Summer

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My senses prickled to the presence of the Otherworld. I saw everything in sharp relief: the risen moon, the bear, the men holding the torches, Uther, the glinting point of the spears, the stars, Pelleas, the hardness of the wall, the stones at my feet, the silent dogs…
It was a dream and more than a dream. The dream had become reality — or reality had become a dream. These times are rare — who is to say where the truth lies? Afterwards, men shake their heads in wonder and endure the scoffing of those who were not present. For it cannot be explained, only experienced. But this is what happened:
Uther boldly approached the bear and the animal lowered its head and dropped onto its forefeet. The High King held out his hand to the beast, and the bear, like a hound recognising its master, pushed its muzzle into the High King`s palm. With his other hand, Uther stroked the bear’s huge head.
Men stared in astonishment: their lord and a wild bear, greeting one another as old friends. Perhaps, in some inexplicable way, they were.
I will never know what Uther thought he was doing, for he could never remember it clearly. But the two stood this way for a space of a few heartbeats, then Uther lowered his hand and turned away.
Stephen Lawhead, Merlin

 

 

 

 

Not long ago, in the time when I was most happy and forgetful, there were many summers.

They were all different, surpassing one another in beauty; they danced a colourful, unforgettable dance. Yes, those summers had colours, wild, happy, and alive – the madness of the lights in a nightclub, the playfulness of the eternal sparkle in the eyes of beautiful strangers, the redness of a sunrise, seen through weary eyes from a beach that still bore the marks of the night. They had smells too – the smell of perfume and cocktails, of sea and sun-lotion; the sweet, stinging smell of whisky and the stale, dusty smell of the white powder, close and intimate and uplifting – a friend hidden in the pocket, a trusted ally in the battle for eternal joy.

Those summers connected me to other seekers – some were close, some not so much, and it seemed in those days, that nobody was being used, and everybody was completely happy.

But in my happiness, I hid; in my connectedness, I was cut off; I was disconnected – divorced from myself and from all others. For I did not know that my heart was left behind…

I did not know that I had lost my summer.

And so I grasped for those summers and I made them stay. They lasted long and my soul was free. There was no care, no harm, and no focus  –  I needed freedom and I had all I wanted.

But it did not last.

No matter how deep was the division within me, no matter how dark the grave that I had dug for my heart, the heart was not dead and it did not sleep; it was awake and it had great hunger.

It did not want to simply smell the sweetness in the air as we celebrated our youth beneath a sky that promised memories; it did not want to look into the deep eyes, that starry darkness, shining with proud beauty; it did not want to merely taste of the aromas, feel the budding feelings, drink from the rich laughter…

The heart wanted life; it searched for the life it once had and the world it had been made for. All the pleasures I gave it did nothing to appease its hunger. They only numbed me, so I could not see that they were mere signals and signs; they pointed to one different reality, to a world where everything is at it should be; where no pleasure is unlawful and no good sensation ever brings pain. A world where goodness endures and fulfilment is eternal.

This is what my heart was hungry for. And this is why I knew no rest.

My heart was on its search for summer.

I am thankful today that even the retreat from any deep feeling, that armour woven back in the unsteady days of my childhood, could not keep me from sensing the disturbance. I am grateful that even my life on the surface, when I lived in that shallow, happy place, could not keep me from feeling the tremors that shook the depths.

It is easy to feel happy when you are not yourself; pleasure is all you need. It is easy for an actor to play roles, for this is what an actor does best. But roles do not last and if masks are not taken off, they will rot and eat away at the face behind it.

On a day when I had not succeeded to keep the facade of happiness from crumbling; when some strange weakness came upon me, usually brought forth by something which seemed small and insignificant, I could not retreat too quickly from my feelings. A hint of rejection, a scratch of humiliation or exposure…then, it came; it always came, that message from the depths. Sadness, deep and old, darkened the horizon of my hopes. A hand that had no form yet seemed somehow familiar, reached out from another world, from beyond time, and gripped my trembling soul. The sadness often came when I looked upon the past; it came when I allowed my eyes to stray and rest unchecked on a forgotten sight; it came if I allowed myself to think too deeply, when I allowed my soul to be haunted by its own desires.

So I ran, though I did not know it. I ran from the sights and the smells; I ran from the familiar roofs and from those who lived beneath them; I ran from the old friends who I thought no longer fitted my new world.

Little did I know how much the old world yearned to return.

For me, summer was a time of eternal sights and unforgettable smells, a time when time did not exist and when all life sang an immortal song, a song of being.

Sunshine. Vines. Lazy skies. Cobwebs carried by the wind…

And creatures. Creatures that gripped my heart and stirred it to life, creatures that awoke wonder from beyond this world, and told me story after story without uttering a word. In a hushed awe, I watched as mysteries unfolded before my eyes, day after day.

A stag beetle with majestic antlers. A buzzard, soaring high, right above our house. Bee-eaters, each a small explosion of colours, livening the bleached sky with their loud, extravagant presence. A snake – a gleaming stream of quicksilver, swiftly moving among the plants; a vagabond that lived a hated, outlawed life, waiting for the time of its vindication. Storks – many of them, circling the high blue vastness in morning; owls, calling to each other in the evening; a beech marten — a fleeting glimpse of a bushy tail on the roof at night:

It all existed once, and I lost it.

