a wren (again, Wren: the title of my book). I don’t know about you, but I haven’t often seen birds hopping on window screens.

Similarly strange experiences have happened to me a handful of times. Experiences odd and at the time fitting to the situation; experiences that might be tailored-for-me messages from the spirit-realm, though wordless messages (and I hesitate to put words to them). In any case, they are ineffable gift. Yet each time, despite how momentous the experience, I have almost missed it. So it was on that day. For a moment I was so distracted when I saw the compact, brown fist of a bird, a wren, on my window screen that I thought, “Hmm—weird,” and went on worrying. Fortunately, I immediately doubled back.

I cherish the wren experience, as I do other such experiences. I tell the story to others when occasion arises. It is important to tell these stories.

In today’s lectionary reading from Mark it reads: [Jesus] said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’’(Mark 4:21-25).

Reading this passage this week, I was taken with the relationship between the two halves:  the part about not covering one’s light, and the latter part, “To those who have, more will be given.” In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) this passage is sandwiched between parables about seeds and receiving and fruitfulness. In the broader context, the latter part suggests that the more receptive you can be, the more seeds will come your way. It makes sense. Once one plant takes hold, it goes to seed and produces the makings of more and more plants.

Neuropsychology has revealed the extent to which our brains are shaped by what we pause to take in, or what we devote our thought-energy toward. I was reflecting on this as I thought of Mark’s passage.  We are learning that our brains are malleable (the term used in the field is neuroplasticity). What we dwell on will increase, and what we refuse to indulge (negative thinking, resentment thinking, fear) will gradually lose neural-connective strength. We can literally change our brains with practice, forging new pathways of thought.

And I have found this to be true in how we interact with the unseen, enchanted, sometimes odd world around us. When we open to it and tune in to it, we invite more of the same interactions. But when we are so distracted we don’t see (or our ideology refuses to let us see) all the ways the enchanted is stirring in and around us, trying to show us a different path, we blunt our abilities to perceive it. In this sense, those who have, receive more, and those who have not, lose even the ability they had before.

Similarly whatever one refuses to see, one loses the ability to see. This is important to heed in a time when we spend more time in echo chambers than in quiet mindfulness and self-awareness practice. If we want to be wise people and nuanced thinkers, we better listen to the points of view that make us uncomfortable now and then. Our brains were designed with the capacity to broaden and embrace enchantment and complexity; the ability to change and transform and more fully incarnate the Divine. If we “hide this light under a bushel,” we will lose the ability to discern.

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