Moment Alive with Being

Before the Beginning
Unknown to us, there are moments
When crevices we cannot see open
For time to come alive with beginning.
(John O’Donohue)

This may be one of those times. A crevice has opened – it is a time “alive with beginning.”

I believe this moment requires a depth of imagination that we humans have yet to fathom. It is a moment – perhaps like none other – demanding a contemplative approach. It could be that the imagination required can only emerge from the depths of contemplation. The opening of crevices seems to insist on a creative mingling of contemplation and imagination.

When we think of imagination we quite naturally turn our attention to the arts. But today perhaps more than ever before even science speaks an imaginative word to us as it invites us to imagine a ‘new cosmology’ – a new story of the universe. These are indeed imaginative times when energies usually considered so alien to each other – our human need to know and our need to express our human experience – join in inviting us into the sacred space of contemplative imagination.

In recent times scientists have asked us to imagine the universe as wavesand particles. Brian Greene invites us to grab hold of his string theory. And I’ve never experienced a sunset quite the same since Brian Swimme invited me to lie down and feel not the sun setting but the Earth turning.

Poetry has always been a door into contemplation for me as I suspect it was for no less a poet than Walt Whitman. Whitman had a truly joyous vision of life and I think his philosophy would have resonated with the New Science. He believed that we are all connected and that everyone, once a part of life was essentially connected to everyone else and to every other part of life in the Universe. So, his “Song of Myself” becomes a contemplative moment for each of us.

He writes: “I celebrate myself,/And what I assume, you shall assume,/ For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

It is a poem that invites the opening of imaginative crevices – in every phrase, in every line. I invite you to take these words into a contemplative moment with you:

I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,/ And accrue what I hear into myself — and let sounds contribute toward me.// I hear the bravura of birds…the bustle of growing wheat…[the] gossip of flames…// …the echo of sunset.

Contemporary poet Joy Harjo enriches our evolving understanding of the Universe and sparks our imagination when she tells us she “can hear the sizzle of new born stars” as she becomes “witness to flexible eternity.” Her experience teaches that “we will live forever, as dust or breath in the face of stars, in the shifting patterns of winds.

In our contemplative moments do we hear the “sizzle of newborn stars”, the “bustle of wheat growing” the “echo of sunset”? I wonder if those words are what prompted Brian Swimme to first lie down at sunset. I wonder did he hear its echo?

So many poets stand ready to accompany us into the depths of contemplative imagination – our contemporaries, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Jane Kenyon among them. Let them inspire us not only with their words but into writings of our own. I have found that a form as simple as haiku can pry open the deepest crevices of human imagination and understanding.

all nature awaits/ in the hush of winter nights/ the newer morning

© Suzanne Klick

And, of course, the visual arts – sculpture, painting, photography – need no words. As French philosopher Gaston Bachelard put it as he reflected on the works of Claude Monet:

…the painter, like every creator, knows the contemplative musing,
the pondering upon the nature of things. Indeed the painter experiences the revelation of the world through light too intimately not to participate with his [her] whole being in the ceaselessly reiterated birth of the universe.

When we encounter visual works of art we participate in these creative moments of contemplative imagination. It is as though we accept the invitation of the artist to come into a quiet sacred space where creation takes place. It is like entering into contemplative dialogue with the artist. Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers make it all but impossible to resist such a dialogue. Sometimes because a work or an artist really speaks to us, we might be moved to copy the work – or taking clay or crayon or paints in hand we open a crevice within ourselves and we create something original.

Perhaps nothing stirs the imagination more than entering into imaginative dialogue with nature itself – imagination, we might say, before it became self-conscious. As Harjo speaks of her homeland in the US Southwest: “The land is a poem of ochre and burnt sand….” A walk in the woods, at the ocean, by a lake, in the desert can be like writing a poem with our bodies. Just feel it. Speak without words to the trees, the waves, the placid waters, the blue sky. Listen to what nature is speaking in the silent stillness of our being.

to see
with the mind
of the spacious sky
to listen
with the soul
of the roaring sea
to taste
with the spirit
of the breathless wind
to touch
with the heart
of the nurturing earth
to be
for the moment
the center
of the universe

Let us create within ourselves moments that open the crevices and release the energy of contemplative imagination into this time “alive with beginning.”

Written by Mary Jo Klick

© 2009-2019 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with permission


Gaston Bachelard, “The Right to Dream” in The Impressionists: A Retrospective. Edited by Martha Kapos. London: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 1991
Joy Harjo and Stephen Strom, Secrets from the Center of the World. Tucson & London: Sun Tracks and The University of Arizona Press, 1989.
John O’Donohue, Conemara Blues: Poems. NY: HarperCollins, 2001
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” ” in Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose, ed. James E. Miller, Jr. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972

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