Embittered at the world and my inability to grow, and fit in it and become the man I wanted to be, I cursed it all, forfeiting summer forever. Thus, I passed from the life of summer – that one summer, permanent and eternal — into the realm of many summers, a world of empty promises and shadows. The summers came and went, each taking a part of me with it – a precious part that they had no right to take if I had not myself given it freely. I was stranded in a lonely island, where I survived as best I could.

But all was not lost.

Summer, though shunned from my life, waited for me, even as I was searching for it.

It called to me – the sights, the smells, the very breath of the village – connecing me to that which I unknowingly ran from.

I avoided nature, and I hid from the creatures, for they brought forth the child in me, that self which I so hated. This was the self about which I had once believed lies, the self I saw as weak, slow, and stupid, and it was my hatred for that weak self which drove me away from it, and away from all that reminded me of it – away from the village and those old secret places, away from the fishing and the woods; away from the people too. It was not that I purposely avoided those places and people, back in those years of numb blindness; I simply needed to feel less. I needed to see and feel less of them, less about them and toward them, because I needed to feel less of my own hated self. For that self, the self I saw as pitiful and childish, was now buried deeply and I did not want to resurrect it; it was dead, and for this I was glad.

In the presence of such greatness – the greatness of the place where I was once alive, the greatness of those people`s older, but unchanged selves – I could not help but feel, and feeling was what I wished to escape. So I barred my soul against the power of that place; I shunned the people, even though I still sat with them, listened to them, and laughed with them; I shunned them in my heart, just like I had shunned it, that very heart, and allowed it no depth, and no true desire. For me, the loss was final, and those obstinate old people and things; those sites that still kept the fossils and remnants of my eternally lost paradise, had to be kept at bay. They had to be seen as rarely as possible, lest they opened that door within me which no man can shut, the door to grief and madness; the door through which a life of youth and promise would go, and disappear forever. No, I did not want that door to open, I hated to even think of that lost self. That child had too much pain and too much sorrow; he did not fit into the brave new world. He had too much hope for old, lost glory, and this is why I sentenced him to death.

But he lived, and from his grave, he reached for his summer.

And more and more often, I found myself beholding the old, familiar sights, listening to and telling stories which should have long been forgotten, and sitting on the bench in front of our house, looking at the street where I had once played with my friends. Often at least one of those friends would be with me, there in that place which kept so many memories.

In those moments, the place beckoned me; it those times summer rose from its grave and was again, though still only in my heart…

There, on the spot where more than two decades before a child had played and laughed with that immortal glory still sparkling in his eyes, I now sit, I listen, and I live as if I had never left the place…as if I had never left that boy behind, locked deep within me, darkened by shame and lies, laden with worries and burdens, haunted by unseen terrors. No, for although I had once shunned him, he is now mine. I have fought hard for him, and I have fought hard for summer, and despite the heavy loss, despite the suffering and all the pain, I have prevailed. He is now free, and this writing comes from his true home, the place where summer resides.

Although the war has not yet ended, the battle had been won.

Sitting there, under that eternal sky, on that eternal street, surrounded by birdsong and fading glory, I marvel – could it really be true?

Yes.

Summer is returning.

Roots – Part 2

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What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The street I was standing on had the appearance of a street that had two faces, or two natures. The old houses at its bottom revealed something of its darker past, while the modern ones at the top showed much warmer, more presentable character, as well as a desire to be in the present, and not look back.

A desire to forget their roots…

Yes. The new and modern design of the last houses, their wealth and beauty, looked like their owners had intended to clothe the past with new garments, to dress it with rich and beautiful clothes; they had attempted to transform their houses – they lives – into something radically different from the life of their ancestors. A noble task indeed, and a good desire, for we all know the dark sides of our past; most of us remember well the shame of our family, community, state, or nation. But there is one problem with this way of dealing with the shadows of the past.

It does not work.

One look at the modern buildings confirmed it. I examined one of the new houses and was stunned to see that everything about it – its very shape – was a reminder of its past. The house did not simply carry a memory of its roots. The house was its roots, for, just like a tree cannot stand without its physical roots, a house cannot exist without its roots which, though unseen, stretch far back in time and go deep into the heart of the world, deeper than the roots of any tree. We all have roots; we all have history.

Most of our history is not ours at all, and this perhaps explains the vengeance with which we attack and attempt to cover and erase all that is dark in our family history, that unwanted part of the heritage we have all received from our parents and theirs. But our attempts, as noble as they might be, do not serve a right purpose; nor can they be successful in redeeming our bloodline. Fought in this way, even the most righteous of wars will be lost. Alas, this is the story of most of us; we have not fought well; we have not swung the sword in the right direction, and, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all been defeated. You can see that defeat in the eyes of the father who, after years of fierce battle with his hidden addictions and compulsions, discovers that his young son is now tormented by the same afflictions, and that, despite the father’s heroic efforts, the darkness has been passed on. You can see it in the confused eyes of the aging man who, after a lifetime of denouncing the ways of his harsh and abusive father, is still lacking the masculine identity and the inner strength that only a strong but loving father could have bestowed upon him. Or in the face of the woman who has lived under a terrible (or, for that matter, a passive and emotionally absent) father, and then, for some inexplicable and tragic reason, falls in love and again becomes chained; enslaved by her love, or rather, her need for the same kind of man – abusive or passive – as her own father had been, the very man whom she had resented for years.

