How to Raid the Ineffable

Humans are made to think about the future.  Much of our lives involve imagining something good and then striving to realize that image.  Unfortunately, these images can tempt us to think only of the future.  We can begin thinking that happiness will only ours after all our goals have been met.

As a result, we miss the goodness that surrounds us.  We become blind to present glories.

The solution is to cultivate gratitude for the present, which is what Charles Goodrich teaches in the following poem.

Another Futile Raid on the Ineffable
Charles Goodrich

Full summer. A gorgeous, warm, dewy morn. Hoping to be struck dumb by wonder, I go out to the garden and stand agog–hands loose at my sides, gaze unfocused, lips parted just slightly–a willing instrument for revelation. But nothing happens.

A chickadee hangs upside down on a sunflower, prying out seeds with its beak. The pumpkin vine has grown a foot overnight, but now it just rustles its leaves as if shaking off the dew. A hummingbird probes the honeysuckle with its ordinary zeal. Nothing more.

My cheeks are tired of smiling. My patience is almost drained. The mysterium has failed me again. Nothing wondrous occurs, not even a whiff of awe. The shadow of a single cloud passes over the bell peppers, narrowly missing me.

Missing Ephiphany

Like most of Goodrich’s poems, this one tells a story. The poet goes outside on a beautiful, warm summer morning. Full of hope, he stands in his garden eager for epiphany, for revelation.

He has the right posture, the right gaze, he even stands “agog” (a fabulous, underused word). But he finds only the ordinary.

The poet goes to his garden looking for transcendence and finds only the usual suspects. The resident chickadee eats its breakfast, the local hummingbird religiously works the flowers. After a raucous night of explosive growth, the pumpkin vine washes its hands clean and rests.

These are all the ordinary characters, the normal and everyday events of the poet’s garden. “Nothing more.”

Finally, the poet grows weary of waiting. There will be no revealed mysteries for him this morning, no sacraments of nature, no transcendental epiphanies. For the third time, he remarks that “nothing wondrous occurs.”

He finds nothing worth even a “whiff of awe.” The poem ends with an ominous image of a cloud-shadow passing over, “narrowly missing me.”

Present Glories

The point of the poem, of course, is that the poet did indeed have his epiphany, but he missed it. He was so focused on the glories he wanted to see in the garden that he missed the glories that were already there.

He thought the ineffable would come thundering down out of the heavens, and so he failed to notice transcendence in the chickadee’s efficient bill, the pumpkin’s rustling leaves, and the hummingbird’s figure-eight wingbeats.

And so it is with us. All too often we are try so hard to realize some wispy vision of happiness that we miss the joy that surrounds us.

We live so much for the future that we miss out on the present.

And if we don’t let our eyes refocus, if we don’t see the wonder and goodness that we have now, we are in danger of never experiencing joy. If we are always yearning for the next great thing, we will never learn to be content with present glories.

Habit of Gratitude

Being content with what you have is an acquired habit. So start practicing today.

Instead of focusing your gaze on some misty vision of the future, let your eyes refocus on what you have now.

See the birds and pumpkins and glory that already fills your garden. Close your mouth and study the wondrous ineffable that fills your life.

Being thankful is the only way to raid the ineffable.

So raise your hands in gratitude. Stand agog and give thanks.

Your Turn

If this was helpful, take a moment to share this with someone else.

Or leave a comment below:  Tell me what ordinary blessing you have overlooked recently.