Reflections by Jerry Webber


Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Rilke Poem: For Being Rooted and Rising Up

I'm thinking today about the movements of growth, which both descend and ascend. In Western society, growth is conceptualized mainly as an upwardly ascending movement in which we rise to more and more lofty heights. Most of us, I believe, intuit the lie in that imagery, yet the cultural pressure to buy into this mentality of ascent is almost overwhelming.

Yet the created world knows better . . . she knows that the journey downward sinks roots deep that are necessary before the journey of ascent begins. Descent -- or a movement to the center -- is a movement of growth, too. Sinking long, sturdy roots into the soil is essential in order to grow tall.

This work of descent mostly happens underground, beneath the realm of physical sight. In unseen ways seeds germinate, roots spread and the context for growth is laid. You cannot immediately rush to the heights without this prior, more interior work.

Rainer Maria Rilke saw this as well as anyone I've ever read. In this poem there are a number of images, mostly from the natural world, that speak to this God-created reality of movement and growth. I offer it to you for consideration and reflection on growth and becoming.


How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing --
each stone, blossom, child --
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.



[Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996), 116 - 117]

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