No, roots are not to be denounced; neither are they to be embraced blindly. Indeed, there is another way in which a redemptive battle can be lost. It happens when one, often in a sincere attempt to honor one’s bloodline, chooses to overlook their sins, their afflictions, and their darkness. Such a person remains ever distant from his real roots; too busy defending the castle from the outside, he can never get inside and see the true hearts of his people, the hearts that have undoubtedly passed true, unique blessings to him – blessings that often remain unseen, unacknowledged; precious gifts that are never truly received. Always defensive and overly protective of their family’s name, these people are often the first to ‘honor’ and ‘serve’ it, but their motive is as perverted as the ones who denounce their kin outright. This is indeed a kind of denunciation, since such approach does not allow for real closeness with the family members in question, not even a frank look at their true nature. There is no real examination of their good, their evil, and their own heritage, and therefore, there can be no true forgiveness and no subsequent discovery of their true hearts, and the story of their own personal harm. As opposed to demonisation and hatred, this way of relating is far more subtle and so, even more destructive.

I know that well, for I have lived with this particular affliction most of my life. It is only in the recent years, and after a series of events with deep and life-changing consequences, that my inner outlook on life, other people, and myself, began to change. Never before have I experienced such suffering, yet I would not trade those times for anything in the world. Pain, when it is left unaddressed, festers in the soul; it poisons us and it clips our wings, and, though we do not even suspect it is there, it slowly drains the joy out of our lives. I know this now, yet for decades I did not. Indeed, in my blindness then, I even thought I was happy – as happy as a human can be, as I often put it. But I was wrong, and my heart was hiding great pain. It was the pain that made me run from my roots, and it was the pain that made me blind to them, to their greatness and to their curse.

You see, when was old enough, I ran from my roots physically; but also, and most of all, I ran spiritually. My soul needed to run; it longed to travel far and away from what I knew as my roots. And although, as I said, I have only recently began my return, I am discovering that the return takes me far deeper than that place, so pitifully shallow now, where I once thought I belonged. Oh no, roots are deeper, and roots endure.

Since my first years, I could never bring myself to say, or even think, anything negative about my father. To me, my father was not merely a god; he was God. This is how I grew up, and this is what I believed, deep in my wounded, confused soul. I was not aware of that, of course, and did not became aware of it until, after my first brief encounter with the Truth, I one day found myself in a men`s group. Those men had all been walking the road to wholeness for some time, and all of them said, or hinted in some way, that I (like all people, they insisted) may have a problem with my father, and only a willingness to acknowledge that, and look at my inner life closely, could bring about the change I seemed to be so hungry for. I was hurt, and, deep down, I was very angry. To me, this could not be further from the truth; my father was a good man — their fathers were not. I stubbornly clung onto this belief until, in time, both pain and grace helped me in my desire to open my heart and look inside of it for the first time. What I saw was darkness, hatred, and terror, and to my utmost horror I discovered that my father was not what I thought he was; he had never been what I had so desperately wanted him to be. For the little boy within me, the man I had always called my father and had so adored, was a stranger; he was also an enemy. To my true heart – that self I was born with, that should have been nourished, loved and accepted as it was – my father was a merciless god; a god on whose approval depended the very life of the boy I once was. Although, in worldly standards, he was indeed a good man, indeed, a great man and an example to all, he failed to embrace and love me; he was cold when he should have been gentle; he was absent when he should have been present and involved in the small details of his son’s life. His virtues were impossible for me to attain, and his character I could never hope to emulate – he was a god too high for me, but I had no other god to worship. It was that need, among other things, which twisted my soul; it was that helpless frustration with myself which forced my heart to tremble in fear and hate itself, believing that I am no good and will indeed never be good. Such beliefs are like poison to the soul and in time become tools for forging the self most of us wear like a mask to ensure our acceptance by those around us – the performer, the joker, the smart one, the macho man, the good girl – oh, so many are the faces of the broken self!

But there is hope. And I am here to tell you that freedom is possible, and that, even what we may now call our character, can change. But it is hard. A journey must first be taken. A quest through darkness, a mission that promises hardship and unexpected twists; a pilgrimage which offers only grief and sorrow…on this journey, pain is a constant companion.

Yet, underneath the pain, there is gold. The roots also are there.

You see, what I just told you about – my blind worship of my father, the false face and self I have had all of my life – has, in part, already become history. There is of course more – more to leave behind and more to receive — but the way I now live; the way I now see others and myself — yes, even my father — has been forever altered. My heart is now free and is not tied to any, save for those to whom I wish to give it. There is no sickness in the blood ties; there is no dependence; there are no taboos, and there are no idols.

