Monday, September 10, 2012

Terrifying Angels

"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, 
which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying."

-Rilke, Duino Elegies

Dawn was cooler than usual this morning. I wake up at six to get ready for work, and for months now it has been sticky and warm outside, with the sun already brightening my street. Today, I got chills as I walked out into the half-light. Did this happen so suddenly, or was I simply too busy to be aware of the subtleties of seasonal change? It reminded me of something I realized when I was in... let's call it "governmental custody": when I am not around, things are still happening, and even if I am there--whether I take the time to appreciate it or not--everything is moving and changing all around me. I find the greatest beauty in this.

Once, at Mepkin, I walked out of Vespers and sat in a chair out on the bluff behind the church. The sun was setting, and its slanting rays were creeping across the grass, silhouetting the trees over the river. I was staring blankly at the grass just in front of me, working beads and muttering the Russian pilgrim's prayer, when the sun's rays lit the green blades on fire with golden light. The mantra in my mind stopped instantly. For a moment, I encountered reality completely. And it scared the shit out of me.

When the fire in the grass faded and shadows again covered my feet, I took a few moments to breathe deeply and walked to my cell (yes, monks call their rooms cells). I thought long and hard about what I had seen and why I had felt fear in the face of it. Over time, I came to realize that true beauty is terrifying because it shows us how small we are in this world, and how large we must also be to have the ability to recognize it. Beautiful, terrifying things happen every day, every moment.

It is chilly out in the morning now; the world is changing again. It happens whether or not we care to take notice and appreciate it. Our ability to see shows us how small we really are. But we are divine because we can notice and respond with gratitude. The universe is a frighteningly big place, yet I am alive and play a part.

There is nothing more incredible than being alive.

1 comment:


    The full poem