(Click here to watch the Blackbyrds live out Lax’s advice.)
Robert Lax, p. 381, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax
Coincidentally, over the past few weeks, several people have asked me about the simple poem printed here. If there’s one thing I learned during my many years of hanging out with Robert Lax, it was to trust coincidences, which, with Lax, were better called fortuities.
People talk about “thin places” in the world—locations where the barriers between our tangible reality and a more spiritual realm are less substantial. These are thought to be places of unusual energy, where unusual things can happen. Findhorn or Iona in Scotland, for example. Or Lourdes in France. Or Lax’s own island, Patmos.
Lax, to me, was an example of a “thin person.” His life was filled with fortuities, mostly of a spiritual nature. And it was oddly common for those who came to know him to have the same kind of experience in their own lives. The reason, I believe, was that Lax was more open to the spiritual realm than most people. As a result, the veil between this world and the next seemed to thin around him. When he came in contact with a person in a complementary state of spiritual openness, anything could happen. And often did.
When I met him, for example, an extraordinary series of improbable coincidences put me on Patmos reading about him in his best friend’s book, and several more led to our actual meeting. At the time, in part because I was young and had a certain hunger, I was more open to spiritual possibilities than at any other time in my life.
One of Lax’s most beloved pieces of advice is to put yourself “in a place where grace can flow to you.” Rather than a physical space, I think he meant a way of being, a spirit of receptivity, an orientation toward the living God. By putting ourselves in such a place, we open ourselves to unseen love, the energy of the universe, and the possibility of fortuities.
The question, of course, is how to do that. Through prayer? Patience? Meditation? Charity? All of these are worthy ways to access grace. But I believe the main way, for Lax, is right there in his poem.
Once, years ago, the artistic director of a prominent theater told me a key moment in his life came when he was about to leave graduate school and start his career. Unsure whether he should move to New York and become an actor or return to his hometown to start a theater, he asked an old professor—a grizzled veteran of the New York stage—for advice. The professor fixed him with a narrowed eye and said, “There’s no path. Do what you want to do.”
It seems to me Lax is saying something similar in his poem: Stop trying to find the path to get through the woods as fast as you can. Concentrate instead on discovering who you are and let that carry you forward, at whatever pace and in whatever way is most natural for you.
It’s the rhythm and the movement that are most important, not the woods or the path. The rhythm is the rhythm of the jazz musicians jamming, the acrobats performing on the backs of horses, the islanders setting out to fish in tiny boats. The movement is the movement of the music. Of the animals. Of the sea.
Each of us must find the natural rhythm and movement in our own lives, our own beings, as we are fit and blessed and motivated to live them. Then will the fortuities of grace and love begin to flutter down “like birds,” as author Milan Kundera once wrote, “to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders.”
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