In an interview several years ago, Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donahue recounted growing up on the west coast of Ireland:
. . . [I]t's the Burren region, which is limestone. And it's a bare limestone landscape. And I often think that the forms of the limestone are so abstract and aesthetic, and it is as if they were all laid down by some wild surrealistic kind of deity. So soon - being a child and coming out into that, it was waiting like a huge wild invitation to extend your imagination. And then it's right on the edge of the ocean as well, and so a conversation - an ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone going on.*
The photo above is of that interface between ocean and stone--the place of conversation--as O'Donahue put it. A close look at the rock reveals the impact of those long encounters: ridges, lines and fractures in the limestone. His image of the interaction--especially in light of the photo--as being a "conversation" caused me to think.
How many of us would think of water striking rock as "conversation"? The Hebrew psalmist writes of the sea "making a noise" (Ps 98. 8) or "thundering" (Ps 96.11) and the "rivers clapping their hands" (Ps 98.9). A quick search, however, doesn't yield a reference to water "speaking" or "saying". And wouldn't most of us see such a conversation between water and rock as rather one-way? The water being the active participant, the stone being passive?
Yet, over time, the impact of the conversation between sea and stone is evident -- certainly on the rock, as both the force of the water, and the corrosive nature of the salt take their toll. But the water absorbs minerals from its splashing. Particles of stone remain suspended for some time in the water. In short, both water and shoreline are changed. It is much like any conversation between people, I believe. That is, any encounter changes us both in some way.
Many years ago now, I took a class in Process Philosophy (derived from the work of mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead). Process Philosophy (and its cousin, Process Theology) assert that any encounter changes all parties to the encounter. Sometimes the change is easily apparent; other times, the changes are only evident after a long period of time. I often recall, at moments like this, the words of another philosopher/scientist/theologian (often associated with process thinkers), the Jesuit Tielhard de Chardin, who, in a letter to a young student, begins:
Above all, trust the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. . . . . And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability - - and that it may take a very long time.**
We are such impatient creatures. Immediate satisfaction/gratification is our goal. We see it, we want it . . . NOW! We desire it, we demand it . . . NOW! We want our children/partners/parents to change . . . NOW! And we find it so difficult to let conversations proceed at the pace they require, including our conversations with the Divine, i.e., prayer. We often treat our interactions with God as if God were a cosmic ATM -- as long as we put in the right card, and type in the right PIN, we should receive what we ask, without much delay.
I wonder if many of our conversations with God (and others) are a lot more like that between an ocean and stone: real change only happens gradually. Yet, at some point in the future, we can look back and see how much we've grown. A conversation between ocean and stone CAN take a long time!
Now if I only knew who is the ocean and who is the stone?
*The interview was with Krista Tippet of "On Being." The full interview, as well as other photos, can be found http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2012/inner-landscape-of-beauty. There is a wonderful gallery of photos of the Burren at http://www.burrennationalpark.ie/gallery.html.
**Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest 1914-1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 57.