LISTENING TO THE SILENCES

 

CHAPTER 9 PAGE 1

The Wings
Of the
Morning



And Lo! If I take the Wings of the Morning,
And dwell on the furthermost part
Of the Sea...

Even though more than half a century has passed, those words still come to my thoughts as I view in my minds eye the scene that used to greet me as I came up on deck each morning. Our ship was ploughing its slow and straight furrow parallel with, and a few miles off, the very shore upon which the psalmist author may have trod so many years ago. It was quite early, 5 a.m., for we were working 'tropical routine', and for a day-man (or 'idler' as the Naval parlance has it), the day began at that hour. The iron main deck and the entire superstructure were awash and dripping with dew from the cool of the night, while the shore was a line of opalescent shadow to the east, back-lit by the near-to-rising sun.

Many writers, both ancient and modern, have tried to describe the colour and placidity of those eastern Mediterranean seas with greater or less success, as I used to try in my letters to my girl friend at home. Nothing disturbed the surface, other than the long line of our wake connecting us astern to the far horizon. And then there they were - the 'Wings of the Morning' - the caiques and coasting schooners, sails full set but hanging still, with no breath to fill them, but somehow 'ghosting' along and waiting for the morning breeze.

In the moments as I watched, the sun broke free of the land and even at that hour it burned. The dew vanished at a touch and the sails took on a brilliance as the light enveloped them - and the day's work began. How long it seemed, confined in the small radar cabins as I did my maintenance checks, until blessed noon when work ceased for all but the duty watch and the hands were piped to swim. The ship slowed, the whaler was lowered, and we dived so eagerly from the ship's side and into the cool depths.

What contrasts life throws at us, for within six months I was in an aircraft carrier battling its way around Britain in January storms of probably the worst winter of the twentieth century. The mountains of the Isle of Arran were snow-laden as we sought shelter within its lee and behind Holy Island, and icy were the winds as we then made our way past Cape Wrath and John o' Groats and finally to the Forth. But in spite of, or because of their contrasts, I have never lost my fascination with the seas nor my desire to be close to or on them. As I stand on my near-by shore as I often do, the expanse of the sand and the vastness of the dunes trigger memories of seemingly never ending sunny days on a similar shore where I grew up in South Wales - of fires of driftwood and smoky tea, and the long weary trudge home at night. And the high tides and gales of the autumn equinox bring back clear memories of my mother and her love of the driving spray on the rocks on probably our last outing of the year.

I wrote earlier of this attraction that water has for me and of the feast for the imagination with which I have been provided for virtually all of my life. There must be many individuals who, like me, can just gaze out to the horizon for seemingly endless time - and what do you see? In reality or in your own mind's eye or your own imagination? Do you look for, or even see, Tir Nan Og? Do you believe in the past existence of Atlantis, and do you give credence to the tales deriving from the alleged reincarnates from that mythical/real land? And do you gaze horizon-ward in the hope that some day Atlantis will re-emerge from the depths where 'of its bones are corals made'?

Can I ask you to put aside what you see, or imagine or hope for, and instead to join me on the self-same edge of the ocean, there to contemplate the real magic, the magic of the reality of our origins? Through the medium of television, and taking advantage of the courage and resource of undersea explorers in their minute bathyspheres, we can descend in mid-ocean to the bottom several kilometres below, and there see the origins of the tectonic plates of the continents and some of the substances of life itself. In particular, I want you to look at a 'black smoker'. ("Oh dear" said Alice to herself, nearly scared out of her wits at the thought of a Black Smoker. The only Smoker she could think of was Grimes the gardener, and he frightened her sometimes as he puffed continuously at a huge pipe stuffed with coarse twist, pouring out clouds of smoke which merged with that from the bonfire he was tending. "Now he always looks very dark" she said to herself, "but no, he grows such nice flowers, it can't be him…" - and Alice went and hid herself just in case the real Black Smoker came along...).

No, the reality of a black smoker as it pours out its gases from the core of the earth is, in itself, awesome to contemplate, for here in its turbulence are some of the materials of which we are made and, indirectly, are the source of life as we know it. In particular, I want you to see the sulphur, for in its way it is so vital to our very origin and continued existence. Without the sulphur it is doubtful whether we would have rain. Back on the surface, and, could you see them, myriads of algae that continue the process originating in the earth's bowels, taking the sulphur and converting it into an organic and gaseous form, that then disperses freely into the atmosphere. And it is around the molecules of this gas that the moisture evaporated from the seas forms into droplets, into clouds and eventually rain. Without the algae and the sulphur - no clouds, no rain; no rain, no erosion of rock to make soil; no soil, no plants; no plants, no us. But the algae have other mysteries that have long puzzled biologists. Why are they equipped with anti-freeze? At last, and a paradox only recently explained. The algae need sunshine to survive and proliferate - but they create clouds don't they, so isn't that counterproductive, life threatening even, for sun-loving algae? But the clouds create storms and storms cause algae to be sucked up and carried to extreme heights where they might freeze to death - if it wasn't for the anti-freeze; and thus they are dispersed to other seas, other oceans. One of those incredible marvels of evolution, or a fantastic attention to detail of a prescient Creator, whichever you will.

