December 7, 2017

Advent 2017

"A Moment Out of Time" 


During the busiest years of my life, I spent my summers on Inishmore, an island off the west coast of Ireland. In those days, my life was full of commitments - to my students, to my colleagues, to a seemingly endless list of boards and committees of various sorts. I had barely a moment to breathe, at least not many moments to think quietly in the way that writing requires. The island turned out to be a perfect place for quiet thought. Mornings were spent at my desk, reviewing the work from the day before, then after a midday bike ride to clear my head, I went back to the desk in the afternoons to try to crank out some new ideas. The evenings were usually spent fishing on the ledges below the cliffs on the seaward side of the island. Because I am by nature rather indolent, I made a point of sticking to my routine. But, dutiful as I tried to be, things didn't always go quite according to my little plan. On some afternoons, the blank screen on the computer just stared back at me. It was on one such day that I abandoned the desk and hiked up to the top of the cliffs above my usual fishing spots at the end of the island. 

It was lovely up there, with nothing but rocks and the infinite restless power of the sea stretched out before me. And it was quiet. (There was little on that end of the island to draw the tourists that had begun to visit in increasing numbers.) I tried to put the philosophical problem I'd been working on aside and just let my mind drift, listening to the cries of the gulls above me and the deep bass thrumming of the sea as it struck the cliffs below me. Stretched out on a rock above the cliffs to enjoy the moment, idly watching the solemn progress of a little rainstorm headed my way from the west, suddenly, for no reason I can explain, a sense of the fundamental meaningfulness of things washed over me with a kind of calm certainty. It wasn't a discovery of the meaning of this or that, not the answer to some philosophical puzzle, but more a sense of a Meaning that transcends the small particular meanings of our world that I'd worked so hard to understand. I don't know how long the feeling lasted. It seemed to come and go in its own time. I hadn't sought it out, and don't really know how one could. But there was no question in my mind that I had been granted a moment of grace, and that the only possible response was to be grateful. For just a moment, the clouds of confusion parted to expose an ultimate Meaning that lies there beneath our struggles to make sense out of things. And while I believe we must continue the struggle to understand, I also believe that there is an Understanding beyond our understanding, and it is there to sustain us if we just open ourselves to it. I believed that then, as I made my way back down the hill to my desk and the little philosophical questions I was working on, and I believe it now. And I shall always be grateful for the calm and abiding peace I found in that moment. 

 -- Brian Martine

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