We Know Life Through Its Beauty and Its Terror

March 18, 2011
Embracing life fully in the face of uncertainty and pain.

Along the rocky shore of a Galapagos IslandThis morning I opened my email and saw a newsletter, Krista Tippett on Being, and saw a picture that reminded me of this photo I took in the Galapagos Islands. Both pictures were on a rocky beach and I was interested in why that picture had on it the words “A Wild Love for the World” and what it meant.

Then I read the comments in which Krista wrote about a time ten years ago when she was worried about the future of her National Public Radio program, Speaking of Faith. She said:

“I was in despair. I was encountering skepticism at every turn; nothing was working out. I was about to give up — certain that this adventure, however passionately I had believed in it, was coming to an end. But somehow a copy of Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows’ translations of Rilke’s Book of Hours fell into my hand. I still vividly remember my defeated mood as I opened it up and read this poem in a coffee shop:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us 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 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.
Rilke’s Book of Hours, I, 59

It was exactly the piece I wanted for today’s post and I am taking the liberty of quoting Krista’s commentary on what can support you when it feels as though your world is falling apart.

With Japan’s disasters getting more serious by the day, we can feel so overwhelmed that we fail to appreciate the gift of being conscious of life in all its complexity in this most complex of worlds. I agree that we become alive by embracing life and continuing on our journey as we walk through both beauty and terror.

Recently I read a book that I highly recommend for those who wonder if they can continue in a climate of such uncertainty: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It follows the life of Louie Zamperini, whose goal to win an Olympic medal in racing was dashed with the opening of war. He survived almost unbearable conditions adrift in the Pacific after his plane crashed and almost three years of torture and near starvation as a POW in Japanese prison camps. Then he managed somehow to maintain his sense of self to overcome all of this and live life to its fullest. (Check out the book if you want a superior read.)

There is no place where safety is guaranteed. I live in earthquake-prone Southern California. Other people live where there are tornadoes or hurricanes or war. Nothing outside us is permanent, neither the beautiful nor the ugly, neither pleasure or pain, places we want to walk through and places we’d rather not have to go. The only thing that survives is our ability to be fully present, conscious and grateful that we are alive wherever that is and whatever is there with us.

I like Rilke’s observation that you will know life by its seriousness. Give God your hand and follow as well as you can and live as consciously as you can through this journey called life.

Did you enjoy this post?
Here are a some related posts from this blog, and articles from the Support4Change website:


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