Freedom is attainable, but it is only gained when we are hungry enough, or indeed, desperate enough, and so are resolved to face the great wave of pain at last, and instead of swimming away from it, we choose to swim towards it, and plunge into the darkest depths. There, in the deep, are the wave’s roots, and there we discover that its roots are made of water – the same water that gives life, and does not kill. Thus, in our abandon of life, we find it. This has all been spoken of, and this has all been taught. And the Man who once taught it is teaching it to us still…

Seek the narrow gate. Lose your life, so you can find it.

How have you tried to cover up your roots? Have you, like the people on that Spanish street, painted the ‘house’ of your soul and body; have you changed its doors, or remodeled its roof? What are you running from?

Did you, perhaps out of hurt, shock and embarrassment, renovate your house on the outside, doing your utmost to change its appearance and identity, while sacrificing and losing much in the process? Or did you, perhaps out of fear – fear to disobey, fear to dishonor – choose to remain blind to all darkness, hastily covering all stains and blemishes as soon as they are exposed by the events of life?

Do you disown those whose lives were meant to uphold yours; those whose name was meant to make you proud, but instead have brought you only anger and shame? Or do you worship them like I once did, choosing to ‘see only the good’ about them in an outward act which can be performed truthfully only after the ‘bad and the ugly’ – their darkness – has also been seen and looked at; only after it has been stared in the face, and its hold over your life broken and released.

No, this is not the way of hope; it is not the way of love and true redemption. Roots must be uncovered, wounds must be entered, and pain must be felt… There is darkness in the roots, I know; yes, there is poison there that kills…

But hear this:

 

Beneath all shame, there lies a noble heart.

Behind a twisted face, there hides a treasure, and an art.

The coward wasn’t born one, and the whore in secret weeps.

Beneath the mire runs pure red blood; the yoke of shame the soul in torment keeps.

Roots must not be forgotten; pain must not be left unwept.

The cave of the ages must at last be opened, and the brave must enter its depth.

Only then will blood become true blood; only then will the storm stop its raging.

If we are cut off from our roots, in sorrow we will be aging.

Roots – Part 1

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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

 

Whenever I am abroad, if I can help it, I try to avoid the noise and the glamour of the so-called popular destinations, those places that tourists so love. I like to feel close to the country and its people, and I like to immerse myself in their life, a life which is often very different from my own…

I returned from Spain last night. There, for about two and a half weeks, my wife, myself, and our little daughter, spent time with relatives who live there, in a place called Alfafar, just a few miles from the heart of Valencia. Apart from one trip to the city center, and our almost daily journeys to the beaches of a village called El Saler, we did not travel much. But every evening, when the sun was still strong but no longer as malicious as it was earlier in the day, I took a stroll down the streets and squares of Alfafar. I sat in coffee shops and pubs; I watched the local people and tasted their drink and their food. I also tasted a little of their life – its sorrows and its joys. And even though my understanding of Spanish is incredibly limited, I finally succeeded, to a point, in immersing myself into a life that was indeed quite different from my own.

I must admit here that I am seldom able to do that—I am rarely fully present, and I am almost never fully open to others and indeed myself. But I have tasted a little from that manna from heaven; I have felt the joy of real connection, and so I know that, when one is close to such a state of childlike abandon of self and its unashamed openness to the world, one is able to fully connect with oneself and with others. But it is namely this, the openness, the vulnerability, that scares us, even to the point of death. Is it easy to see then, why most of us are in constant in motion, constantly running — either in our minds, or our bodies, or both — and trying to avoid the danger or being exposed to our own selves, as well as to any other person?

Fear drives us and we run like cattle.

Always trying to get a good look inside myself — for I know that this is where the treasure lay – buried, soiled, and darkened, but a treasure nevertheless — I have learned to examine the seemingly small details of my inner life, even the very way in which I examine these details. And thus, whenever an impulse seizes me, and winds stronger than my will or reason sweep me off my feet; whenever I am met by some force – a dark, fierce, and overpowering one, as in the times when I have both suffered and caused destruction, or a gentle, mysterious, and alluring one, as in the times when more life and redemption has come my way — in such moments, I look, and I listen.

You see, in my ‘natural’ introversion, I still, though now far less often than before, occasionally find myself in a state of depression, a dark and gloomy prison, patrolled and guarded day and night by the agents of self-hatred and shame; strewn with the watchtowers bearing the mark of my old enemy — the venomous and immobilising judgment of myself which, aided by the barbed wire of a mind busy like a beehive that has been kicked and turned over, makes escape almost impossible. It is not so much that I am a better seer and a better listener than others, but when one is locked in such a prison for years, there is very little that one can do but to look and to listen. Thus, long before I could even conceive that an escape is possible and freedom is available, I became the seer and the listener that I am now. And, by the unfathomable grace and bottomless mercy of God, I have for the most part retained this ability to see and hear things deeper than their outward appearance.

