This mid-May morning we woke to a surprise: every tree bent beneath a tremendous weight of spring snow. In the early dawn hours, my husband hefted a pole and riffled through the plum and mountain ash, the lilac and aspen, relieving them of whatever burden he could. For some branches, it was too late. Full of yesterday’s blossoms, they littered the yard.
For some reason, as I looked on this unexpected conjunction of winter and spring, snow and blossom, I thought of John Keats’ descriptor of the world as “The Vale of Soul-Making.” This lyric phrase has something both sad and luminous about it. I hear in it Keats’ attempt to reconcile his world of frailty and illness with the limitless “sparks of the divinity” he intuited in himself and others. Keats was not alone in feeling this tension between two true things: we are limited beings in time, and yet, always some intrinsic part of us opens into eternity. Every day, we encounter this paradox.
Keats’ words help orient me to what’s really at stake within the granular moments of my day. The essential and holy work of soul-making is literally hidden in plain sight amid the choices and commitments of daily life, amid the harried morning routine, the second cup of tea, the momentary glance at finches pressing tiny footprints around the feeder.
It’s tempting, I think, to expect such cardinal work to have a little more pomp and pageantry to it, a little more signaling to pay attention. It doesn’t. This vale, as Keats calls it, is full of humble, forgettable, common things, and at times beset by unexpected snowfall. And yet, out of this swale our souls are being made.
I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I feel both rife with blossom and bowed with snow. Like the lilac outside my window, such are the conditions into which we must lean.
On Friday, Kim will be exploring this theme on our blog. Also, this Consider will be posted there with a comment section. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here’s to cultivating wonder,
2 thoughts on “Consider: The Essential Work of Soul-Making”
This meditation reminds me of Ecclesiastes 3, which begins with the famous “there is a time for everything” poem – a litany of the common, often mundane moments of existence. The author then writes that God “has planted eternity in the human heart”. He presents this eternity in our hearts as both a beautiful thing and a burden we all carry, because of the limitations we bear as human beings. Lindsay, do you remember Dr. Joyner teaching us Ecclesiastes in eigth grade at Rosslyn? I remember stretching to understand him as he tried to explain and get us to reflect on the paradox expressed in these verses, and why they seemed a little sad to him. I didn’t get it as a 13-year-old, but he did succeed in getting me to treasure those verses in my memory and reflect on them again and again as I got older. I think your blog post captures some of what he was trying to express to us.
Thanks Heather for the reminder about Dr. Joyner and Ecclesiastes. I hadn’t thought of that in a long time. I love meditations on the intersection of time with the timeless, and how both tug on us. I think this produces something of the porousness we sense between sorrow and joy.