Monday, January 19, 2009

Wide-Eyed Amid Brilliance

The clock chimes a little past four. I rise from my narrow bed, dress quickly, and step into the frigid air. The half moon has long since set, but the light of a thousand stars illuminates the path. Only occasionally do I flash my small light to distinguish the white of the plowed walkway from the thicker white at its edges. The only sound on the ten-minute walk is the steady crunch of my boots against snow. A deep stillness fills this bowl of a valley, and me with it.

I've come to the Trappist monastery at Snowmass for a writing retreat. I didn't realize when I registered that we would be permitted, even welcomed, into the periods of worship held throughout the day.

I arrive at the building that houses the chapel. The entrance brings me into the small bookstore, with its array of works from various contemplative traditions. I remove my gloves, coat, and scarf, and leave them here. As I wrap my shawl close against the cool air, a bell gently but clearly peals from the tower above, signaling that it is nearly time to begin.

I walk down the tiled hallway, open the wooden door, step into the chapel. Monks, in robes glowing white in the dim light, sit in prayer on the simple benches of this upper room. I sit, too, and my breath settles into an easy rhythm.

A monk rises behind me, robes shuffling, and pulls a rope that stretches to the belfry far above. Clapper strikes cast metal once, twice, three times. Silence returns. Morning vigil begins.

The monks rise together and descend the few steps to the main room of the chapel, taking their place in a semi-circle of chairs. Another extended silence.

And then, chanting.

Rich baritones rise and fall in monophonic song, resonant voices reverberating from unadorned walls. The fullness of the sound seizes me, carries me with it, until silence returns once more.

A monk rises, crosses to the corner, switches on a small lamp, and reads Psalm 108: My heart is ready, oh God: I will sing and will give praise, with my glory.

These words, intoned in this sacred place and moment, break through the confines of my small self. My heart is ready...and it bursts.

The previous afternoon, I had written of how the whiteness of fresh snow intensified the brilliance of the sun's rays and led me “to squint despite my hunger for just such a brightness.” These words return to me now, and I vow to not look away, no matter how vivid the radiance. As thoughts call out to me, I pay them no heed. I open again and again to the Light.

As the service continues, chanting, sacred readings, and silence weave together, and I am twined within them, vaguely aware at times of tears streaming down my cheeks.


I am home now. As these words flow through my fingers and onto the keyboard, I return to that small chapel in the northern mountains. I realize that events were configured in such a way during that weekend that I was able to open to something that is always present, ceaselessly available. I open once again now.

We don't have to travel to a monastery or rise at 4 a.m. We need only quiet ourselves and turn to face the brilliance. And try, as best we can, not to squint.

May you turn, wide~eyed, toward that radiance this day.


Loanne Marie


Claire said...

A big sigh releases from me as I finish reading your latest essay.
Since January 1st, I have "meditated" each day, at least 20 minutes, usually 30 - 40 minutes. Most times, I am gently aware of my mind's wanderings, which fade as soon as they are observed, and I am once again brought back to center. Several times, in the midst of Quiet Mind, I am on the verge of being the brilliance I sense. Thus far, I have been unable to let go completely into the Light Bliss/ Pure Joy/ Peace That Surpasses Understanding. Soon. Thank you, once again, for the guided tour through your experience, a truly enlightening sharing.

Loanne Marie said...

Thank you so much for writing, Claire. Rather than merging completely, for me it is often a matter of becoming just a bit more open than before~~or perhaps closing my eyes less and less as I continue to squint!


Loanne Marie

Claire said...

"Becoming just a bit more open" fits for me. Ego takes on the observing role, and cautions me not to let go. I then observe the caution sign, it dissipates, and I am one step closer to basking in pure light. My eyes are wide open, my essence is opening slowly as a flower as ego fades more and more. A fascinating process, one that I cherish every step of the way. Blessings!

Loanne Marie said...

I'm glad that helped. But I don't want to mislead anyone. I spend a fair amount of time while meditating focusing on my tight left shoulder or mired in some variation of my to-do list. But there are those moments....

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