I was not in the prison on that day, the day I came back from my walk, but I was slowly heading toward its black gates; the darkness of its walls loomed near, though I was not yet within their grasp. But my head was beginning to hang down in apathy and, as what I counted as the best part of the day slowly ran between my fingers, my soul began its rapid retreat to its old hateful but familiar hiding place of passivity and paralysis. As all other systems prepared for a shutdown, the mind readied itself for its overtime. Doing what I have always done since childhood, and meanwhile hating myself for my weakness, I began to slowly succumb to the ‘natural’ forces of my life, tired and powerless to resist their onslaught. At that moment, I passed by a long, straight and narrow street on my right. Being already very close to my destination, my thoughts which were by then running wild and uncontrolled, galloping all over my inner space, were interrupted by something which did not come from the mind. It came from somewhere deeper, and for a moment, before it was overpowered and drowned by the mind`s endless chatter, tireless reasoning, and unwanted flashbacks, stood out, causing everything else to fade. In a second, it was gone, and I decided to keep walking. But, knowing better than to dismiss even the smallest and seemingly insignificant movements, impulses, and desires of the heart, I slowed down and, still with some hesitation, finally halted to a stop. What was it about that street that haunted me so? What gave my heart such a pull? And what was the thing that was trying to prevent me from finding out — was it the loneliness that I felt as I first glanced at the deserted street; was it its resemblance to the other empty streets I had seen in my life, perhaps those empty, dead streets back home — the streets filled with houses in which lived no people but only the memories of them? There was not much chance of finding out, unless I turned back.

After a few impatient strides, I was at the bottom of the street, where it joined the main one on which I was standing. It was an old street, the type of which, prior to my first visit to Spain two years back, I had only seen in films. I found it very strange that there were no parked cars and no pedestrians walking on it. For what seemed like a long time, I stood and watched it — the old wooden doors, the high walls, cracked by the sun, broken and eroded by the merciless onslaught of earthly time. My soul was flooded with the echoes of times long past. No cars passed during those moments, and no people.

I sighed. The sigh expressed my frustration at the inability to fully grasp what the ancient reality of the street was telling me, and perhaps the impossibility of being one  with life and immersed into its secrets — the secrets of that street and also my own. Those secrets, as deep calls unto deep, called upon each other; they attracted each other, making my rational mind (with my somewhat reluctant permission), nothing but a bystander and a witness to this great mystery…

Most of the houses at the beginning of the street were old, and carried the aura of those mythical scenes I remembered from those films, books, or paintings, the titles and names of which I have long forgotten, or have been too young to remember. A hero returning from exile or battle could have once walked that street and placed his hand on the same iron knocker that I was beholding, now old and eaten by rust. An old woman had perhaps opened the heavy wooden door once, to say to someone standing outside that his loved one or his family no longer lived there. Who knows who had entered and left through that door, back in the ages past? A soldier with uniform and a rifle perhaps, a tired miner with a black face and ragged clothes, or a well-dressed diplomat or a lawyer with a mustache…who knows.

As I neared the middle of the street, I began noticing that there were more and more new and flashy houses, far more here than there had been at the beginning of the street. By the time I reached the end, I was seeing only new and modern houses, houses which form and design hadn’t changed that much at all; what had been changed, however, was the outside layer of what made a house a house — the materials of which things were made, the walls, the doors. Instead of the old weather-beaten and creaky doors, those houses had firm and heavy metal doors, or doors made from new wood; instead of the old rusty wrought-iron hinges, they had new gleaming ones; their walls did not have bare patches that revealed old clay bricks — they were strong, thick, and covered in marble or painted with a firm, fresh paint. I slowly walked on the empty street and thought. I thought not so much with my mind, but with my heart, by letting the heart ask the real questions, while the mind rests and is used only to process any perceived answers — like the fox in The Little Prince, I too have found this to be a better way.

What I am looking for here, I wondered. This was my first question. Then came the second: What is the street telling me?

Roots.

Yes. It was about roots.

My roots. I was searching for them, my true roots. There, standing under the Spanish sun, on a mysterious and gloomy Spanish street, the like of which I had never seen before, I was looking for myself. I was seeking to look into the depth of who I was and where I had come from; I was trying to see what blood ran into my veins — what was its curse and what was its blessing. And, of all places, I sought this mystery in a place that least felt like home, for it was always in such places that my hunger for home, my thirst for belonging and finding my true self, was most awake.

And the street? It seemed like the street was trying to forget its roots.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Capturing the Moment

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The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
C.S. Lewis

I have been at it for a long time – for as long as I can remember myself, in fact. I have reached and I have grasped; I have done my utmost to attain the unattainable and to retrieve the irretrievable. And I have failed. And I am still failing, miserably. Over and over again.

But I have also learned a thing or two. Here is what I know…

Humans thirst. We hunger. We long to have that something which has either never been ours, or has indeed belonged to us once, back then, before the beginning of all ages, and it is now beyond our reach. Either way, one thing is certain – we long, we seek, and we are haunted. We are stalked by some unnamed goodness; we are haunted by a hidden joy which, when it does come, is always unexpected and is, sadly, never lasting.

At the dawn of my earthly sojourn, I first became aware of it in the calm, reassuring glow of the sunlit world outside. I saw it in the sense of peace, serenity, and wellbeing; in the feeling of being home, and the unseen but almost palpable promise which was radiated by every sound of birds and crickets and every smell of my childhood home…

It was in that home that I first awoke for the secret life of the heart. It was there that I first observed the wild creatures that so gripped my heart – the insects and the other small ones that crept on the warm, friendly soil of our garden, and the birds that flew high in the vast, welcoming sky – storks, bee-eaters, and hawks. It was in that place, where my first real dreams took place – those mythical visions for a heroic future; the aspirations for a place and role in the world, and indeed for the world. This was also the place where I first felt special.

