Friday, June 20, 2008

The World Transformed

A little more on the animistic vision of the world...

For those of us who were not born into an animistic culture, often what awakens us to this perspective are world-shifting experiences. Those experiences are as individual as each of us, but there are certain threads of consistency and similarity that can be found in all of them.

Daniel Quinn shares just such an experience in his book Providence.

I went last, stepped over the threshold, turned around to close the door, then turned back to face the sunshine.

And the god spoke.

I put it this way. I could put it other ways. I could say that, when I turned to face the sunshine, the veil that clouds our vision was gone from my eyes, and for the first time I saw the world as it is.

There are no words for it.

Someone blind from birth can't imagine what the sighted mean by color, can't fathom what this property might be. If all language were the product of a blind race, the word color would not exist, and if one of that blind race were suddenly to become sighted, he would be unable to describe what he saw; the words would simply not be there for him to use, and this is the way it is for me: The words are simply not there.

But I can put it other ways, and I will, because that's what I can do.

I turned and faced the sunshine, and the breath went out of me as if someone had punched me in the stomach. That was the effect of receiving this sight, of seeing the world as it is. I was astounded, bowled over, dumbfounded.

I could say that the world was transformed before my eyes, but that wasn't it--and I knew that that wasn't it. The world hadn't been transformed at all; I was simply being allowed to see it the way it is all the time. I, not the world, had been transformed.

I'm trying. Be patient. We've reached the single most important hour of my life, and I have to get it right, have to come as close as I can to getting it right.

I gasped, literally gasped. I lost my breath, seeing that.

Everything was on fire.

I can say it that way, but when you say that something's on fire, you think of the fire as being on it,--as a substance that is on the thing.

That wasn't it.

Everything was burning. Yes, that's better. From within, everything was burning.

Every blade of grass, every single leaf of every single tree was radiant, was blazing--incandescent with a raging power that was unmistakably divine.

I was overwhelmed. In a single second of this, of seeing this truth, tears flooded my eyes and poured down my face as I walked along behind the novices. It was strange to see fence posts sitting dead and silent and cold in the midst of this tremendous, thrumming effulgence.

In this vast, scintillating landscape, my nearsightedness was of no account at all. For as far as I could see, for hundreds of yards, thousands of yards, I could distinguish with absolute clarity each leaf, each blade of grass--no two alike anywhere. Each was crackling and trembling and all but exploding with the raging power that animated it.

Again I describe that power as raging. Look into a furnace blazing at its top capacity. Look into the heart of a nuclear reaction perhaps. The power that I saw thundering around me makes all our stock images of power seem feeble. But there was no violence or hatred in this rage. This was a rage of joy, of exuberance. This was creation's everlasting, silent hallelujah.

You know the sparklers they sell around July 4th. The world was ablaze with sparklers. Every blade of grass, every leaf of every tree wascharged with energy--packed, jammed, evanescent with energy, which radiated forth into the air irresistability. The whole landscape pulsed, breathed, moved, was made iridescent with this energy. I think, with what can be done in film today, I could produce a cinematic approximation of what I saw. It would be magnificent, but you would of course know it was just a trick. What I was seeing was reality, was the world as it actually is, every moment of every day....

No, no, I wasn't in a trance. I wasn't in anything remotely like a trance. I was gathering kindling, for God's sake! I had trailed the novices for awhile, walking through the madly radiant land, then had been signed[The novices only used sign language] to head off into the brush to get started. So there I was, stooping and picking up sticks, and breaking them across my knee or leaning them up against a rock to stamp them into smaller lengths, and making pile that would later be loaded into a cart, and all the while tears were pouring down my cheeks like a waterfall. I was lucky I was working alone, though I don't think I would have felt the least self-conscious about my tears if there had been dozens around me. Who could have cared? Certainly not me.

It lasted for about an hour. The radiance just faded away, gradually subsided, and the world resumed its normal appearance. The rest of the crew came along, and we loaded up the kindling and headed back.

1 comment:

Roy said...

Almost any comment might belittle this picture by sounding trite, but: this is a /gorgeous/ photo!