The Limits of Your Longing

20150710_201308High on the cliffs of Rosario Point above Puget Sound, Ko-Kwal-alwoot stretches out strong arms to hold a salmon against the sky.  Her story pole, carved from a hulking 30’ X 5’ cedar log, tells the Samish Indian myth of a maiden who agrees to marry The Sea to save her people from starvation. Despite her father’s objections, she walks wholeheartedly into the cold salt water, and The Sea–honoring his promise–releases salmon the Samish so desperately depend on.   

You don’t need to search far to find them: myths of the eternal calling to the temporal, divine spirits falling in love with the mortal, and the mortal responding with abandon.  I thought of this as I read Lindsay’s last Consider, as she described the way her spirit swelled and leapt out into the wild waters of the Atlantic.  All ancient cultures bear witness to this longing.

20160621_165438In Cornwall the rugged coastal trail winds into the tiny village of Zennor, where 6th Century Christians established the St. Senara church. Past needlepoint kneelers an ancient wooden chair depicts a mermaid lifting her bare arms.  Legend has it that she wandered from the wild turquoise sea in search of chorister Matthew Trewhellen, whose voice had been borne to her by the wind.  Trewhellen left the familiar–friends and hearth and garden–and dove beneath the waves forever. The call: Come.  The response: I abandon myself completely.

Who among us have not felt this keening?  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.  All your waves and breakers have swept over me.  This Psalm has captured me since I was a child.  The eternal calls my name and I long to throw myself off the edge into something greater.

It’s not a call to comfort and easy solace.  Summers at the Atlantic, I remember being caught by a wave, rolled into a swirl of green, pulled by the current, pounded by the surf.  The ocean spat me onto the sand; I gasped for breath.  Then I wiped the salt from my eyes and went back in.

This is a dangerous summons.  Jump in knowing there’s no guarantee you won’t be destroyed.  But you will be remade.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot walks out over smooth stones.   Above her head, osprey call, scanning the water for their next meal.  Behind her, cedars, hemlocks, madrones rise; at her feet, spreading out cold and grey, the waters of Puget Sound.  As she reaches to draw out a shellfish, a hand grasps hers.  “Don’t be afraid,” a voice says.  She must join the Spirit, for her people are starving.  She must plunge into the freezing depths, for there is no other way.  When she visits her family again, she will be changed–damp air will linger in her wake, her hair will wave like kelp.  She will miss the sea; back to the sea she will return; her home will never again be what it once was.

With all our great poetry, music, art, we are no nearer to adequately finding the words to domesticate this longing.  Perhaps few writers have done so well as Rilke:  “God speaks to each of us as he makes us,” he writes, “then walks silently out of the night./These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot extends her hand, sinks into the slate-grey waters.  The young chorister scrambles through thrift and foxgloves, his back to the dark sleeping village, throws himself from the cliffs.  From the wild depths, a summons.  Go to the limits of your longing.  Nearby is the country they call life.  Give me your hand.



-Please check out the beautiful story of the Samish Maiden for yourself, as told by Charlie Edwards to Martin Sampson in 1938.  And if you ever find yourself at Deception Pass near Whidby Island, WA, don’t miss the story pole at Rosario Point.

-Keep stopping by The Back Page for more behind-the-scenes.  Thank you!

Photo Credits:  Martin Cockroft

Consider: Making Peace with the Reality of Beauty & Travesty

Dear Friends:

Last weekend in the Pacific Northwest, a curtain of cloud lifted to reveal the Olympic Mountains rising over an inscrutably blue Puget Sound. Rhododendrons burst into giddy bloom. By Sunday evening, loveliness had worked its way into my bones.

So in the small hours of Monday morning when I suddenly woke from a bad dream, I felt betrayed. Like seeping ink, sadness swirled in me and spread. As I got out of bed, it rose and followed me into the sunshine of a new morning.

Later, a pot of tea steeping under the cozy, I picked up a slim volume of excerpts from Rilke’s letters, detailing his encounter with a Cezanne exhibition. Cezanne, Rilke believed, exemplified a revolutionary shift away from idealized images to “plainspoken fact.” Cezanne’s paintings do not only change the way we think about art, Rilke contends, they change the way we see. “Something horrible, something that seems no more than disgusting, is,” Rilke writes, “and shares the truth of its being with everything else that exists.”

Rilke, in this beautiful spring, you break my heart. How do I make peace with a reality where beauty and travesty stand shoulder-to-shoulder?

Truthfully, I often long to turn my head from unpleasantness in the world. On a trip to the UK last summer, I found a Tesco reusable shopping bag printed with the merry message, “Fill me up with lovely things again and again!” I hauled that bag all over England, grinning ear to ear. For who doesn’t want to be filled with lovely things?

But to participate honestly in this world and indeed to tell the truth with my life, I must accept, and step right into the middle of, suffering. I must hold space for the sorrows and losses that bloom right among the beauties and joys. For to refuse life its complexity–to deny suffering and ‘ugliness’ – leads to a cheapened, sepia-tinged view of the world. And sentimentality, while easy, is pernicious.

The artist is not “permitted to turn his back on anything,” Rilke writes. To do so, he intimates, is to lose the whole, to relinquish what it means to be human. So today, I will not turn my back on the sadness that plucks at my elbow. As Rilke says, “it shares the truth of being with everything else that exists.” Here, this cup of tea at my side, this dog napping under the maple tree, this lingering sadness, all of it I acknowledge. All of it goes in my Tesco bag, filling me up again and again.

tulipFriends, who are the artists who give you the courage to embrace this complicated world of ours? Please share with us by commenting either at our site, on Facebook, or on Instagram. And thank you for joining us. You all mean so much to us.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Rilke and Each Holy Hour

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The phrase “Each Holy Hour” blossomed from Rilke’s poem, I am Much Too Alone in this World (from Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows & Jooana Macy).  In an August 2016 interview with Krista Tippett, Macy reflects that Rilke uses “image after image from the natural world to convey. . .both the mystery and the beauty [in] the relationship that we find in the sacred.”

Together, we hope to continue this conversation between our spirits and the wondrous material of this good world.  Whether you add your voice through comments or prefer to enter quietly and in solitude, we are so glad you are here.  Please, pour of a cup of tea and draw up a chair.

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone


to truly consecrate the hour.  –Rilke

linds tea