Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sacred Texts

As I think about my schedule for Fall, I realize that I'll be studying and using the ideas of Jacques Derrida a lot. The relationships between texts, writing, and the experiences we share on this earth, and the ways we take the representations apart in our heads to make sense of those experiences, the way we deconstruct them as described by Derrida, is an idea I first got ahold of while I was walking in the desert. I was walking and I came upon some writing.

Reading Derrida and reading the inscriptions on the desert floor was hard going, and both took some time. At first, I thought I was reading something that stood for something else; either a philosophical idea expressed as words on a page or a sacred event recorded on the stones of the desert floor. I didn't quite get it, that the thing to do was to read the experience directly, experience the reading directly, on the earth, walking. I started to realize that to read, I had to take a few steps, walk on the searing sand, the burnt stone, and sacred spaces would become spaces that wrote on me.

I talked to some people who knew the writings on the desert floor and saw that reading the stones, like reading Derrida, was not a process of transliteration or translation, not a way to see what was represented by the horses, running men, or sacred trails laid out on the playas, but a way to experience, as he describes it, "that which had to be comprehended: within a nature or a natural law, created or not, but first thought within an eternal presence." The eternal presence of ancient stone did not make pictures of horses or men, something I stood away from and tried to figure out, but a mystery within which I walked, a sacred text I walked in and got closer to god in.

Those old ones could really write and if I step lightly in the hot stones, tread steadily under the burning sun and wiggle my toes in the searing sands of the holy lands, I get that sacred feeling of walking, the reading, the writing all happening at once as creosote sways in the breeze, and silent, ancient lands speak to me of presences past and future, an eternal silence of stone, written while walking, read while sitting.

Despite our technological marvels of communication, our 21st-century writing is still far away, I think, from the sacredness I find in the desert texts. We seem to be overly concerned with surfaces, and are too easily satisfied with shallow description, too unwilling to do the walking with our reading. We write on the skin of the earth, and read only the cover of the book. We read the letters of the spirit, but leave the experience of spirit unread, hence unwritten, and maybe we will never read the full text until we die. But I know that someone has read it, because I have seen the texts, and read the walking spirits on the desert floor of the Colorado.