I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
But I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours
Perhaps the spiritual life is not so much a linear journey, as it is a kind of unfinished spiral—an ever-broadening orbit around something greater than ourselves. The poet Rilke seems to be saying that we grow larger by these ever-widening circles—and passionate and wiser, too; and most of all, we develop a humility about what we know. And even who we are.
It seems the further out we circle, the more open-ended and curious our perceptions become. Our sense of wonder takes hold, and we find that our souls don’t seem to fit any neat and tidy enclosures anymore. Suddenly, it dawns on us that our very identity—the one we’ve been building up with solid bricks year after year—is not so solid after all. We discover that we are not a permanent structure but rather a flowing river of endless becomings.
It’s unsettling. Even terrifying. And yet, it is a fact of life that the daunting power of flowing water will knock down even the strongest illusion of permanence. . .
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