Canyon de Chelly was my mother’s favorite place. I don’t know why I’m thinking of her this morning, except that an enormous change has reached its culmination in my life recently. My mother’s name was Doris Ann and she was born in 1926 and died in 2003— 15 years ago. She was the most remarkable person I’ve ever known, and the wisest. I was looking for inspiration for my blog post because the Lectionary readings turned out to be pretty inert for me today. The only thing that struck me in the readings were these verses from Proverbs about Wisdom. I realized that they reminded me of my mother.
30 “I was with him as someone he could trust. For me, every day was pure delight,
as I played in his presence all the time, 31 playing everywhere on his earth,
and delighting to be with humankind.”
Anyway, I went looking for other sources of inspiration, and ended up reflecting on endings. My sister and I were with Mom when she died, and even at the time I felt it as a great grace and blessing. Now, all these years later, I am certain that it was, and what’s more, the experience of being with her at her death has given me a kind of aptitude for endings. This poem I’m sharing with you reminded me of her so strongly that it seemed almost as if the poet had written it about her.
When it comes to my own endings, in particular the one now present in my life, I was suddenly illuminated this morning by the understanding that I’m leaning into the memory of my mother because of the way that she showed me, with grace and infinite aptitude, how to go about dying. It’s because of her that I understand how to navigate endings, and recognize what Wiman meant when he wrote:
“And praise to the light that is not yet, the dawn in which one bird believes, crying not as if there had been no night but as if there were no night in which it had not been.”
- Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Then I looked down into the lovely cut
of a missing river, something under
dusk’s upflooding shadows
claiming for itself a clarity
of which my eyes were not yet capable:
fissures could be footpaths, ancient homes
random erosions; pictographs depicting fealties
of who knows what hearts, to who knows what gods.
To believe is to believe you have been torn
from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim.
I come back to the world. I come back
to the world and would speak of it plainly,
with only so much artifice as words
themselves require, only so much distance
as my own eyes impose
on the slickrock whorls of the real
canyon, the yucca’s stricken
clench, and, on the other side,
the dozen buzzards swirled and buoyed
above some terrible and intangible fire
that must scald the very heart
of matter to cast up such vivid ash.
- 2047 Grace Street
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not
Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing: Poems