“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Months ago I stepped into a room, and somehow, for a moment, I just saw the space. The breath of light and air that held beneath the ceiling. Beautiful. When I was a kid washing dishes, I would fill up this one glass vase and swirl my fingers through the little cool currents. Standing there, looking at the openness in front of me, it seemed I could feel space itself swirling the same way water did all those years ago. The same way water still does, of course, though often I don’t see it.
A year ago, or more, I was outside and looked up at the open space between me and the trees at the other end of a field. There was so much of it, so much depth: a world wider than the little brain in which I do my thinking. So much openness, so much fullness. Looking into it was like discovering a fairytale cave. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see the space outside: with no roof, no wall restricting my sight, it’s harder to notice the reach that goes out in all directions. I often feel the height of a skyscraper, whether I’m looking up or down, but I don’t often feel the depth of the sky. I think I have before. I probably fell over.
I never studied architecture, but sometimes I think we build cathedrals, build vaulted spaces of air and light, to cut off a little piece of infinity and so give our minds a sense for size. In St. Petersburg, Russia, I walked into a public square and stopped, dwarfed by the city—exactly as I was supposed to be, said a local poet. Sometimes, instead, I imagine all our endless roads and heavy cement, I imagine the earth, the weight of its mantle, the heat of its sleep: I imagine the earth shifting, rolling over to yawn, our roads less than cobwebs on its skin. Maybe my cobweb image and my view of cathedrals are both a way to practice. I like both, anyway. I’ll keep practicing, or keep forgetting, and hope that sometime soon I’ll look up and see the trees, the field, the depth in front of me.