Art by Norman E. Masters
Up until the age of thirty, I was about as spiritual as you could get. In that year there lifted from me a seven year bout of depression, the lifting of which I had associated with my starting to read the Gospel according to Mark. It took me about two years to finish one of the gospels, not being a fast reader, and having to look up many of the Greek phrases. The second thing that happened that year was my refusing ordination and being appointed by the abbot to be the cellarer [business manager] of the community. Of which position, Benedict says, ".let him be a father to all the monks, giving to each according to his needs." These two events moved me from a "spiritual" apogee towards a carnal one some years later. [Btw, do you recognize Gia in the word apogee?]
The following year I set out to live in solitude, carrying all I was to use for two years in a duffle bag and a tool bag. My experience of solitude was very earthy: I ate what I scavenged from the woods and what I grew from the seeds in my duffle bag, I drank and washed with water I carried up from a spring some quarter mile from my cabin. I awoke when I awoke, having no clock or calendar, I ate what I found or grew, having no regime of fasting, and ended with a six foot three frame carrying about one hundred forty five pounds, with little padding.
My meditations were in summer and winter, spent leaning against the cabin and watching the stars and the moon for a couple of hours each early morning. My chanting was reciting what psalms I knew by heart and listening to the evening birds, crickets, tree frogs, and owls respond. An hour or so reading each day from my only book, a bible; and my only writing, scratching marks on a board each day to keep track. In two years I was off three days: percentage-wise, not bad.
What came to me, my second Holy Saturday, was no vision of things heavenly, but a series of very earthly images, smells, sounds and textures, which convinced me of the need to move on from this valley I had come to love so dearly. Our homes in Virginia and on the island are not unlike that cabin and valley in the Appalachia of West Virginia.
Over thirty times, the sun has run his course, since those days until today. During these years, earthy physicality has been the locus through which I walk my days. Spirit comes to me, not from the sky, but it arises out of earth, out of sea and river, it is breathed into me from the mouth of Pegeen, of our dogs and cats, and from each of your mouths. It comes even off the LCD screen of my computer, mediating whatever from you passes through this narrow doorway.