For meditation this morning (for how else would you describe it) I read the last fifty pages of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Then I walked the mile to the town library and collected some new pages to consider.
On the way back I passed a yellow farmhouse—the tractor and the corn wagon were parked across the street in a field of pending silage—where I heard a knocking hand against glass. I looked up to see a child, little more than a baby, pressed against the window. Bleached blonde hair and fair skin, a square head, and curious eyes were set in the lower corner of the white trim frame on the second story of this butter-colored house.
I smiled. I had two hardbacks in my hand, wrapped in their glossy covers. Two authors I’ve not read before. A brimming excitement.
I kept walking, and the child tapped again. And again I looked up and smiled, turning back over my shoulder this time before I disappeared into the eaves of a tree.
The child tapped again.
Has there been a more exquisite moment? Ever?
I was thinking, after just completing To the Lighthouse, that atheism and a certain breed of mysticism—an ecstatic consciousness as one writer described it—do not appear to be mutually exclusive, at least in the hands of Virginia Woolf. One does not need to invoke any particular religious trappings to savor the ecstatic whorl of an oar dipped in the current, to extend a feeling of warmth across the waters to a drifting man, to contact the rush of loneliness that sneaks in and leaves us winded, that lingers in the corners of a room, of a mind, of a place—in the stitching of cloth, the hues and contours of flowers, the positions of empty chairs.
I loved the way thought dips and soars in this book. It settles on a branch, quivers along its body then plunges into the sky, in every direction at once—a shimmering, croaking cloud of wings—swoops, then alights again, coalescing upon a wire. Now a line. Now a thicket of longing and wonder. Now the two persons along the path, their futures uncertain, the sky tenuous and sparkling. The rush of water against the rocks down below.
What I love is that this imminence is the thing itself, in Woolf’s writing. At least for me it is. It is not reducible to explanation. The characters are all adrift in this brilliant tumble. As we are. And I think if we could just have this, if we could just let it be and not pick at it, and not insist that it is equivalent to this or that underlying progression of digital commutations of which the world is composed, we would be alright.
If the play of the sun on leaves and the warble of a bird’s knowing could just be what they are, we could discover the extravagant, all-encompassing solitude that occupies the middle—the space between a world reducible to atoms, or reducible to God, and illumination could find us. We could transcend the franchises that occupy and cordon our thought. Our knowing. For there is a sort of knowing that is all at once, isn’t there?
I think there must be something real in the tenor and tremble of our experience. An irreducible might—a silent, shining vision. Something that can reach through a child leaning against a knee-high pane of glass, and tap on the window as we stroll along, to say hello.