My Tongue Has No Bone

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My tongue has no bone. And neither does yours. That’s just the way it is. Gerald May challenges us to take a closer look at this truth in our book club chapter this week: everything is just the way it is. Sounds simple, right? Of course everything is the way it is, you may be saying to yourself. And yet...we look through things every day without realizing the way they really are. Chapter five of The Wisdom of the Wilderness--Of Time and the Seasons--begins with a discourse on time.

Through an imaginary conversation with a cicada, we realize how different our view of time is from the way the natural world operates. Nature, says May, our own and that of the world around us--lives in Presence instead of “in the present”. Rather than moving through time, it simply exists in cycles and successions: sound and silence, light and darkness, birth and death, activity and stillness, courting and nesting, eating and sleeping. Everything is rhythms. Everything is seasons. May further illustrates this point with a story about an inscription he was once given by a Korean Zen Master. The inscription, translated, read: For Jerry: The tongue has no bone. Spring comes every year. Love, Me. Upon the reception of this gift of words, May says, I bowed and smiled knowingly, though I didn’t have a clue what the words meant. It took him nearly fifteen years before he began to understand the meaning of the Zen Master’s words: Everything is the way it is. Indeed, the tongue has no bone. And spring will return. Year after passing year.

By way of further explanation, May expands upon the concept of joining that we discussed in chapter four. In gazing at a tree, for instance, May says: Nature invites me to really look at the tree and just see her for herself. As my gaze deepens, all commentary stops and there’s just the being of the tree, the tree being tree, beyond even my label of “tree”, and me being me with no self-images and it’s all one complete immediate being-experience, breathlessly exquisite…The gift of joining, of direct, participative communion, is a very real possibility in every moment. When my comments cease and my symbols evaporate and my feelings dissolve into pure Presence, I join the tree in its real, immediate being. May is describing the difference between observing the tree and perceiving the tree--joining with the tree. The rest of this chapter is, perhaps, my favorite part of this book thus far. The author describes his attempts at joining with various aspects of nature through the change of seasons. We are treated to his feeling, thought, and sense commentaries from one of his favorite vantage points--his canoe in the water reservoir near his home. As we move through spring, summer, fall, and winter with May in his canoe, I can almost feel the organic nature of this passing time. I sense the acceptance in his words--the attempts of a dying man to make sense of the remaining moments of his life. And though I am an observer to this story through the reading, I can feel the joining he describes. And it is beautiful. Food for Thought: **May believed that we must first be receptive to this joining before it can occur. He says, I think God respects our individual integrity and will not invade us when and where we are unwelcoming… Do you agree? Has nature ever taken you by surprise by erasing all mental commentary and sweeping you into a totally perceptive experience?

**May describes this contemplative awareness as the place where you and I dance into realizing, realizing our eternal embrace of one another and the earth within God’s endless, infinitely intimate embrace of everything. I found these words extremely touching coming from a dying man’s pen. Yet, when I consider that we are all perishing, I wonder that I don’t make more time for contemplative experiences such as May describes in his book. Did you interpret these words in a similar way? Thoughts?

Photo by Ann Voskamp, used with permission. Post written by Laura Boggess