I stood in line for about an hour and a half waiting to vote at the West Oaks library in Ocoee, FL, taking advantage of Gov. Crist’s extension of the early voting hours in the Sunshine State. Felt a bit like a cool fall day in New England- as the sun was setting, the night air grew slightly crisp, enough to want a light sweater. It’s the weather I’ve been waiting for since early March- Florida’s sad pitiful version of winter. Moving from New England twelve years ago, I never thought that I would miss the winter, but I do.
As I stood in line, I read from The Intimate Merton, a new collection of journal entries by the Trappist monk. As I waited, I read his words from June 27th, 1949, written after Merton took a long walk in the woods surrounding the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani:
As soon as I get away from people the Presence of God invades me. When I am not divided by being with strangers…I am with Christ.
The wind ran over the bent brown grasses and moved the shoulders of all the green trees, and I looked at the dark green mass of woods beyond the distillery on those hills down to the south of us and realized that it is when I am with people that I am lonely and when I am alone I am no longer lonely because I have God and converse with Him (without words) without distraction or interference.
But this place was simply wonderful…Down in the glen were the songs of marvelous birds. I saw the gold-orange flame of an oriole in a tree…There was a cardinal whistling somewhere, but the best song was that of two birds that sounded as wonderfully as nightingales and their song echoed through the wood…I had never heard such birds before. The echo made the place sound more remote and self-contained, more perfectly enclosed, and more like Eden.
I read this amongst a hundred people or more, all of us in line, doing our civic duty. And I understood the necessity of it, and did not begrudge it in any way shape or form- this was my choice to stand out here, and make my voice heard in the political process, no matter how small. But reading those words made me realize how transitory it all is, and how, well- processed. We struggle through existence, creating monumental decisions for ourselves in order to feel more alive, and distracted. And I thought of Merton in the woods, feeling God all around him- the moist breeze, the summer heat, knowing that it too would change, but needing no campaigns in order to do so. Summer into fall, into winter, into spring…the Nature God created flows into one and another, decision innate, inherent, and obvious, because it all flows from God’s most holy will.
And perhaps we hear God’s voice not in a cacophony of voices, as most Americans have been inundated with through the noise of the presidential campaigns, but rather in echoes, resounding in the silence of our being. Jack Kerouac once shouted from a lonely mountaintop “What is the meaning of the Void?” He later wrote “the answer was silence, and so I knew…”
So now I sit in my house, furthering this mindset by listening to Sufjan Stevens sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in his particulary ethereal way- one lone voice, one lone banjo, one lone haunting eternal call and melody. And is it too early for Christmas music? Oh well. The time has come, for me at least, to cast my vote and then drop out of line, and turn myself over to small eternal singularities. And soon enough, the celebration of a tiny echo of Eternity, laying in a manger.