Beyond Words

Listen, O drop, give yourself up without regret,

and in exchange gain the Ocean.

Listen, O drop, bestow upon yourself this honour,

and in the arms of the Sea be secure.

Who indeed should be so fortunate?

An Ocean wooing a drop!

In God’s name, in God’s name, sell and buy at once.

Give a drop and take this Sea full of pearls.

Rumi, translated by Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski

Language does have its limits.

Eugene Peterson was talking about the poetic language of the Bible when he said,

A metaphor is a really remarkable kind of formation because it both means what it says and what it doesn’t say, and so those two things come together, and it creates an imagination which is active.  You’re not trying to figure things out, you’re trying to enter into what’s there.

For me, Eugene’s wisdom fits my experience here. Perhaps metaphors reframe what is right in front of us from a different perspective.

On Saturday, before Palm Sunday, I attended a contemplative wisdom retreat at the University of Victoria Multifaith Center. I’m not a note-taker so my remembering might or might not be exactly accurate, but it is true for me.  Heather Ruce, our teacher, used the imagery of the ocean and the water inside our bodies as she discussed our conflicting human and divine nature; our physical bodies and spiritual being that we separate or see as two different parts of us. How does this water naturally flow together?

I thought immediately of the ancient prayer I say many mornings, “I awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens my body…” as a way of expressing this reciprocity. We say that we are not alone; yet, we speak of our divine companion in another reality. Our language belies the truth. 

When I learned to paddle board, I was instructed to look toward the horizon when I stand up on the board.  If I look down, I was told I would probably fall. This isn’t intuitive. 

Even after I’m standing up, when I gaze ahead and take in the spaciousness, I see the world differently.  When I steal a quick glance down to see if my feet are where they should be or notice the dark deep cold water and remember I’m far out from the shore, fear and uncertainty separate me from the grandeur.   

Then on Monday of Holy Week, after Heather’s words activated my imagination, I read Rumi’s words,

Listen, O drop, give yourself up without regret, and in exchange gain the Ocean.

Listen, O drop, bestow upon yourself this honour, and in the arms of the Sea be secure.

Perhaps the Ocean was wooing me. On the cold and windy Monday, I copied Rumi’s poem on a scrap of paper and headed to Willow Beach.  I walked down the first residential street with “beach access” to begin my communion in the water on the quiet end. 

I sat down on a rock and took off my wool socks and hiking boots, rolled up my two layers of pants, and walked in at the water’s edge.  The sea was clear and shockingly cool.  When I walked looking out toward the horizon, I won’t say I didn’t notice the cold but the shock faded as I took in the expanse before me.  Every now and then, I met another brave soul whose feet numbed in the wetness.  Every now and then, a seal popped up to remind me of the abundant life here.

Repeating one line at a time, I walked into Rumi’s call to me, the drop, to listen to give myself without regret in exchange for the Ocean.  Listen and receive this honour to be secure in the arms of the Sea, this Sea, that I could know in my physical body, the blustery refreshment for the worries I brought along.   

This same water stretches across the earth. I, too, am part of that expanse. In her memoir, The Perfection of the Morning, Sharon Butala writes about these moments, “This is the place where words stop.”  How can I keep looking out to the majesty and vast unknown and embrace the promise that holds me, that surrounds me in the same moment as the danger I perceive?  Sell and buy at once, surrender my drop, and accept the abundance.

Listen, O drop, enter in the metaphors that are beyond words.

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