To stand at what might be described as “the worlds great margins” is to stand in the midst of wonder, mystery and beauty of the world. To gaze over the rim of the Grand Canyon, to stand listening to the “smoke that thunders” as the mighty Zambezi river plunges into a vertical chasm or indeed to stand on the west coast of Ireland and behold the mighty and majestic Cliffs of Moher is to be reminded of how fragile and infinitesimal we humans are compared to the grandeur of the natural world. The Scotsman, missionary and explorer David Livingstone on coming to what he named The Victoria Falls- in 1855 wrote the following “It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” And indeed by the Makalolo people for generations. In 2007 The Cliffs of Moher New Visitor Experience opened and at the time the Irish Times lamented how this wonder had been transformed into entertainment – “The visitor center entertains and gives the visitor everything they want except what the cliffs have given people for centuries, the feeling of confronting something beyond themselves, something harsh and strange that tempers your soul and helps you feel alive.”
Wallace Stevens in his poem The Cliffs of Moher captures the psychic and spiritual force of this beauty. He asks the reader to think back to the beginning of time and discover that our oldest ancestor is indeed land, sea and cliffs rising out of the mists. Ponder his words and stop for a few minutes and recall those moments when you stood face to face with some of the natural wonders of the world. How did you feel? What did you resolve to do or become?
The Irish Cliffs of Moher
Who is my father in this world, in this house,
At the spirit’s base?
My father’s father, his father’s father, his—
Shadows like winds
Go back to a parent before thought, before speech,
At the head of the past.
They go to the cliffs of Moher rising out of the mist,
Above the real,
Rising out of present time and place, above
The wet, green grass.
This is not landscape, full of the somnambulations
And the sea. This is my father or, maybe,
It is as he was,
A likeness, one of the race of fathers: earth
And sea and air. Wallace Stevens 1879-1955
To you, O Lord of creation, I offer prayer.
To you, O Lord of beginnings and endings,
of time and eternity, I offer prayer.
Gracious God, from the beginning of time and to
the end of time, I worship you, whom scripture calls,
Alpha and Omega.
I rejoice in the family roots I know and can trace, and give thanks
for all the roots, that ground me to this earth, in time and place,
that are beyond my knowing.
O Holy God, create in my mind and soul an awareness and a respect
for the balance of nature, and through the great march of time
open my imagination to catch a glimpse of the wonder and mystery
of plant and place, and through science to catch a glimpse of the shifting
tectonic plates which mark our continents. May this awareness and respect
not just be full of awe but might it make it possible
for me to treat friend and stranger with respect and may I do right throughout
the fleeting moments of my life. Amen.
One thought on “Rising Out of The Mist”
It seems a privilege to experience any of the world’s natural or man-made wonders yet to do so brings a sense of smallness. To stand in silence and feel the quiet, to consider the miracle by which some amazing structure was built by human hands thousands of years ago, to observe a stunning natural landform, and consider the lasting quality of some things and the fleeting nature of others are attributes of our curiosity and of our privilege. I think of children who, living in deep poverty in some of the world’s worst slums never see natural beauty unless by some chance they look upward to a starry night. I admire the reverence that some cultures have for nature, and I am troubled the lack of respect by others.
The poem is lovely and thought-provoking. It reminds me in some ways of the old hymn, This is My Father’s World. And I am reminded of an experience my parents had while attending a church service at the ocean’s edge on Kona. Someone spotted dolphins breaching and the minister called a “service break” so people could watch the beautiful sight, perfectly timed to thoughts on the magnificence of nature and our responsibility as its caretakers. Thank you for this memory.