There are moments in life when ordinary language cannot communicate the fullness of our experience. As I took the dog for a late night walk yesterday, we paused below the magnificent, marvelous moon and together stood and gazed in reverent wonder. Neither of us had words adequate to describe the sense of connection to the Universe that such a moment engenders.
It’s not that we humans don’t have any words at all for moments of mystery and transcendence. When we read the Vimalakirti Nirdesa from the canon of Buddhist sacred texts or listen to the Exultet chant from the Christian paschal vigil liturgy we engage the world, ourselves, and the universe in a fresh, unexpected way. That’s why even if you’re an atheist or a cynic, reading the Bible or the Koran or visiting a church or temple is still a useful experience.
We’re fortunate to have a precise scientific language to describe what we perceive and experience. Yet when we learned not long ago that Homo nalendi, an ancient and distant relative to our Homo sapiens family, treated the remains of their dead with immense deliberate care that would seem to indicate reverence and remembrance, the vocabularies of geology and anthropology fell short. Other creatures that once dwelt on this planet were capable of behaviors and attitudes that we believed quite resolutely only we ‘true’ humans could. Now we know that liquid water exists beyond the confines of the Earth. How lucky we are to have the physicists and biologists from NASA who investigate these things. Yet I have a suspicion that even the scientists and engineers at NASA and ESA understand that there is a greater mystery here for us to explore.
September 28, 2015