When I was 19 and a freshman at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, I took a Modern Poetry class from Dr. Delaney. I remember standing in line at the little stucco bookstore and spending a fortune on the required texts--R.S. Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas, and Denise Levertov's Evening Train, which is dog-eared and sitting beside me right now. These lines from The Tide have surely appeared here before:
Clean the littered beach, clear
the lines of a forming poem,
the waters flood inward.
Dull stones again fulfill
their glowing destinies, and emptiness
is a cup, and holds
I love these lines so much. I might want them read at my funeral. They have sustained me many times. Especially in this post-election season when I'm feeling loss, loneliness, and heartbreak, I hear these themes:
We can't be filled until we're emptied. The tide can't rush in unless there's an empty beach. We won't get the goods--relationship, purpose, connection, peace--unless we let ourselves experience emptiness. We Westerners hate to hear this, but we're about to learn the hard way.
The waters flood inward. The real riches available to each of us have little to do with what's outside of us and everything to do with the inner lives we cultivate. When our health, mental capacity, popularity, or retirement accounts run out, it's only the life of the heart that's left.
Our destinies are glowing. Not in the sleazy "health and wealth" or "power of positive thinking" kinds of ways, but in the way that Love Wins. In the way that, when we live examined lives and are faithful to "clean the littered beach," we can fully become ourselves.
Big things happen in small spaces. "...emptiness/ is a cup, and holds/the ocean." When the clearing and emptying happens and when we don't rush to fill it with work, affirmation, possessions, and busyness. our souls become vast oceans full of possibility, life, motion, crests and troughs.
Tomorrow is the last day of Advent, so I've got to pull one more reflection out of the hat. As I've told several of you, I sit down about 9:00 each night, open my laptop, look at the cursor, and trust that something will appear. The beach has seemed empty many nights, but the waters have always rushed in. I've learned to trust that will happen--some experience or moment during the day will become "glowing".
Thanks for patrolling these Advent shores with me. It's so beautiful to see the tide come in and go out.