“In the beginning . . . ” This phrase opens both Genesis – the first book of the Bible – and the Gospel of John. To say, “Let’s begin at the beginning,” is to say “Okay, let’s get to the heart of the matter, let’s get to the root of this.”
In our efforts to make the imponderable accessible, we rely on metaphor and analogy. Dawn is a beginning. Dusk is an ending. We yearn to structure time, if not control it. We use the concepts of spirals and circles to express our awareness that beginnings are also endings, and endings are beginnings.
All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown.
Moon rolls thru the nighttime til daybreak comes around.
All my life’s a circle, still I wonder why
Seasons spinning ‘round again, years keep rolling by.
– Harry Chapin (1972)
Every autumn tens of thousands of raptors migrate south along Lake Superior’s shores. These hawks, falcons, and eagles glide, silently and seemingly effortlessly, atop invisible thermals in groupings called kettles. I have witnessed this epic movement of birds from the ridges above Duluth, Minnesota. I would focus my binoculars and watch the northern blue-gray horizon turn into hawks and eagles, kettle by kettle, bird by bird. And I wondered, where does sky end and bird begin? They just kept coming into sight out of clear, thin air.
Last spring I visited Al Salar De Uyuni, high in the Bolivian Andes. Al Salar is a region of vast salt flats, reaching as far as the eye can see. The prevailing sound is a hush of wind sweeping across the treeless expanse interspersed with a silence so palpable I could almost touch it. The salt-white, rain-soaked plain mirrors the sky. And the horizon vanishes. Earth and sky are one. Seamless. Inseparable. It was as though I was walking in the sky.
We will begin to be fully human, we will actualize the name of our species – homo sapiens, “wise ones” – when we come to recognize our proper place in this time and on this earth. This will be when we relate to Mother Earth and all other beings in a visceral, heart manner, when we see all creatures as our brothers and sisters. No exceptions.
We need to make the best of bad beginnings. We all have had them. The personalities, cultures, and histories we were born into; our own deliberate decisions or unintentional actions; these have gotten us off “on the wrong foot.” We live in a culture dominated by the myth of the Great Fall from Grace, and we feel the insidious power of guilt. Guilt can nip our best intentions in the bud. It can shackle us.
Service is a key that can open the padlocked door of guilt, freeing us to be in right relation with one another. Dan Berrigan, Jesuit priest and activist, writes: “Guilt is not allowed in the morning. Only penance, briskly felt and turned to service.” And the Buddha said, “Each day we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
Where is the river’s source? Where do earth end and sky begin? And, pray tell, where do our Quaker leadings begin? Are they one with us before we even have the Light to recognize them? When does that Light reach our extremities? Our feet and hands? When do we begin? ~~~
Friend john heid is a member of Casa Mariposa, an intentional community in Tucson, AZ, which offers hospitality and support to people caught in the immigration web. He is a sojourning member of Pima Monthly Meeting in Tucson (IMYM).