The above subject line may be a daunting, doom-and-gloom way of thinking, for example, about all of the work I have yet to do for my day job (as do many of us), or even as all the work I have left to do that I know for certain needs doing in terms of devotional writing, editing, and so forth. But, instead, it’s something else entirely–and something positive! Let me explain.
Until recently, the time I’ve been going to work in the morning has often been dark. Even with daylight savings kicking in, it’s still sometimes been dark when I’ve had to catch my first bus. And, at night when I’m done with work and am getting on the bus now, it’s also dark, and even darker when I am riding the second bus back toward home. Night: it happens. (And I don’t just mean “Nyx shows up occasionally” with that…!)
Why does any of this matter, apart from obvious reasons of noticing the shift of seasons? Because each day as I get the bus and go to work, we pass by Mt. Erie. If it is daylight, I always try and salute the mountain, as it were, as we pass within sight right near it, or even if I can see it from a great distance. Passing in close proximity (less than 1/2 a mile) to Mt. Erie on an almost-daily basis these days cannot be taken for granted, given that Mt. Erie is the axis mundi of my local landscape and my own personal psychic geography. But, not seeing the mountain because it is too dark out (and there aren’t many lights out there…and there hasn’t been a visible moon lately) is kind of…strange, to say the least. I know it’s there, but if I can’t see it, how can I be certain? I’m not so solipsistic to take such a statement to further extremes, but outside of our sensory experiences, how do we know things are for certain–even things with such long lifespans as mountains?
As we were heading in that direction tonight after work, I was in a very particular mood. I just got some new headphones, now that I have a little bit of discretionary income, and it is amazing what a difference they’ve made. The headphones I’ve had before that were crummy ones I got in Ireland almost ten years ago for my Sony Discman; when my iPod headphones died a few years ago, I switched them out for these older ones, and while being far from ideal, they did the job. But now, with decent headphones that allow me to hear my music clearly without having the iPod volume up to almost maximum, I can also just phase out what bus-and-road-noise there is, and the carrying on of the other passengers (some of whom have been particularly loud and obnoxious lately). In between getting my first bus and my second bus after work today with those new headphones, I was listening to some tunes that I associate with Antinous, and suddenly was very deeply and touchingly filled with his presence, to the point that I felt as if I was glowing and might start something on fire simply by sitting there, and I was very close to tears. Time slowed down a bit, and things were in a very liminal and interesting state for a while.
Coming home on the second bus after that, and listening to more music, the bus driver had the sense to turn off the internal lights of the bus just before we went over Deception Pass bridge. That made it possible, just barely, to catch the outline of things outside in the night, like the various islands between the two larger islands, and eventually the faint outline of Mt. Erie as we passed. I didn’t take my eyes off her for the entire time we were nearby, even though I could only see her a few times definitely in the darkness.
I’m reminded of St. John of the Cross, whose two most famous treatises are the Dark Night of the Soul and The Ascent of Mt. Carmel (one, or possibly both, of which are incomplete). Both, essentially, deal with the same subject, but Mt. Carmel was especially written for those who need to have an experience of union with their god quickly (why that would be the case is not specified, but it’s nice he had that particular audience in mind!).
The dark night, which I’ve been through with Antinous on several occasions before now, and the fact that the literal darkness of the actual night has made it impossible to see the mountain that is so important to me has been an interesting occasion for reflection on this entire process. Sometimes, when we are not actually enduring a particular process like this, these metaphors don’t hit home as directly as they ought to. Having them literalized right before one, for those who are paying attention (it seems no one looks out the windows on the buses that I ride most of the time), can be a very useful and poignant reminder of these matters amidst the toils, difficulties, and transits of daily life.