For the past few months, I’ve dipped into Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek often alongside a mug of tea on weeknights after a long day of work or in the rocking chair on lazy Sunday afternoons. These many short bursts of reading finally led me to the end tonight. While I’m sure I didn’t internalize or even understand all of her meanings and metaphors, I can say with certainty that I’ve been changed as with any good book. One of her central ideas is the concept of “seeing,” viewing even the most microscopic details of creation with the same wonder as most of us would the Alps or a splendid sunrise on the beach. After going on and on about the intricacies of life sustained in her goldfish bowl, for instance, she writes “I have often noticed that these things, which obsess me, neither bother nor impress other people even slightly. I am horribly apt to approach some innocent at a gathering and, like the ancient mariner, fix him with a wild, glitt’ring eye and say, ‘Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?’ The poor wretch flees. I am not making chatter; I mean to change his life.”
At times while reading, I thought she was wasting energy rejoicing in such details that don’t seem as mind-blowing as she finds them, especially when there are more important things to do in the world. (Right?) So much to be done. So many decisions to be made. So much. So little time. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy her incredible writing or revel right along with her in the beauty of Creation. It just seemed at times so peripheral in the grand scheme of life. But by the end of the book, her case finally sunk deep in my heart.
“Thomas Merton wrote, ‘There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.’ There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”
In calling us to exult in Creation, grand or infinitesimal, she’s not losing sight of what matters in life. She’s suggesting, I would dare to guess, that when we really see the world for what it is, all extravagant and magnificent, we should be thrust into wonder, drawn into deeper gratitude not only for the beauty of it all, but for the Creator who would, for no practical reason string out a universe to display his power and glory. Intentionally or not, Dillard showed me that wonder always goes hand in hand with gratitude which always goes hand in hand with worship. And these are the things that matter. These are the things we’re made for.