(Photo courtesy of Rose)
One of the truly wonderful things about living in this part of the world is the abundance of wildlife which is to be encountered, most especially on the edge of the sea. Even with the 'pressures of work', there is scarce a week goes by without a visit to one of the very many beaches hereabouts. These special places, often deserted, are places of encounter with penguins or the Northern Royal Albatross, that has its crib hereabouts, or any number of seals and sea lions. Such encounters are often times of gift which I am slowly learning to be more grateful for
To digress for a moment, when I was a youngster living on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District I rarely if ever tramped the hills and I find there are a surprising number of folk who never seem to take the time for beaches and wildlife here, too. A Fresh Eye, as I discovered when I moved back to the North of England in later years is a Great Gift. 'Can anything Good come out of Nazareth? asks one who has 'seen it all'
Walking on the aptly named Long Beach this last week, on a day not suited for beaches and thus perfect for beaches, a day of rain and dense sea mist shrouding trees and cliffs on the shore line, of a heavy swell brooding with promise of more rain to come - I chanced upon a large fur seal. Stood some distance away as I was I don't think I disturbed him, they seem pretty imperturbable creatures, but he chose that moment to get up from his sandy repose and in that gloriously awkward yet graceful way of a creature only half formed for the land, made his way back into the waves. There is something full of wonder at such moments. Seals seem happy enough on shore, but for a few moments as they are in the shallows you behold their Joy as they come into their Home environment.
And I was very blessed in that moment, for I caught myself out of myself, rejoicing with the seal in its Joy. I saw myself taking pleasure purely in the pleasure of another. For a moment, freed from my usual posture of incurvatus se (turned in on myself). The seal was Happy and so was I. I was engaged in the joy of an other. It was Great Gift and led me to think of many such glimpses I have of the Heavenly life in others.
I was led to think of one dear friend amongst many who often faces circumstances which threaten to overwhelm and yet who seems to have an infinite capacity to rejoice with others, to take sheer delight in another's delight. It is in them, truly a well of water springing up to eternal life. For me they have often exemplified the Excurvatus life - the turned out life, the life which is Other focussed.
It occurs to me that it is in this self letting go that we discover Life. Christ calls us frequently to let go of our life to discover Life. Often I have reflected on the thought that forgiveness is commanded as much if not more for the one who needs to forgive, than for the one who needs to be foregiveness - that it is in the radical letting go of all our own troubles that we step into something of Great Wonder.
Somewhat amusingly, given the source, I was further taken down this path of reflection by some words of the famous scientist Stephen Hawking who turned 70 this past week. Hawking although of a fairly atheist set of mind, does not waste his energies on the noisy proclamations of some of his fellows, although one might think he would have cause to, if that is he were turned in on himself. The gifted cosmologist has spent the vast majority of his 70 years profoundly disabled by Lou Gehrig's disease, a form of Motor Neurone Disease and yet he says 'The human race is so puny compared to the universe that being disabled is not of much cosmic significance'. Hawking takes great delight in something which is so incomprehensibly vast that he sees his own suffering in a totally different light. There is at the least an echo here of losing life and so finding it.
Over the past few months I have been reflecting over and again about the significance of the First Commandment and latterly of the Truth that Human life 'properly conceived' - i.e. born again, is pure response to the Word of God, such that it is the most profound of dances - a liberty and freedom. That it is only in loving God with all we have and all we are - with all of our resources so that there is nothing left for incurvatus self absorption, that we are set free to truly love others, to rejoice as they rejoice and indeed to mourn as they mourn.
Learning from my friend and watching the seal helped me see this better - I Need to Get Out more