Sunday Week 25 Year A Wednesday Week 27 Year I

Feast of Michael, Gabriel, & Raphael, Archangels

Print Version September 29th, 1999

Let Annie Dillard deliver the homily today. She knows more about angels than I ever will. This is from “A Field of Silence” in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

“The farm! … I lived there once and I have seen, from behind the barn, the roadside pastures heaped with silence … silence heaped on the fields like trays. That day the green hayfields supported silence evenly sown; the fields bent just so under the even pressure of silence, bearing it, palming it aloft: cleared fields, part of a land, a planet, that did not buckle beneath the heel of silence … but instead lay secret, disguised as time and matter as though that were nothing, ordinary…
I do not want, I think, ever to see such a sight again…
It was Saturday morning late in the summer, in early September, clear-aired and still. I climbed the barnyard fence between the poultry and the pastures; I watched the red rooster, and the rooster, reptilian, kept one alert and alien eye on me. … From time to time I looked beyond the pastures to learn if anyone might be seen on the road.
When I was turned away in this manner, the silence gathered and struck me. It bashed me broadside from the heavens above me like yard goods; ten acres of fallen, invisible sky choked the fields. The pastures on either side of the road turned green in a surrealistic fashion, monstrous, impeccable, as if they were holding their breaths. … There was only silence. It was the silence of matter caught in the act and embarrassed. … I could see the shape of the land, how it lay holding silence. Its poise and its stillness were unendurable, like the ring of the silence you hear in your skull when you’re little and notice you’re living, the ring which resumes later in life when you’re sick…
I stood in pieces, afraid I was unable to move. Something had unhinged the world. The houses and roadsides and pastures were buckling under the silence. Then a Labrador, black, loped up a distant driveway, fluid and cartoon-like. I had to try to turn away. Holiness is a force, and like the others it can be resisted. It was given, but I didn’t want to see it, God, or no God. It was as if God had said, “I am here, but not as you have known me. This is the look of silence, and of loneliness unendurable; it too has always been mine, and now will be yours.” I was not ready for a life of sorrow, sorrow deriving from the knowledge I could just as well stop at the gate. I turned away, wilful, and the whole show vanished. The realness of things disassembled. … the air above the fields released its pressure and the fields lay hooded as before.

Several months later, walking past the farm on the way to a volleyball game, I remarked to a friend, by way of information, “There are angels in those fields.” Angels! That silence so grave and so stricken, that choked and unbearable green! I have rarely been so surprised at something I’ve said. Angels! What are angels? I had never thought of angels, in any way at all.
From that time I began to think of angels… I began to review the thing I had seen that morning. My impression now of those fields is of thousands of spirits—spirits trapped, perhaps, by my refusal to call them more fully, or by the paralysis of my own spirit at that time—thousands of spirits, angels in fact, almost discernible to the eye, and whirling. If pressed I would say they were three or four feet from the ground. Only their motion was clear (clockwise, if you insist); that, and their beauty unspeakable.
There are angels in those fields, and, I presume, in all fields, and everywhere else. I would go to the lions for this conviction, to witness this fact. What all this means about perception, or language, or angels, or my own sanity, I have no idea.”

Entry Filed under: Berkeley,Homilies


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