I looked outside my bedroom window this morning to a blaze of autumn color peeking above the rooftops.
Delivered by the rising sun, the tree’s glowing beauty demanded a second look, so I gazed upon it for a while before finally searching out my camera to preserve the moment. Yet, as with any sacred souvenir I’ve ever attempted to capture, the image I have is less than what I experienced first-hand.
The autumn-blazed tree reminds me of other numious moments in life that defy tidy summaries: the birth of a child, say, or the marriage between man and woman or for me, the taking of Holy Communion. To explain them at all is to explain them away.
I am reminded of words written by C.S. Lewis on the subject of truth and reality: “truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is.” Somewhere, in all my many readings, I’ve stumbled across the thought that goodness and beauty and truth are conductors of Reality. Reality with a capital “R” — the very word many Christian mystics use for God. After all, how can one explain any of the three — in words? Yet we know truth when we hear it. Beauty when we see it. Goodness when touched by it.
One of my very favorite biblical stories — a mystical one, of course — comes from the third chapter of Exodus. It’s the story of how Moses stumbled upon God by taking a closer look at a burning bush. Well one stumble leads to another, and before Moses had barely taken off his sandals, God had commissioned Moses to go to Egypt, to set God’s people free. To this shocking left-field demand, Moses volleys back a nonsensical sort of “Who’s on First” response, by asking God to tell him His name. And unlike Moses, not one to beat around a blazing bush, God gives Moses His name. In two short syllables, it’s often translated as “I AM” or “I AM WHO I AM.”
God’s name goes to show how much can be conveyed, even when words are few. Then there are these, found in Book VII of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around and pick blackberries.”