On Gazing Above and Perceiving Below

To see a world in a grain of sand 
And a heaven in a wild flower 
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand 
And eternity in an hour.  
- William Blake

One cold, indeed a very cold, winter night on the high desert of Nevada, after a middle- school catechesis class, I opened the door of the small trailer home, departing to drive an hour back to my home. I did not want to open the door, the wind was biting cold, the home was warm, and we had enjoyed dinner and laughter with the family after the class. I remember opening the door and looking out at the night sky, usually very dark speckled with a few stars twinkling in the very far distance. What I saw took my breath away. I stopped in my tracks. What is this before me? A sky full of gleaming lights, seeming so near I could almost touch them. 

As I stood there in the cold, indeed frigid, evening, I let myself be enveloped in the wonder and awe of this night display of God’s splendor. I learned later that this spectacle had a name, dubbed Hale-Bopp, C/1995 01 to be exact, a comet which came four thousand years ago, was with us now, and would not reappear for another 4000 years or so! 

From that moment I knew I had a whole new relationship with the twinkling cosmos of the night. At home, every night for several months, I ventured out to search out and gaze upon my new-found friend and teacher. In the city it is more difficult to see the twinkling and the magnitude of the myriad points of light. My persistence was rewarded. Every night for as long as the comet traversed the heavens above our mountains and the clouds dissipated, I gazed above and was steeped in the miracle of light and God’s love and greatness… overflowing gratitude. Comets come into our lives — not so often. But the memory remains and continues to give joy and delight. 

Commenting on Blake’s words and images, G. K. Chesterton observed, “If we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the great patience of poets.” 

Too often I go through life as a tourist, wanting to see so much in the vastness of creation. Sometimes I even take a guidebook and know the description of geography, flora and fauna. I might even muse that I was learning something…yes … and not completely. To perceive the poppy and lupine of my hillsides takes more than knowing their proper names. To know the poppy and lupine, I must immerse myself in their deep hues of orange and purple, be attracted as bees and butterflies to their fragrance, to be familiar with their ephemerality and feel what happens when any life loses vigor in the perpetual circle of life. Such is the seeking with the loyalty of a child, the persistence to do or to know, perhaps to be… and as a poet, with patience come to word (if necessary) – the exactness of which captures essence. Consequently, I am opened to seeing heaven in a wildflower, and more, reaching high into the heavens, beholding a comet, or a common star, I can “hold infinity in the palm of [my] hand.”

Sister Deborah Lockwood, Franciscan Sister 

Redwood City, CA