“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour.”
This is one of my favorite poems — even though I’m not entirely certain what it means. Good poetry is like that. The words of William Blake may express some complex philosophy, for all I know, or their meaning may be simple and apparent: it is blessedness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
There is rich and awe-inspiring beauty in Creation. But, the transcendent experience of which William Blake speaks (I think) is more than marvelous delight in physical things. We could simply be caught up in the wonder of a flower’s intricacy and how the forces of nature also bring forth bright, bursting blooms of stardust in galaxies near and far. Knowing how vast and complex, how beyond our grasp, is the universe — and even a grain of sand — our minds may become overwhelmed and we may experience a rapturous feeling of awe. All of the natural world is amazing — violets and pebbles, sand and oak trees, and all things and all of the energy that goes into their existence. But… their existence… not the process, not the parameters, not the products, and not the pondering of these things — but, their existence… contemplating that is when the temporal can take us up to the transcendent.
“To see a heaven in a wild flower” and to hold “eternity in an hour” is more about mysticism than it is about the experience of awe we may feel in the exquisite beauty of what we know scientifically about the universe and the overwhelming vastness of what we don’t know yet. The idea is not to relate the infinite to the finite or the eternal to the temporal. I believe that the idea behind William Blake’s poem, the idea behind all sacred experiences of the transcendent, is to relate the finite to the infinite and the temporal to the eternal. We are not to project our thoughts of the divine upon the mundane (like saying that God is Nature or the Universe) but, rather, project our thoughts beyond the mundane (even through the mundane) to the Divine.
The world is not for nothing. And I believe that matter matters to God.
There is heavenly delight — and then there is Heaven. There is the thrilling adventure of discovery, uncovering the secrets of processes and identities within — and then there is reality itself, existence itself. To see the transcendent in the temporal is about something much more than how the brain reacts to ego-shattering greatness with a feeling of awe. It’s about discovering what God wants to say to us personally in the daily living of our lives.
Eternity is not far off, like some experience that is distant from us. Eternity is now. And now. And now. Infinity is not somewhere beyond our reach, impossible to be within. Infinity is here. And there. And here. And there. Full and true transcendence is found in the opening of ourselves up to God, allowing God to reveal Divine realities and Mysteries to us. Here and now.
This post is not meant to debate whether or not a personal God exists. Nor is it meant to further the discussion of whether or not even atheists can have experiences of the sacred. I am simply reminding myself that the ways of God are visible everywhere — if I remember to look, not only with my eyes and other physical senses, but also with my heart, which is the core of my being, the interior space in which God and I dwell together alone. So, as I ponder things with my brain, I must also — and, perhaps, first and foremost — ponder them in my heart. Sometimes, the best explanations of things are not meant to explain, but, rather, to simply cause unutterable wonder — and gratitude — that there is something instead of nothing. That I am.
The Infinite is. And, yet, so is your hand with its creased and fleshy palm. The Eternal is. And, yet, so are the several minutes of time during which you have read this post. That is what truly amazes, inspires true wonder and true awe. We have been brought into being by the Infinite/Eternal One! With this epiphany, the mystics slip through portals of divine transcendence. GOD’S INITIATIVE. And God’s willingness to help us up to Him.
And so I take ordinary things as my faith facilitators on this First Friday of October.
Oh, Uncreated Creator, oh, Uncaused Cause,
May I see the little lessons
that the ordinary things of every day can teach me
about myself, about life,
and about You.
May I be open to the Transcendent,
remembering always that you are immanent,
ever-present, with me always and everywhere,
revealing your love and Mysteries to me
in my heart.
Help me to see You.
Help me to hear You.
[This has been part of the First Friday Facilitators series, to help me better celebrate the First Friday observation of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]
© 2014 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.