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 meals 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.
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery.
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the solid, turn, and unlock— more than a maple— a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.
Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (pp. 184-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
The truth and power in Dillard's writing is often not evident at first glance. But on vacation I have the luxury of lingering over what she writes... so as I dug a bit deeper, I discovered what she was referencing from Ezekiel. It comes from 13:5, where Ezekiel says,
Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. (KJV)This didn't help! So I read some of the surrounding context, and looked into a commentary or two for this passage. The Oxford Annotated Bible says this:
True prophets would care enough about their people to go up into the breaches (like Moses, Ps 106.23), i.e., to risk their lives by arguing with God on the people’s behalf (9.8; 11.13).Ah, now I'm getting somewhere. This is about that well-used (but perhaps little understood) phrase, "stand in the gap." Building on that, I see that Dillard is calling us to dig deeper into life, to not settle for less, to speak the truth to power when necessary, to squeeze the last drop out of life, even if it means facing deep and intimidating confrontation. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis' counsel in his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.Where are those "gaps" in my life? In your life? Where do I need to go, stalk, squeak and spend?
On this vacation, when I'm not reading, resting, or enjoying the outdoors, I am watching the Olympics! Today I heard a quote used by one of the USA track women as motivation, taped to her bathroom mirror, that captures all of this succinctly:
Indeed."You do not wake up today to be mediocre."