It is the end of our church program year and we are in a time of Revelry.
Our Chalice Circles are drawing to a close after another successful year and we are celebrating with potlucks as we say goodbye to our fellow group members. We reveled in the experience of being heard and being able to listen deeply to one another. And we revel in the anticipation of starting anew this fall in September with a different batch of friends to share in new circles around a new set of topics.
A church friend recently posted on Facebook asking the collective hive if paying the expensive price for High Tea at the Empress in Victoria was worth the cost. Is it a bucket list event or just a rip-off? I went to High Tea at the Empress twenty-five years ago and the memory holds a dear place in my heart. I love saying, “I had High Tea at the Empress,” while pursing my lips together and holding up my little pinkie finger. It was expensive, but I have no regrets. I got my money’s worth out of it and more. But if you were to go today, based solely on my recounting of my experience you might be disappointed. Our expectations have so much to do with our perceptions. That’s why some of the best experiences are often so serendipitous. When we don’t have any expectations, we are free to be completely delighted in the mundane. You just can’t plan these things.
I belong to a TUUC Women’s Covenant Group that goes on an annual retreat. I wasn’t responsible for the planning, and I was busy with other things, so I just showed up with no idea where we were actually going. Turns out we had rented a cabin just outside the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park in Ashford, next to a river. I was completely taken by surprise at the color of the river that was so extraordinary I can’t get it out of my head to this day. It was a color completely indescribable. I took many pictures but they don’t capture it. It’s ineffable. Like God. I could live a thousand years gazing upon the beauty of that river, trying to describe the hues of blueish grayish, greenish, brownish-ness of that river color. You just can’t plan these things.
I felt a pull towards the river. The rocks were large and unstable. I spotted a tree branch on the shore, picked it up, and it became my walking stick, my support for the journey. The current was too strong to walk in the river, so I had to satisfy myself with just standing ankle deep next to the shore. The icy coldness was gloriously wonderful for my arthritic, inflamed, plantar fasciitis riddled feet. I stood there reveling in the beauty of the colors and the exquisite coldness of the river when suddenly Christopher Robin popped into my head. You just can’t plan these things.
I heard my father reading to my brother and me, describing the Hundred Acre Wood during our cherished bedtime ritual when we were children. I felt this ephemeral connection with AA Milne, and my little six-year-old self (who is my constant companion to this day), and my father, and my brother (who actually named his son Christopher), and the woods, and the tree that came from the woods and landed on this shore to provide my walking stick, and the melting glaciers flowing down from the top of the magnificent Mount Rainier volcano down to the Nisqually Delta and into the Puget Sound, squeezing under the Narrows Bridges and floating right past my very own house on Salmon Beach. It was the interconnected web of all existence in one brilliant flash. You just can’t plan these things.
One of the things I Revel in during Wednesday Night Adult Religious Exploration (ARE) is the unpredictability of the connections I make in my brain as I learn new things, and make new linkages of understanding in a never-ending revelation of discovery. I was watching a Teaching Company video at ARE about comparative religion in which we discussed a “numinous experience”. I didn’t know the word, and so had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, “numinous is an English adjective… meaning “arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring,” and the word’s origins were “derived in the 17th century from the Latin numen, that is, (especially in ancient Roman religion) a ‘deity or spirit presiding over a thing or space.'” According to German theologian Rudolf Otto, the numinous experience also has a personal quality, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly Other. The numinous experience can lead in different cases to belief in the sacred, the holy and/or the transcendent. Oh, I thought to myself, this is what I refer to as “a mountain top experience” and this is what was happening to me in that river that day. This reminds me very much of our first source of our living tradition of Unitarian Universalism:
“Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”
I was raised atheist/agnostic, so I find accessing the divine through direct experience particularly effective for me. In that flash of a moment, I not only heard Christopher Robin describing my ineffable experience, but he was joined together with all the poetry ever written by all my brothers and sisters, all my mothers and fathers, and all my grandmothers and grandfathers throughout time trying to describe this “it,” this splendiferously rich… experience? …no, more of a knowing; in an infinite amount of patterns and ordering of letters and words and sentences and paragraphs. We just can’t plan these things.
I didn’t find “it” during High Tea at the Empress. I found “it” in an icy cold river. There have been a few more “its” I don’t have space to write about here, but I revel in the handful of these Numinous Glimpses of Knowing I have been blessed to experience, and I look forward to my next one. Revel in the Dawn! Great each day and smile and keep your eyes open, ‘cause you never know where or when the next one will come to you! We just can’t plan these things.