January 12th, 2009

A Sea of Silence

How does geography affect one’s personality?

I suppose her conception of the word “beautiful” as it applies to surroundings is quite different from mine. Strange rock formations, solidified lava that once flowed down the slopes. Roman ruins, ancient Greek fish farms, arched ceilings cut into the tuffa. Rocks jutting eerily from the surface of the sea, jagged rocks, sharp pointed rocks, white waves spitting and crashing. The boat gently rising and falling in the placid sea.

Eons ago a cliff face was molten lava, a stream of red-hot bubbles and streams. Now it’s a huge mural with undulating dark bands, not an abstract but a literal cross-section representing different epochs, like tree rings. A dark, echoing cave. I looked up and hoped that rocks would not suddenly fall down on me. I floated and bobbed gently on the blue-green transparency, watching carefully for rocks that might scrape the bottom of the boat. Schools of fish the shape and size of sardines stood motionless, then darted off. Pale yellow and green and black rocks shimmered below the surface.

“Ti amo, John,” she whispers. “ Per sempre.”

Petrarch, atop Mount Ventoux, opened his copy of Augustine’s Confessions and read the page that fell open by itself. He swore this is what his eyes fell upon:

“And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.”

At the end we learn our obsessive pursuit of romantic love is an illusion, because what we’re seeking in others is just a shadow of the love of an authentic father, a god. St. Catherine picks up where Augustine leaves off. God is incomparable, she says, and the way to God is through the denial of all created being, such as this vast placid sea, and all ideas and images of a god, and also one’s very self. St. Catherine understood that all we say about God is not God. Hers was a nulla mysticism, that is, everything is reduced to nothing. But then this nothing, inexplicably, becomes everything. As she says, “My ME is God.” I am my own father. My father is ME, I need search no further.

I stare out at the water where the illumination had just taken place. I wait for divine brightness to reappear. But I see nothing, and hear nothing in a sea of silence.