In your imagination, can I take you even below the black smokers? The molten magma is oozing in mid-ocean, pouring through these gaps in the earth's crust, forming new edges to the tectonic plates, forcing them apart and under continents, creating the tremors and pustules on the earth's skin - the earthquakes and volcanoes. But even deeper, towards the centre of the earth, to the molten iron core. Without it you would never have been even a gleam in your father's eye. Without it life on earth would just not exist in the form that we know.

Thermal movement of the iron within the core effectively creates a magnet with two ends or 'poles' that we call north and south. The magnet in turn creates a magnetic field that, effectively, is our shield. The sun pours out the 'solar wind' in constant stream - a never-ending flow of electrically charged particles. Our magnetic shield diverts them, and mostly they flow harmlessly past. Without our shield, the planet would be 'scoured' by these particles and would be completely barren, as are the other planets that have no iron core. The particles of the solar wind arrive into our upper atmosphere at the poles, and create the magnificent displays of the auroras, while during peaks of sunspot activity they reach parts of the earth in quantity, disrupting electronic communication, and subtly altering the behaviour of sensitive people.

Take out a magnetic compass and unerringly the needle points to the north. Turn it on its edge and it will point down into the ground at an angle that depends where on the earth's surface you are - at my latitude it makes an angle of roughly 80 degrees with the horizontal; elsewhere it will be different. What it shows you is that always, everywhere, there is a magnetic field - a component of our evolution. But more than that, and unless you have special equipment you cannot see, it pulses with incredible regularity. There are various subtle low energies at frequencies of roughly one to twenty-five beats per second, but the prime one, and that linked by most researchers to the process of evolution and continued planetary life, pulses at 10 hertz (or cycles per second). It is part of the body clock that if it stops ticking or ticks to a different frequency can cause illness or even death in some organisms.

I have led you to contemplate, and I hope understand, just a minute few of the many elements that have been involved in the development and continued evolution of our lives and the other forms of life on the planet. Elements that are all pervasive and yet invisible - undetectable to the majority of us - yet without them we would become ill or die. But die we must - and what then?

Can we stay here on our lovely open shore without the noise, clutter and pollution of everyday life, and read or listen to some thoughts from a delightful book by Irish philosopher and poet John O'Donohue? I first heard them over the phone from a friend upon whom they had made an instant impression. Going into the local library later the same day, the first book upon which my eyes lighted was this self-same Anam Cara - Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World - and so naturally I brought it home to read, for my friend was quite firm when she said that it would be a long time before she loaned her copy, so entranced was she with what the book had to say.

John O'Donohue queries whether space and time are different in the eternal world, and writes:

"Time always separates us...Time is primarily linear, disjointed and fragmented. All of your past days have disappeared; they have vanished. The future has not come to you yet. All you have is the little stepping-stone of the present moment.

When the soul leaves the body, it is no longer under the burden of space and time. The soul is free; distance and separation hinder it no more. The dead are our nearest neighbours; they are all around us. Meister Eckhart was once asked, where does the soul of a person go when the person dies? He said, no place. Where else would the soul be going? Where else is the eternal world? It can be nowhere other than here. We have falsely spatialized the eternal world. We have driven the eternal out into some distant galaxy. Yet the eternal world does not seem to be a place but rather a different state of being. The soul of the person goes no place because there is no place else to go. This suggests that the dead are here with us, in the air that we are moving through all the time. The only difference between us and the dead is that they are now in invisible form. You cannot see them with the human eye. But you can sense the presence of those you love who have died. With the refinement of your soul, you can sense them. You feel that they are near.
My father used to tell us a story about a neighbour who was very friendly with the local priest. There is a whole mythology in Ireland about Druids and priests having special powers. But this man and the priest used to go for long walks. One day the man said to the priest, where are the dead? The priest told him not to ask questions like that. But the man persisted and finally, the priest said, 'I will show you; but you are never to tell anyone.' Needless to say, the man did not keep his word. The priest raised his right arm, the man looked out under the raised right hand, and saw the souls of the departed everywhere all around as thick as the dew on blades of grass.
Often our loneliness and isolation is due to a failure of spiritual imagination. We forget that there is no such thing as empty space. All space is full of presence, particularly the presence of those who are now in eternal, invisible form."


 

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