Sunday, December 31, 2006

Deep time

It is the turn of the year.

Sunday I began the day reading from Dogen's Shobogenzo before meditation. Later in the day, we went to church. Our church- Grace Church, in Nyack, New York- is an Episcopalian church modeled after the traditional gothic form. It boast a superlative set of stained glass windows and the ineffable sense of restrained magnificence that only gothic architecture can produce.

During the service we read old testament texts that come from as far back as the days of the Egyptian empire, sing hymns composed anywhere from the 11th to 17th century, and participate in a tradition that reaches back into deep time in an unbroken line of human transmission.

Dogen taught and wrote during the 12th century, but his work is still vibrant in human hearts and minds today. The church has roots that stretch back- how far? Into the roots of ancient Judaism, which coexisted with and emerged from the sacred practices of ancient Egypt.

So when we work, when we study, when we participate in these human enterprises called Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, we reconnect with the buried roots of our humanity. We re-create a sense of connectedness not only with our culture, but with our biology. Somewhere within all of this we can sense that the organisms within which our being arises, part of this massive time machine called a solar system, exist in an unbroken line from the first cells that reproduced in earth's primordial seas. We are the living heritage of this great cosmic experiment called life. We do not exist apart from it.

We are the experiment.

In the face of ideas this massive and an enterprise this vast, we can only humbly bow our heads. Mankind is never going to fully comprehend or even grasp the scale, the scope, the meaning of this with the mind. No, it takes other, much deeper parts- parts we may not ordinarily even be aware we have- to taste the experience. Parts that vibrate with subtle currents we forget about in the hot-blooded rush of do this, do that.

We live quickly and are gone. But all around us are the elements of deep time, waiting for us to remember, and appreciate them. To appreciate and cherish them. To allow warm breath to meet cold stone and know that it is- for without warm breath, there is no cold stone, and indeed without warm breath nothing can ever be.

The universe has a voice, but it only speaks for as long as we are here to hear it. It has a being, but only for as long as we are here to perceive it. Nothing ever exists apart from perception.

As vehicles of consciousness, we have a responsibility and a sacred duty. Through the instrument of our attention, we become assistants in the creation and maintenance of this great entity called a universe.

For me, that's a sobering understanding.

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