By Rev. Anna Blaedel
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Machine endangers all we have made.
We allow it to rule instead of obey.
To build the house, cut the stone sharp and fast:
the carver’s hand takes too long to feel its way.
The Machine never hesitates, or we might escape
and its factories subside into silence.
It thinks it’s alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.
But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places
we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers
that–when you feel it–brings you to your knees.
There are yet words that come near to the unsayable,
and, from crumbling stones, a new music
to make a sacred dwelling in a place we cannot own.
On the night of the last full moon, I awoke in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. I tossed and turned. I breathed and meditated. I made mental to-do lists and gratitude lists. As minutes became hours, I longed for a sleep button I could push, to quiet and pause my mind, my body, my heart, the world.
The blessing and the curse, but really just the blessing, is that I am not a machine. We are not machines. Our human bodies, and the bodies of our creaturely, earthly, planetary kin, are wild. And unruly. And mysterious. And mortal. And alive. And blessedly, beautifully, maddeningly beyond our control. Which doesn’t mean we don’t try. Colonialism, enslavement, ableism, extractive economies that prioritize profit and productivity above life and collective flourishing–all violent patterns and systems that seek supremacy and celebrate mastery.
But life holds mystery for us yet.
When I find myself awake in the night, I am trying to shift from frustration to curiosity, opening into rather than fighting against whatever the dark depths are offering.
Finally, I crawled out of bed, lit a candle, and stepped outside. The air enlivened my flesh with the season’s first autumnal chill. Falling leaves whispered and rustled in the wind. I walked up the hill to the cemetery where my great grandmother is buried. I felt the peculiar pleasure of solitude, being awake when others are asleep, and savored the particular beauty of the world illuminated by the moon’s fullness. I felt my heart rate slow, my breath deepen; the depths of night offering a spaciousness to those of us whose natural pace takes too long to feel its way.
Aurora Levins Morales writes, “In the steepest pitch, the darkest hour…the only salvation is to expand, to embrace every revelation of my struggling cells, to resist the impulse to flee, and hold in my awareness both things: the planetary web of life force of which I am part, and the cruel machinery that assaults us: how greed strips and poisons landscapes and immune systems…The only path out is deeper.”
So much, stripped away and poisoned. So much, being destroyed. So much, being revealed. So many, struggling. We, collectively, so mired in pain, in crisis, in death, in despair.
But life holds mystery for us yet.
“The times are urgent,” Bayo Akomolafe offers, “so let us slow down.” Slowing down opens possibilities for deeper sensing, feeling, tending, connecting, savoring.
In countless places we can still sense the source of Mystery, of Life.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for making our passionate love for our world dependent on what we think of its degree of health, whether we think it’s going to go on forever,” writes Joanna Macy. “This moment, you’re alive.”
This mystifying, mysterious life.
This moon, offering ancient wisdom of rhythmic rising and release, rest and return.
These stars, still being born.
These leaves, dancing as they tumble and fall.
These ancestors and elders, haunting and hallowing our lives.
These mycorrhizal connections, sharing and redistributing the nutrients necessary for life.
These old oak trees, reaching for each other underground.
This first songbird, singing in anticipation of dawn.
This sacredness, dwelling in that which we cannot–ever, ultimately, honestly–own.
Rev. Anna Blaedel is theologian-in-residence at enfleshed. They bring an attentiveness to the intersections of academic, activist, and ecclesial engagement. Anna nourishes students through campus ministry for the University of Iowa Wesley Center and is enrolled in a PhD program in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division.