I enjoy the feeling of being small. I don’t mean forced humiliation, when someone squashes me to feel better themselves, and I don’t mean humbling myself when I’d rather just have a big head, though those do have their places. I mean that I enjoy that tiptoeing, wholesome humility that shows up in my life at no effort of my own, but is welcomed in wholeheartedly. It’s that comforting sensation that I’m not in charge, that I’m only a small cog in the mechanism: that I am just a small insignificance surrounded by the beauty and majesty of a thing much bigger than I am. I am only an ‘ephemeral coruscation that pipes my short song and vanishes’ (C. S. Lewis’ great dance description in Perelandra). I am only a small thing, but I have my place. I have a sparkle.
These ruminations don’t happen often, and when they do, they catch me by surprise. I find them hidden away like a small, secreted stash in various spheres of God’s truth. Each one is precious, but dissolves at a touch. I learned a word for that once… I guess it is fitting that I cannot remember that perfect word for such a slippery connotation. It meant something like “perfect knowledge of the workings of the universe, esp. in a philosophical sense: ephemeral and vanishing.” These awarenesses come nearest to opaque substance when set down by great poets and authors, or captured in a painting, or caught in an air of music. So, I feel like I can best express them by alluding and quoting and referencing. One of the allusions that comes to mind is the last two stanzas of “A Lost Chord” by Adelaide Anne Procter:
I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the Organ,
And entered into mine.
It may be that Death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,
It may be that only in Heaven
I shall hear that grand Amen.
Today I had one of these moments; I felt my small place in the universe most intensely. It came through a poem and a connection with a dead man. I was reading some of George Herbert’s poetry and I felt the rise to his climax so intensely that it began to grow in my soul until it burst and filled my body. I predicted and expected the conclusion before he came to it and gradually gave whisper to the lines I was reading as they built to the glorious finale. Herbert and I met at that last line. We rested at the same, beautiful point of grace, and my breathing came quick and shallow as I felt the meeting of our souls for one sparkle of a moment before they slipped apart. We had become friends. Regardless of time, regardless of geography, regardless of culture. Regardless of any continuity whatsoever. C. S. Lewis once said:
Friendship arises… when two or more… discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste… which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I though I was the only one” (from The Four Loves).
Herbert and I came to the same, deeply personal conclusion, and the cores of Christianity in our hearts touched for a brief moment. I suppose all good poetry works that way, that it connects the author to the reader at some point. So, I know I am not special or unique in my friendship with Herbert, but maybe my experience was. Ultimately, we are both a small flicker in the span of time and the great dance, but we met each other in passing in this great, wide universe of ours. And I felt my sparkle.