March 21, 2014
Three reflections on recovering place
Mark C. Taylor recounts a poignant lover affair not with a person but with a place that, paradoxically, cannot be easily localized. For many years, Taylor has lived in the Berkshire Mountains, where he writes and creates land art and sculpture. In a world of mobile screens a virtual realities, where speed is the measure of success and place is disappearing, his work slows down thought and brings life back to earth to give readers time to ponder the importance of place before it slips away.
“To do nothing,” Oscar Wilde avers, “is the most difficult thing in the whole world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” Doing nothing is essential for thinking to occur. Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them. It is important to cultivate the lassitude of mind that clears a place for the arrival of what cannot be anticipated. Idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed.
To remain open to the unexpected, it is necessary to wait without awaiting. Awaiting, like fear, is directed—it has a specific object or objective. Waiting, like dread, is undirected—it has no object or objective. Waiting awaits nothing by remaining resolutely open to the void of the future, which is a terrible gift.
“When now and again a stone falls into a place that is utterly inevitable,” master craftsman Dan Snow reflects, “I feel I am suddenly standing under a shower of grace. For an instant I become inevitable, too. I share the compatibility that stone finds with stone. If I’m lucky, it happens a lot. Then again, some days it doesn’t happen at all. Grace may fall in the next moment or never again. I know only that if I put myself with stone, it may happen again.”
Although seemingly inevitable après coup, grace is always gratuitous, completely a matter of chance. It cannot be anticipated or earned, nor can the moment of grace be prescribed, programmed, or planned. Arriving as a total surprise, grace turns the world upside down—eternity enters time to disrupt, without displacing, what long had seemed settled. Grace—like a rose, a stone, and even life itself—is without why and, thus, remains forever incomprehensible. If there were a proper response to grace, it would be mute astonishment.
From Recovering Place by Mark C. Taylor. © 2014 Columbia University Press. Used by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.