CLIMBING DOWN

Il dolce far niente, the idle hour, is not always dolce, not always sweet. The excess of activity that made this pilgrimage necessary is still flooding…. It is necessary to learn a new art: the art of climbing down.  The stream that flows beside my tent may teach me this too; it climbs forever downwards.

The tent, when I return to it, looks puny and insignificant. It too has its threshold, but my eyes are set on other thresholds and other interiors.  It is now late afternoon and I sit within its space, knowing nothing but the necessity of returning to common reality.

The stream beside me dashes purposefully to its destination – ­to the ocean where all purposes and destinations become one.  We always speak of higher purposes; well, the ocean is a lower purpose, a deeper purpose. This is a more restful image than higher purposes. Every influence in our world sends us up, praises higher intensity. Those expensive rockets to nowhere are the culmination of modern culture and symbols of the way we think we ought to live. I will sit by this stream and try to learn climbing­ down, try to learn deeper purposes.

I search in a pocket for my rosary. Recently this form of prayer has become very meaningful for me. Something happens to time when you pray this way. The string of beads has a beginning and an end, and the end is the beginning. It is a loop and it creates a 'time-loop'. It is a circle, a perfect figure that needs to go nowhere, and it suggests a contemplative pool, an image of the roundness of the ocean, the perfecta possessio of eternity.

In Irish it is called paidrín; paidir means prayer, and comes from ‘Pater noster’. It is a more essential word for prayer than any other I can think of. Jesus said, "Ask the Father." If you put the emphasis on ask, you get words like pray, pregare, prier, beten: ­all of which mean ask.  Or, as in Irish, you can put the emphasis on Father – which seems a good idea.

I often invent my own 'mysteries', or rather I pick many more than fifteen from the pages of the Gospels. This evening I want to see the Lord 'climbing down'. I imagine him visiting one of his favourite families, Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, to rest after a day of heat and frustration. I see him asleep in the corner and the others on tip-toe so as not to wake him. When you sleep you almost resemble an object. Who and where and what is he when he is asleep? The Hail Marys are a way of measuring time. They are also pure atmosphere, mostly memory, and there is no need to concentrate on the words. If it seems a little drowsy, that may indeed have something to do with 'climbing down' and 'deep purposes'.

What happens to time when we pray like this? "I believe Bethlehem, Golgotha, the Mount of Olives and the resurrection to be truly in the heart of the one who has found God," wrote St Gregory of Nyssa. Prayer time seems to be quite different from clock time. It is in some sense an inner time: a time in which past and future are in the present, a time that embraces remembrance and hope.

From Take Nothing for the Journey: Meditations on Time and Place, Donagh O'Shea
(Dominican Publications, Dublin 1990, 2nd ed. 2013)

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