The thirteenth-century word “delight” comes from its Latin root, “delectare” which not only refers to pleasure and to that which brings pleasure, but also to arousal, seduction, and allure. Delight is not just a clown or a Santa Clause…it can be a belly-dancer. As can God.
To delight is to be wooed. To delight is to be coaxed into s state of tremendous pleasure. The difference between happiness and joy is that the former is occasional and the latter is a lifestyle or, for some, a lifestyle not chosen. Pleasure, allure, arousal, and seduction are not things our church has approved of until relatively recently and some still get grumpy about it. Things which delight were considered worldly by our Puritan forebears. And our Calvinist ones. And our Catholic ones. Well, the list goes on. Things which delight were considered “of the flesh” and so “sinful.” Or perhaps simply leading to sinfulness. The slippery slope.
Kai-the-dog and I have moved to the Pacific Northwest to live on a cliff of an island. We like the view. We like the breezes at night. We like the solitude. I like the silence -a good place to be a writer, a thinker, and a potter. Kai-the-dog likes the sea breezes and the smell of the water toward which he strains his leash – pulling, asking, demanding that we go for a swim. We often do, though we have differing perspectives on cold water.
There are many things one must learn when living on an island. The ferry schedule, the tide schedule, the location of dangerous undertows, and where people bake pies. For some delightful reason, people on this island LOVE pies. Handheld, folded, mini, fruit, egg, meat, berry (we have something called a Marionberry here growing along every road – a cross between the ‘Chehalem’ and ‘Olallie’ blackberries – lovely!)
Undertows are so different from waves. One can see a wave coming or – though smacked by one – can recover. But an undertow – that’s a different danger entirely. It is silent, dark, strong, deadly. It bears no malice. It is simply moving water pushed here and there by undersea cliffs, canyons and currents.
In my life, I have felt the smack of unexpected waves and even, sadly, the dangerous pulls of undertows. But what I am learning is that life is “sink or swim.” The currents are there for everyone. The undertows are there for everyone. The freshness of water’s cooling on a summer day is there for everyone. The icy danger of a winter sea is there for everyone.
Similarly, in life, there are undertows, waves, coolness, and icy hypothermia.
To swim in life’s dangers simply requires a relentless decision to delight – to make it into a verb. We must allow ourselves to be seduced by life even though it will hurt us. We must allow ourselves to be seduced by partners or friends, even though they too may sometimes seduce us into danger. We even must allow ourselves to be seduced into the delight of the religious experience even though the institution which holds its keys will occasionally roll over on its people like a sow in a muddy pit. They call the death of the piglet “accidental.”
The difference between the psychotic and the mystic is often a very thin and moving line. Those willing to swim out into the deep of God are people of great courage and people of some recklessness too. But delight calls them. They hear it and they want it, unsafe as it may be to delight. Delight seduces them. Delight allures them. Might not the art of life simply be a decision, when possible, to swim with delight? The dangers remain. But they simply require mindfulness and the willingness to let life happen; undertows, obese sows, icebergs, betraying friends, and waves be-damned. Until the last big one gets us, there is always pie once we towel off.
“The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” Joseph Campbell, Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research