Again and again, that deep something came to me in those times…a longing for something beyond words, even beyond thoughts. I heard it in the soothing murmur of the rain that fell abundantly in those cool first autumns; I saw it in the wings of the swallows that darted to and fro above my head in the balmy days of my early summers; I smelled it in the scent of the flowers when I came outside in the night – a hopeful soul, hidden under the starry cover of darkness, watching, searching, feeling the world around, enchanted by the miracles of life and the joy of simply…being.

The hunger, awoken in those earliest times, grew within me as I myself grew.

Like all living souls, I did not find a food fit to satisfy my hunger; and when I thought I did, the satisfaction never lasted and I was always hungry again. And, like many, if not all people at times, I began to arrange for more. I tried to catch and keep every one of those things, feelings, and people. I tried to catch those times; the times when all was good around me, as well as within. I tried to seize the day; I tried to capture the moment.

We all know those good times; we have all had them. They are the times when everything seems to come together for us; the moments when all is well in the world and we wish that time itself could stand still and let us savour our joy. It often starts with what may seem like a little thing – a nice conversation with a nice person, spiced by a group of certain tastes, smells and sounds, and suddenly – voila – a door is opened deep within, and a panting, gasping heart is let out to breathe, see, feel and be alive again…

And then it passes.

Monday comes. The night is over. The holiday ends. And we return to the place where we seem to be spending most of our life – the place of labour and of so little joy; the place where there is no room for the heart; the place where a free, childlike soul promises nothing but trouble.

Year after year, I grasped after the wind and so very often I am grasping still – reaching after the passing moment, trying to capture it, or at least make it last longer, just a little longer…

If ever a meal, or a drink, or a film, or a song made me feel like I was having one of those special moment, I always made these things a part of my plans; always kept them in my arrangements for the next special time. I was trying to hold on to the passing time, to keep it, hold it close, as if I was using it like a shield against…what? Against the pain, the heartbreak, and the disappointment that comes even in the happiest human life – from the slow and steady wearing of the soul which comes with long years of being in a job we hate, to the gaping bloody wound caused by a sudden brutal tragedy.

But no matter what I did, I could not capture the moment, and the moment always fled. And the more I tried, the more I failed; I failed not only to capture that one favorite moment, but also to enjoy other moments – those moments that I never looked for and therefore, missed.

My arranging for life made life slip through my grasp, leaving me alone and lonely and filled with sorrow. And, even though a lot of healing and transformation took place in my life in the last few years, and it keeps taking place still, sometimes with a great intensity, I have to admit that I have not yet recovered fully from my propensity to chase that which cannot be caught.

But now, it is different. I now know. I am now at peace, or at least most of my being is, and need less and less of that security which I so desperately sought once.

It was once said to us that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and although these words were spoken thousands of years ago, they are becoming truer for me with each passing day. And I learned that the promise that I once sensed in the warm air of home, is indeed true.

It is all true – and not only do I believe it now, but I now know it. I know it with the certainty of a man who is lost at sea and knows for sure that if he is not found, he will be dead. Such a man also knows that his lostness only confirms the truth about his own design – that he had once stood on a dry land, happy and free from the deadly grasp of the water, and it is in this freedom where he truly belongs.

I now know that those first whispers of life, that deep longing for greatness – both the greatness within and greatness out in the world – have all been true. True indeed are my deepest hopes.

Dead people do come back to life; dead dreams do too.

It is hard to believe, I know…but look into yourself, dive deep into the realm from which you have been seeking to escape for such a long time – yes, that dark and scary realm within your own self – and you will see…

Why do we like stories that have happy endings? Why do we hope, deep down – perhaps far below the reach of consciousness itself – for a life in which good always wins? Why do most of us love to watch those movies where the hero returns from the battle, perhaps is even raised from the dead, and takes his place in the realm he`s fought to save and among those he loves and love him? Why do we suffer when life is hard? Why do we weep in the face of death and rage when a disaster strikes?

Yes, our revulsion to darkness reveals the Light which made our souls. It  reveals who we really are deep down, and where we have come from. We long for eternity; we are made by eternity and for eternity…

Take one advice from me: do not try to capture the moment. Enjoy it, then let it go. What you are seeking is not there – it only speaks to you through that door, the door of your desires; the door of your heart which, though broken, is still alive.

Do not let it die.

The Courage to See Beyond Seeing

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I was at work, getting ready to drive the short distance from one property to another, in which I was to spend the night. As I sat in the car and turned on the ignition, I saw the bright light which the headlights projected onto the brick wall in front of me. Getting ready to back onto the main road, I hesitated. It was a short drive, so…why did I reach for the radio button? And why did I avert my eyes rather quickly when I saw the brightness of the light splashing over the old wall?

You see, I am old now. I might not be of age but I have run for far too long…this running aged my soul and wearied it down. I now consider myself old, too old for that. And so, having renounced running, I now sit still. I study. I explore. And I grieve over what I find, hoping to push through this grief with the help of grace, and finally get on the other side. I have, and I will.

The sensations, the feelings, the mysterious pangs of a sudden attack of worry, pain, sadness, or joy – all those seemingly random things, are now an object of my quiet observation. And although one can never have all the answers in this life, one can have the ones that truly matter, the ones that are truly needed. So I wait.

Why was a glimpse of the brick wall washed in brightness so disturbing and painful to behold that I had to search for music which to fill the dangerous vacuum? Why is the redness of the sunset so haunting, so beautiful, and so unspeakably sad? What do I see in the little in-between moments, in the small moments which come in between the ones we consider greater? The drive between two houses. The walk to my car, as I leave the building and I`m greeted by green grass, seagulls, and a dreamy, magnificent sky which wounds the soul more than it heals it. The idea of a little safe place, even when I`m surrounded by people, a place where I think I am unreachable by anyone, a place that, I believe, I am able to create even in harsh, brutal place, like a prison or a high mountain top? What do I see beyond seeing as I look at the world around me?

What is the thing that, since I was very young, drove my mind to search for anything, a book, a film, or if all else fails, a tune which to hum and hopefully chase away…what? I don`t know. But I am beginning to.

What are our favorite places telling us? What is my love for wildness telling me, for the ancient beasts, long gone, and the animals of our time and their glorious wild world, what is this love telling me? Why do I love laughter so much? Why does my heart so ache for good things to be…permanent, while the bad I simply wish would never happen? Why do I chase after the birds in my dream, hoping they will return to perch on the roof of my grandparents` house, and once they do, all will be well again? Why is it that I fear loss so much? If everything is the way it should be, shouldn`t I be better equipped to deal with all life throws at me? Instead, even in my best moments, I am aware of the partiality which is always at my heels. In my worst, I lose heart. And in the meantime, the unseen enemies are always lurking around me. You know them, they are your enemies too…

Fear. Depression. Anxiety. But why…?

Look at the sky after watching the news and seeing the world and its horrors – and you would agree with me that it simply makes no sense. The sky speaks a very, very different message to the one you`ve just been given. Which message is the true one? The scream of darkness or the whisper of hope? To answer that, I will ask you one question:

What is written in your heart? How do you read it?

Yes. What do you see beyond seeing, in the very day-to-day mundanity of life? And, as you search for that radio button in an attempt to escape that mundanity, stop and look at the very thing you`re trying to avoid seeing. As I look at the brick wall, I feel the pangs of homesickness. As I stare at the sky above my head, I feel the sorrows of an exile, and in that moment I know I am one, a prisoner stranded in a place which I love and hate at the same time. And each time when I see my wife in her dazzling beauty, laughing with girlish delight, each time when I watch my little daughter`s face light up with joy as I appear through the door, each time when I see the heartbreaking majesty of the sunset, I look out of the window and I think of a world without pain, shadow, or need.

‘Courage, dear heart’, said Aslan the Great Lion.

Yes. Courage.

Fear

piranhas-123287_960_720Most of us have old, deep-seated fears. They usually take root in childhood and, over time, become part of who we are. ‘I am naturally a shy person.”He doesn`t like confrontation’. ‘She is afraid of heights.’ ‘He has a claustrophobia.”She doesn`t like public places.’ Labels. Names. Terms. And, underneath it all, there is a frightened, lonely heart that just wants to live and be, enjoying life in its fulness.

Three days ago I returned from a trip which was life-changing, to say the least. Of course, I did have some ideas and hopes before I packed by bag, I did suspect that maybe I will have to face some challenges and, hopefully, overcome them. But what I was not prepared for, was to have my whole inner world, along with my perception of myself, shaken to the core…

A man who is very close to me, opened his house to me, giving me his very presence and focus, and a week from his precious time so I could finally learn to swim and overcome my fear of the water. For most of my thirty-two years on this Earth I had been crippled by an inability to swim and be relaxed in the water which I so love.

Murky, unknown terrors overwhelmed my childhood. Shame bound me during school trips and holidays. Fear, covered with bravado, stalked me during the university years where, holding a beer in my hand, I chuckled as the others ran toward the water, acting as if I was actually better off where I was, thank you very much.

I may not be old yet, but I am now too old for playing roles. And though I have many fears, the one that is greater than all of them, is the fear of spending my life behind a mask.

No more!

And so it began. Day after day we strove, sometimes taking ground, sometimes giving it back, but advancing, although ever so slowly. My deep bond with the man allowed for openness and strength in every way – spiritually, as well as any other way. And, because of that, we were able to explore, and excavate many deep, dark roots which hid in my soul. Together we suffered, we fought, and prevailed over the darkness. It was gold we were after and, as with any true treasure-hunt, this one too, was opposed. The joy, the laughter, the food, the stunning view of the sea, and the crystal-clear water of the pool, were the backdrop of the battle we fought, day by day. And each day, as the Light advanced, the darkness retreated, one step at a time.

It happened toward the end of my stay. I had, by that time, learned to swim from the one end of the pool to the other, on the bottom, breathing only when I reached the other side. That morning, like many times before, I took a deep breath and set out toward the deep end. Suddenly, as I looked ahead, I sensed that the bottom of the deep end seemed somehow dark, despite the brightness of the sun rays which penetrated the water. As if the sun did not reach the deep, murky waters that awaited me. Or maybe it could not reach them. Then something happened within me. My mind froze in terror, causing me to lose control of my body and give way to panic. Splashing and sputtering, my heart drumming inside my chest, I finally managed to reach the edge of the pool. Frustrated, spitting water from my mouth, I hit the hard surface with my fist. Damn it! I could not understand…

Minutes later I was sitting next to my friend. I was still shaken and disoriented, but now I was also angry and determined not to let my joy be stolen anymore. I knew that together, we were strong. And there, under the hot, Middle-Eastern sun, surrounded by trees, butterflies, and birds, it began to happen. Deep within my soul, the darkness finally emerged, revealing its true face. And the old, long-buried emotions swept over me. I saw things which I knew I had only seen as a little child. I felt feelings which I did not know I had ever felt. Dark, scary film scenes were before me again, just as they were when I was left alone in front of the televison as a little boy. Scenes where people drowned, killed in the water, and pulled under by monsters, lurking in the deep. Even as I was in the midst of that horror, a sudden knowledge dawned in my mind. I realised why, all throughout my boyhood I so loved the stories about supernatural beings, monsters, sharks, crocodiles, dinosaurs, and all kinds of big predators that hid in the deep waters. It was because, in my mind, they had been validating what my heart, in the young parts of itself already knew to be true – that there were indeed, monsters, lurking in the deep. The boy inside me knew what the man did not, for it was the boy that was imprisoned in the deep, and not the man. It was the boy that had to face the darkness, and not the man. The man, simply unable to bear the boy`s pain, was cut off from him, letting him live a life of horror and torment while he himself lived a nice, pleasant, but shallow life.

We have not been made for the shallow. Treasures are hidden in the deep. And our enemies can only be defeated if we meet them in their territory.

I had been hiding long enough. It was time to meet them. In the water, I let myself feel what I had been running from. The terrors rushed at me like the predators they were. Warm waves of long-suppressed emotions swept over me and I welcomed them. I did not run this time. Parental neglect had to be forgiven, subconscious agreement with the fears had to be broken, and as the Light rushed in, something extraordinary began to happen. Peace flowed within me, and then, at last, the monsters fled…

Monsters of the Deep – the enemies that had oppressed me since my very first years, left as suddenly as they had once come, taking with them the dark, murky shadows in which they hid.

I saw the sunshine even before I had opened my eyes. It penetrated every corner of my world, seen and unseen. Looking ahead toward the deep end, I saw no shadows.

I learned to swim during that week, and I got the stolen joy of my boyhood back. That, and a lot more besides…

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Eternity

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Sitting behind the wheel of the big Volga, which was our family car at the time, I was waiting for my mother to finish weeding the graves of our long departed relatives. I sat in the car, surrendered to the thoughts which came and went from my mind one after another, drifting as the white clouds drifted in the lazy summer sky. My old love for wild creatures rose within me as I looked at the green bushes, the trees and the white gravestones with the village lake behind them. Despite the noonday quietness of the place, I knew that wildness lurked in its secret shadows. Jackals and foxes hid in the bushes and, at night, their haunting cry resounded over the sleepy neighbourhood. Hedgehogs and badgers, lizards and big whip snakes as thick as a child`s arm, lived in the place where all life was supposed to turn to dust.

Still lost in thought, I searched for a good tune on the radio. My hand froze as I heard a familiar melody and, in a moment, a voice that I well knew filled the car. As the crooning of Elvis permeated a time and geography far away from his own, my gaze swept over the world around me. Silently, I marveled at the fact that a soul long departed could bring its song to a place where death had the final word. As if, in front of me, an unseen hand had opened  a window that connected two worlds. Caught in the middle, I sat in awestruck silence. As the immortal voice spilled over the graveyard scenery in front of me, something stirred within. No, it was not death that lay before me.

The warm breeze. The white gravestones. The lake, the waters of which was shared by fish, turtles, frogs and many other living things which I had once studied with such great interest. The green trees. The lush vegetation where the wild animals lived. It all spoke of life, and not death to me.

How could it be, I wondered, that a voice which brings eternity to the world, awakes so much in the hearts of others, is now silenced forever? I knew then, that this was not possible. But it was not mere need for knowledge that had inspired such reasoning…

Eternity was calling to me. It was in the voice of Elvis, in the lush greenness of the graveyard, in the old design of the Volga which my friends always compared to the cars driven by the Mafia in the American films. It was in the clear summer sky which spoke of a home even though I was at home, and whispered promises of a life full of memories which never grow old and a joy which never passes. The haunting, timeless call pierced my heart as I sat behind the wheel. As if there was something that I had known, and was known by, all my life, something so precious and so close, yet somehow strange, and out of place in a world where pain and confusion darken even the brightest hope.

Nearly fifteen years later, I was once again behind the wheel, although it was not the old Volga that I was driving. This time I was away from the place of my youth, and away from my homeland. Driving along a busy road, I was thinking of the recent death of Whitney Houston. Looking at the clear blue sky, her beautiful voice drifted toward me through the passages of memory and I let myself be carried by it, suddenly pierced by something old and immortal.

Eternity is indeed, placed within our hearts.

Listen…