I climbed over a lot of limestone this past week. Limestone is organic, sedimentary rock. It comes from a relentless accumulation of shell, coral, algae, skeletal remains and fecal debris. It is made of stuff that is left behind and it lays down the foundation for the next thing. It is hard and unforgiving and it lasts – around 500 million years. The last time I walked along such rocks was in Ireland on The Burren. The views and the environment of Kangaroo Island more spectacular than the Cliffs of Mohar and my twin heritages of Australia and Ireland came together bringing me home to myself on the Wilderness Trail.
Picking my way across the top of the cliffs, one rock and steady foot at a time, carefully and deliberately, to get safely to the next destination, aching and tired but incredibly satisfied about getting to the other side. The invitation waiting the next morning to do it all again, each day unfolding new landscapes and new horizons to savour and work around. Focussing on one foot at a time, and knowing all the while the only thing to do is to walk forward. There is no going back, the foundations are already laid and going nowhere. Linking my Burren experience to this place, I recall Patrick McCormack leaning on his hazelwood staff and reciting Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, God’s Grandeur – nature is never spent even if I am at the end of the day, and each morning is welcomed by the bright wings of the sun’s rays and the call of a multitude of wrens, finches, parrots and Cape Barren geese.
God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
There are never enough moments to savour beauty, nor to contemplate the complete offering of nature. Pilgrims all, we find each other in the wilderness from time to time, lost and smudged, smeared by work, waiting for the dark to leave. Could there be no better way of recognising just how charged our world is with grandeur than seeing the moon and stars rise and then give way to the dawn? Each new day total gift, despite the hard rock we might find ourselves treading to get through to the next day.
Mindful by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.
It is as Mary Oliver says the untrimmable light offering daily wisdom teaching and forever holding us to account of ordinariness. For there is nothing special or unexpected in each day arriving, yet by paying the deepest attention, every moment is totally unique and a never to be repeated occasion. Each moment holds it’s own, is precious and entirely complete. To love in each moment and not miss the love coming back to you from the broody breast that covers us in the sky and reveals herself in rocks, stones, blades of grass, birdsong, a smile, a hug, even a facebook post of care and compassion – this is central to the pilgrim – to notice, to receive and to bow down with gratitude for the gifts along the journey.
To appreciate we all walk on our own version of limestone, and that historic platform is what helps us traverse. Limestone is our friend, reminding us we are the ones who can walk, we are the ones who go forward on the ground made by tireless work of the elements and creatures before us, we are the privileged and endowed by our ancestors, who forecasted us and who handed us the mantle to go forward in confidence, although perhaps more slowly and carefully, than we might like from time to time.
The landscape changes and limestone gives ways to woods and sand, to hills and plains and then to all hues of green – what Hildegard called viriditas – the greening power of the Divine.
It is in nature we are infused and connected to the ordinary and the excellent, woven together to bring us to take another step forward mysteriously and in the case of walking on limestone, meticulously!
It is inevitable, that paying this much attention, sparks will fly.
“O most honored Greening Force,
You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.
You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.
You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.”
– Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae