Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Consolatio naturae

     In Consolatio philosophiae, the great medieval thinker Boethius considered the mysterious presence of evil in the midst of a world governed by the ultimate good--God.  In prison awaiting trial and eventual execution for treason while he wrote the book, he had occasion to meditate on the nature of happiness, the fickleness of fate, and the presence and faithfulness of God.  Seekers will not find happiness in wealth or worldly fame, he wrote; happiness lies only within the heart.

     Philosophy perhaps offers less comfort in the modern world, disrupted as it is by tweets and blogs and constant emails and the never-ending bombardment by data.  Though we all are destined for the same end, we have so little time to wonder about our own significance--or lack of it--and so little opportunity to meditate on what happiness is to be found here.  In the midst of life, we are in death.  Boethius knew it.  And it means that striving for happiness and peace is our ultimate end, however complicated and data-driven the modern path.

     In one era of my life, I spent all my time thinking about literature and philosophy.  I can't do that anymore, so lately I have substituted consolatio naturae--the comfort of nature--in the form of a daily run through Golden Gate Park.  This simple act has a way of calling me back to myself.  I strive for calm; I so often fail.  But in the early morning sunlight, the towering redwoods cast the sun into a haze of taffeta rays that looks exactly like the presence of God feels.  The mist breathed out by meadows seems to embody their abiding peace.  And sometimes the fog blankets the park in an audible quiet.

     But the cathedral of trees, blessed by the misty sun, most calls out the presence of God to me during my everyday ritual.  I am alone, uninterrupted, running: the most basic and grounded motion the human body can perform.  And daily I am reminded that the chaos of the mundane has no power to blot out our ultimate identity with the natural world, or the peace that lies at its heart.

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