Do not measure in terms of time: one year or ten years means nothing.
For the artist there is no counting or tallying up; just ripening
like the tree that does not force its sap and endures the storms
of spring without fearing that summer will not come. But it will come.
It comes, however, only to the patient ones who stand there as if all
eternity lay before them– vast, still, untroubled. I learn this every day
of my life, I learn it from hardships I am grateful for: patience is all.
– Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
What do you do with the push against time? How do you ripen like the tree?
Trees seem to have this kind of patience, taking hundreds of years to mature. Tolkien did a masterful job of portraying their wisdom in his stories of the Ents. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, gives a compelling account of the language of trees, and how they communicate and help each other through sound and scent.*
I have entered another woods here on my retreat at St Meinrad Archabbey. When I arrived, the bells were ringing. I am not Catholic, but find myself here during Holy Week, and the timeless ritual of renewal that comes with spring. These ancient bells are a symbol, and a felt sense, of another kind of time. Our deepest pattern, the one of departure and return, is sounded in their ringing: the exuberance of beginnings, birth, weddings– and the grief of endings.
My most powerful experience of the latter was when I went, for the first time, to the Italian town, Orvieto. It was late morning and I was puzzled because almost all the shops were closed. I found one that was still open, and questioned the owner. She explained (in Italian) that the young man, the teenager, who had designed all the beautiful T-shirts in the shop next door, was dead. She too, closed her shop.
Our purpose of going to Orvieto was to see the magnificent fourteenth century cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So we proceeded along cobblestone streets to the top of the hill, where we could look up hundreds of broad wide steps, and see the duomo. We did not go up, as all was silent. The funeral inside had begun. At the bottom of the steps there were empty chairs and closed shops, so we sat in the silence and waited.
After some time, the cathedral doors open, and people poured out. The silence was deep with grief as six young men carried the black coffin down the long cathedral steps. There were no words– only sobs from people dressed in black, holding on to each other. The coffin moved slowly. When the men reached the shiny black hearse at the bottom, they opened the back end and slid the casket in. When they slammed the door shut, the bright red roses on the coffin were pressed against the glass.
At that moment– the slamming of the rear door– out of the hush came, as if from another place, a spontaneous, robust burst of applause. AlI at once every single person was clapping vigorously. I have never seen or felt anything like this. I found myself wanting to join the applause that was a kind of urgent prayer, an invocation. It is as if they were saying, with all their hearts– to the family, to the lost child, to each other– we are with you, we are with you, we are with you.
The temple bell stops
but I still hear the sound
coming out of the flowers
What are your stories of being stopped? I'd love to hear from you.
*Peter Wolhheben, The Secret Life of Trees