“I have my books
and my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock;
I am an island.”
from “I am a Rock,” Paul Simon
It’s been a strange Spring; a gross understatement, I think we’d all agree. Nearly two months ago, at the onset of the shelter-in-place order, I wrote on this blog space: “We are filled with anxiousness – not only for ourselves, but also for those we love deeply and care about, both family and friends. What will happen to us? To them? What will happen next – next week, next month, next year?”
And here we are – two months later, still asking the same questions, tempered by the reality that we have seen changes – both drastic and tragic. I have had acquaintances struck by COVID-19, two quarantined and isolated at home, two others hospitalized – one recovered, the other passed away. I stopped teaching my class at Memphis College of Art in-person; my last physical meeting with my students was March 6. Classes continued on-line, ended, and my students graduated – virtually – and now the school closed its doors for good. Strange days, indeed!
And as I noted back in March, “In a world where all seems so chaotic, what I’ve found is that reading, reflection, and prayer have provided moments of solace and respite to those pressing questions . . .” and to that regimen, I’ve added walking – walking three or four times a day with my dog Winslow. And what I’ve found is that walking has become, for me, a spiritual practice and a time for observing and meditation. In walking and observing and reflecting, I have discovered that walking is a means for engagement, a direct connection to the world, and to the self.
And I have recognized that in walking, this connection to the world is the antithesis to Simon’s tune. A number of critics have felt “I am a Rock” was Simon’s response to John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” –
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
from “Meditation XVII,” John Donne
And yet the metaphor that Donne extends, being a part of the whole, the main, a piece of the continent, works so well when one considers the walk as and views oneself as a part of the natural world. And in doing so, one can also see that what is important is the walk itself. I have a dear friend who reminds me that it is not the destination that’s most important; it’s the journey – the life on the road. The walk, the journey, the quest are key in a game of lost and found. A key strategy for finding the self is to get lost. Even John Newton (“Amazing Grace”) recognized the value of the journey through life’s ups and downs as he “once was lost, but now am found . . . And grace will lead [him] home.”
The whole image of the path, the way, is fundamental to our faith and the Gospel. Consider Psalm 16: 11 – Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face. Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right way. (MSG) as well as Psalm 119: 105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (NSRV) and in Isaiah 40 we find – “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (vv. 3 – 4, NRSV)
Christ himself spoke and lived the Psalms and began His ministry reading from the book of Isaiah, and in one of His final conversations with His disciples, He told them (and us), “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life.” (John 14: 6, MSG)
The other day I was watching a little known, independent film A Boy Called Sailboat (Find it! Watch it! I heartily recommend it!), and one line resonated with me: “You find the most important things when you’re not looking.” Open yourself to discovery when you read, when you walk, when you reflect, when you pray – you’ll discover the important things – within and without!