Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swimmer's Eucharist

[This fragment is part of a meditation given on a wilderness retreat about 20 years ago. It seems appropriate to post it after the beautiful BBC film on salmon last night.]

The humble God refuses to control, the humble God indwells and co-creates by enhancing life. The humble God in joyous, incarnate self-outpouring, chooses the cross, chooses it simply to show us the extreme to which Love is willing to go to show us how it sustains, indwells and co-creates with us.

How, then, can we find symbols that communicate this humble God to us, this God in whose image we are made and whose life we are invited to mirror? How, in a technological society where control is the highest goal and sacrifice is despised, where the price of life is hidden under cellophane wrappers, and the homeless haunt the streets?

One reason for hikes such as this is to remind us that the life of God permeates all creation, that we must be humble before it, serve and preserve it, because the principle that underlies the cosmos is one of sacrifice—sacrifice that is not annihilation but fulfillment. The sacrifice to which we are called is to embrace our mortality, creating a density through which the spaciousness of salvation is brought into being. Or, put another way, mortality becomes like the framework of a sonnet that causes our creativity to burgeon and flower into spaciousness beyond its narrow gate, a spaciousness that enhances lives that follow.

It is hard to find liturgical images for city-dwellers that communicate the principle of sacrifice that lies at the heart of things. In Alaska we are luckier: we have the indigenous tradition of salmon, the Swimmer who shows us life spilled out in fulfillment, life that joyously gives itself, life that flaunts its wounds and leaps ecstatically through the frame of mortality. Salmon calls forth our tears, tears of pain, longing and joy inextricably mixed within us, tears that anoint our wounds in Christ’s, still visible in resurrection, not covered over or hidden, but entered, offered and glorified. Swimmer is Eucharist.

But we cannot use the metaphor of Swimmer in isolation. Swimmer is only one creature in the Eucharist of interrelationships. Swimmer’s solitude bears fruit in community, not only with other salmon, but with Raven, Eagle, Bear, Orca, rocks, trees, moss, barnacles, kelp, plankton, fungus, fern and devil’s club—creatures visible and microscopic. Swimmer's life and death are essential to the life of the forest.

In the solitude of each creature is the spaciousness, the listening stillness where these connexions are made, and from which community receives its life. It is only in our solitude’s stillness that any metaphor can help open us to the delicate equipoise of God’s life indwelling the creation, and the importance of our choices, not only for our own planet, but for the planet’s collective choices that affect the web of the universe in ways we cannot know.

How blessed are they who know their need of God.... how blessed are we when we have to the humility to know that we need the life of the humble God expressed through creation; how blessed are we when we have the humility to know what we minimally need, when we confront ourselves with greed disguised as need—greed that threatens to extinguish much life on the planet. For when self-care and self-confrontation are held in balance within us, we are given the gift of self-forgetfulness, the gaze on God that causes us to flaunt our wounds, flinging our hearts through the stream of love pouring from ourself-forgetful God, and this is the end for which we are made.

“The whole life of the swimmer is one of courage and adventure. All of it builds to the climax and the end. When the swimmer dies he has spent himself completely for the end for which he was made, and this is not sadness. It is triumph.” (I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven, p. 47)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooops. I read something again from the first novel i read in high school:
Thank you for this flash of a moment...

5:31 am, March 18, 2009  

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