Friday, October 21, 2011

A Presence That Disturbs

I have learned
to look on nature, not as in the hour
of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
the still sad music of humanity,
nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
to chasten and subdue. And I have felt
a presence that disturbs me with the joy
of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
of something far more deeply interfused,
whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
and the round ocean and the living air,
and the blue sky, and in the mind of humans:
A motion and a spirit that impels
all thinking things, all objects of all thought,
and rolls through all things.

William Wordsworth (1170-1850)
Tintern Abbey” (1798)
Lines 88FF
The above is taken from the book A Presence That Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Anthony Gittins, CSSp, and is the foundation for a prayer service and conversation that I am preparing for tonight (if this is published after 12:00 a.m. that is...tomorrow if before). The line that continually returns to my thoughts is "but hearing oftentimes the still sad music of humanity." I can almost feel a heavy melody played out by flutes and cellos as I read this short section. All day I have been thinking of the events in Libya and the news that Ghadafi is dead. I am disturbed by this news. I cannot yet articulate what is disturbing me, there is a depth to this feeling that I have not been able to shake or articulate. The "presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts" is also the presence that disturbs me in this moment of silence. Tonight the people of Libya are in my prayers as they work toward putting the pieces of their lives together. I think part of the sadness is that although the tyrannical leader is gone after much struggle so many people in Libya are left with broken lives. This will be a long, strenuous journey toward greater emancipation. Fortunately, they have one another to hold onto during this time and the hope of "a spirit that impels." The delicate hand that plays the cello through the "sad music of humanity" is indeed playing out the realities faced during such turmoil. In this music we have the opportunity to heed the rest of the piece if we are disturbed enough to lend our lives to the harmony that is needed. Together we may be able to create the beauty that is a necessary accompaniment to such tragedy. 


  1. Will mention your reflection next Tuesday evening in our little study circle which is reading A Presence That Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship, Anthony Gittins, CSSp. It is disturbing when violence is chosen to solve issues among the rational creation. There has to be another way.

  2. I too reflect on the sad disharmony of a world filled with discord! Using a theme of how sometimes out of discord comes harmonies that haunt us. I am watching many who are affected by the policies of the U.S. government regarding immigration. This week the programs about detention centers set up to make profits for those who are wealthy. When do we stop hurting the people whose faith life and human dignity are threatened? When do we become peacebuilders? That is certainly part of our call to radical discipleship.