A walk on the trail around the airport on a cool, crisp February evening provides an opportunity for more than just exercise. The hard-packed snow along with the light of a half moon easily kept my feet on the path on the way back downtown from the Yukon Science Institute talk on the Environmental Change and Traditional Use of the Old Crow Flats up at the Beringia Centre last Monday.
If you looked away from the few runway and tower beacons towards Joe or Cap mountains you could even experience a couple of minutes of real solitude before you made the turn south towards the street light atop the Black Street staircase.
A glance up towards the magnificent Orion constellation also affords a nocturnal stroller with the chance to break from the mundane briefly. The middle ‘star’ in Orion’s sword is really the Orion Nebula whose light streams some 1,300 light years across the universe to us. This stellar nursery, I read, extends across space for some 24 light years and has offered astronomers the opportunity to study the birthing processes of stars and solar systems. For the lay observer aware of just the basic facts, this imprecise dot of light can also open a window on the infinite.
The quiet crunch of snow or a touch of star light both may be links to an often-ignored numinous quality of existence that enfolds us whether we perceive it or not in the daily rush of our lives. Rudolf Otto, an early 20th-century German theologian, wrote of this experiencing of the “wholly other.” Even Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, renowned atheists that they are, discuss the numinous aspect of our lives though they take pains to separate this quality from any notion of the supernatural.
From whatever perspective we approach our longing to find meaning for our existence, to puzzle out the rhyme of our place in the universe triggered by this awareness of the “wholly other,” it is a task we all seek consciously or unconsciously to accomplish in some way or another. Silence and solitude may offer the way for some. Scientific enquiry could offer the tools to pursue this knowing for others. All paths to this end could be considered forms of prayer.
A simple definition of prayer is the raising of our mind and spirit to the numinous reality permeating existence. This may be God by any of the many names given by peoples around the world or for others the wholeness of creation. Our opening up, linking our self with this undefinable presence, can lead to a radical awareness of our nothingness in the face of the macrocosm.
As Monty Williams SJ notes, though, on this consciousness in his book The Gift of Spiritual Intimacy “To enter into poverty of the spirit is to enter the realm where we are stripped of illusions – even the illusions of our illusions. … When we live out of that poverty, the unexpected happens. We see every moment as a gift, a luxury. Every moment as pure wonder … It changes the way we imagine the world.”
For Christians the current Lenten season is a time for prayer, for linking our interior lives with the exterior life force encompassing all around us. So that as Monty Williams says, “We become so open that the energies of God can flow through us into the world.”
Friday, March 5th marks the World Day of Prayer. As their materials note: “Each year, women from a different country write a service which reflects their justice concerns through a biblical lens.” The event this year entitled Let Everything That Has Breath Praise God was prepared by the women of Cameroon, West Africa. Christians of all denominations are invited to participate in this celebration at Riverdale Baptist Church in Whitehorse beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 5th.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 27 – Purim, the celebration of the deliverance of Jewish exiles from Persian plans to annihilate them, begins at sundown. Sending food to friends and the poor, reading from the Book of Esther and a festive meal mark the observance.
Sunday, February 28 – 2nd Sunday of Lent. A suggested reading is Luke 9:28-36.
Monday, March 1 – Holi or the Festival of Colours is a Hindu spring festival marked by people showering each other with coloured water and smearing red and green powder on one another.
Friday, March 5 – World Day of Prayer is celebrated in over 170 countries uniting Christians of many traditions in a common day of prayer and solidarity.