Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fourth Letter to Basil

Saturday Salutations  - to see more letters, click on the "Saturday Salutations" tag in the sidebar menu labeled "Topics"

(Painting: "Saint Luke," by Andrea Mantegna, 1454)

Fourth Letter to Basil, in response to Basil's Letter 14

Basil, 


I very much enjoyed reading your reflections on the special place of quiet repose that God had given you in Pontus, where the mountains and rivers and forests all joined together to bear for you "the fruit of tranquility." I think we all need places like that in our lives--a quiet getaway, a moment to remember that we are connected to the natural world, both as "the dust of the earth" and as the reigning high priests over God's creation. But, my friend, if you thought the distractions of urban life in Asia Minor of the 4th century were challenging, I wouldn't wish upon you America of the 21st! Not only do we have multitudinous sources of noise and interruption from the city streets, as has always been the case, we now carry devices in our pockets that bring us those distractions every single place we go. In effect, we are choosing to fill up our every waking moment with idle diversions that displace our attention from the simple act of remembering who we really are. 

Like you, I've found that I need a place of calm reflection, out in the wild, and in most of the places I've lived (even in very large cities), I've always managed to find such a place. In my present place in life I've found another such spot, very much like yours, where I feel mysteriously more alive than almost anywhere else. It begins with a quiet walk through a coastal forest, bristling with pine and spruce and maple, where the ground is soft with waves of moss and blankets of old conifer needles. And then, as the trees begin to thin, and you see the high blue dome above you, the wind begins to pick up, and you can smell the zest of sea-salt and hear the distant susurration of tidal waves. Finally, you break out of the forest atop a seaside cliff and are met with the vastness of the ocean, the beautiful boldness of the rocky coast, and the sheer delight of being so favored by God as to lay eyes on one of his treasures. Birds of a hundred different kinds fill the air, the trees, the water, and sometimes you can even see the frolicking of seals and the fluking of whales out in the unending blue. It is a place, strangely, where I feel both small and great, insignificant and kingly. I am dwarfed by the incomparable vastness of God's creation--the sky, the forest, and the sea--and yet I feel a part of them, a witness and a priest of their unending worship of God. It is a place where I experience just a taste of God's joy in the beauty of his creation; where the peace of the endless, patient cycle of simply being is so clear and so evident as to make a mockery of my harried list of daily tasks; where I can rest from the endless round of trying--sometimes accomplishing, sometimes failing--and simply be a part of God's world, much beloved by Him. 

Your friend in Christ,
Matt

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