Earlier this week I found myself walking around the seminary’s campus in an effort to avoid work. This is not, necessarily, an uncommon occurrence. I find the more structured my life becomes the less frequently I embark upon impromptu diversions. So as I was returning from a meeting to the library, I stepped from my path and instead walked around the tree line bordering the parking lot on the edge of campus.
It was a cool day, with rain in its recent memory though the clouds that enveloped the sky were dry and non-threatening. A sharp wind blew intermittently over the landscape, as though winter where preparing to make its entrance rather than in the process of departing.
I walked with no specific purpose, kicking a pebble along the pavement as I went. My eyes moved slowly from one object to another as I passed, like a newborn child surrounding by foreign faces all ooh and awwing. This is not to say that anything looked back at me, per say. A quick shuffle in the underbrush produced a squirrel that gave me an inquisitive glance but seemed to think nothing further of me. Somewhere in the trees two crows cried a warning call while a hawk drifted by apathetically. I was not a character in this scene but instead it seemed to me as though I were a lamp in a sunlit room where the Author was writing at a soft though intentional pace.
And such observance leads to impulsion. Rabbi Abraham Heschel is constantly remindful of the fact that the ancient Hebrew learned in order to revere. Knowledge of the Torah supplicated action; it prompted worship.
I was driving past some tidal flats this past weekend at the cycle’s lowest point. The flats were exposed, like a bed without the covers on, for the waters were off elsewhere, drawn by the gravity of the moon, the observance of its magnitude.
The Psalmist was aware that he could be still and yet be encompassed with the knowledge that his god was God, that His exaltation would come to pass in all the earth. The wind moves through the trees even though we cannot see it, Jesus reminded Nicodemus. And if we’re willing to admit it then we all know how the Spirit moves over the water, deep in the archives of our awareness.
And yet this awareness, this knowledge, still prompts a stirring within us. For the knowledge of God stirred up the hearts of Israelites, even a pagan king, and they set about building Him a temple in return.
I recall a story I read about a man who built a miniature village in his basement using entirely old beer cans. He started the endeavor because he was having trouble sleeping and his doctor recommended that he get a hobby. At first he just made a rocking chair, weaving strips of a disassembled aluminum cans together to form the minuet. Then he started making planes, cars, a house. When the house was finished he realized it needed something more. Thus a garage, a fence, a road, a church, a post office and, eventually, an entire town followed in its wake. What began fifteen years earlier as a means of getting sleep evolved into a unique masterpiece nestled into his New England basement. “You see?” the man said, “One thing leads to another”.
I do not know why this story is so attractive to me, anymore than I can articulate the reason why an aimless walk around a parking lot was the most informative part of my day. But the universe is made of up stories not atoms, as Muriel Rukeyser once put it. And I am aware, as we all are if we allow ourselves to be, of the truth Frederich Buechner pondered when he pointed out that these words, these stories, set “things in motion within the human heart that can never be reversed”.
Which just goes to say, as Albert Einstein once put it: “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
It is a combination of these realizations that propels my steps on walks such as these. There is no necessity for remarkability or even ambition from the posture of observant gratitude. Something will ebb out of it, as the returning tide stretches its arms out in worship so will the heart of the inquisitive produce something great.
And so, I am embellishing the habit of taking breaks throughout my day to wander aimlessly through the parking lot. I do not have a purpose for this, save for the hope that the observation of the world around me will bring about a perpetual notion of reverence in my own soul. And I have reason to believe this will be the case.
Because don’t you see? One thing leads to another.