Annie Dillard, Tinker Creek and Stalking God
Have you ever read anything by Annie Dillard? Her observations astound me.
I was introduced to Dillard in February through my book club. The ladies in my group take turns choosing books – we try to read widely. February’s selection was Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for which Dillard won a Pulitzer, back in 1975. She began writing it in 1972 at the ripe age of 27.
I couldn’t make it through both books in the month. Holy the Firm is a mere 70-something pages, but nearly impossible for me to understand. After working through every few paragraphs several times, I gave up and just read the rest of it as poetry; hoping for the invisible thread of meaning to show itself more clearly.
It did – but not until our meeting, as I stumbled over it verbally with friends. Now I must go back and read it again.
But… Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? I’ve continued devouring this one in the morning quiet. I just finished Chapter 11:
“The whole universe is a swarm of those wild, wary energies, the sun that glistens from the wet hairs on a muskrat’s back and the stars which the mountains obscure on the horizon but which catch from on high in Tinker Creak. It is all touch and go….”
She then describes Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain’s cliff, when Moses asked to see God’s face. And again, when God showed Moses the Promised Land from mountaintop – a land he would never enter:
“Just a glimpse, Moses: a cliff in the rock here, a mountaintop there, and the rest is denial and longing. You have to stalk everything. Everything scatters and gathers; everything comes and goes like fish under a bridge. You have to stalk the spirit, too…I sit on a bridge as on Pisgah or Sinai, and I am both waiting becalmed in in a cliff of the rock and banging with all my will, calling like a child beating at the door: Come on out!… I know you’re there.”
I know that banging. Come out, God! Why play such hide-and-seek with me?! Then somehow I see His presence – in birds at my feeder, a lizard on my porch, my child holding turtles. One morning, many years ago when we first moved to our NC home, I was sitting at my dining room table, sick with worry over yet another new beginning. Lonely, troubled over finances and generally exhausted from life, I laid my head atop my open journal and just sobbed – hard, deep, snotty sobbing. The crying echoed in the hollow room. I looked up trying to compose myself so as to not wake my boys.
That’s when I caught a glimpse of His presence. Outside my large dining window, I witnessed my measly attempt at attracting birds – a small finch sack hung off an ill-placed wrought-iron pole – dripping with finches. I couldn’t even see the sack for all the birds clutching to its nylon sides.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" – Matthew 6:25-28
In that moment, I drew deep into the present. Everything faded then magnified. Everything belonged. Everything was holy. Dillard says the fact that we’re allowed into such moments of present and still live is incredible. Yes, I agree.
Often, I finish reading a bit of Tinker Creek and think what a luxury to live unencumbered in a mountain cabin, surrounded by opportunities to seek and find, chase and capture holy moments. Who lives like this? Such spoilage.
Right now, my five children are fussing at one another over who should get the last half of bagel. Self-righteous and justified voices by 7am. Oh God, who sometimes seems to hideyourself so well, please let me see at least your backside! I am your stalker, against all odds.
Do you stalk God? Have you had seasons in life when you felt like He was playing a hide-and-seek game with you? Can you see yourself as Dillard? Passionately pursuing higher things while chasing muskrats and analyzing amoeba under a microscope?