John Denver was a gentle, loving soul of considerable talent and purpose. He sang with heartfelt clarity and graceful gravity, qualities his music often reflected. Annie’s Song is ostensibly a love song, John Denver singing a poetic list of metaphors for how grand the experience of loving a woman is, and being loved by her. What’s compelling about the metaphors though is that they could be common everyday experiences, mundane even. The kind of experiences we take for granted every day. Denver elevates them, finds in them a grandness he equates with the most soulful of loves.
like a night in the forest
like the mountains in springtime,
like a walk in the rain
like a storm in the desert,
like a sleepy blue ocean
you fill up my senses,
come fill me again.
How often do I walk through these scenes and sense nothing out of the ordinary, feel no expansion? How often are my senses not filled up?
I’ve been playing a word game I call “The Thesaurus Game”. One player picks a word. The other player looks that word up in a thesaurus, and chooses one of its synonyms. The first player looks up the new word, and chooses one of its synonyms. And so on. Any lover of words can appreciate this game. Aside from being a superb exercise in vocabulary building, the word choices often lead to interesting, revealing places. It’s fascinating to see where the words take you, or should I say where you take the words?
For example, after choosing “Lithe” in response to my “Supple” one player explained…
The shape of a word, the way it comes together, is all part of its sensory appeal. It’s a texture in your mouth the same way certain foods either appeal to you or not. Jello is fun to eat… cause it feels funny in your mouth. Words are the same. The tongue tapping the front or the back of your mouth (say any word that has a hard g in it… it’s not near as pleasant as words with t. The tongue momentarily blocks your airway when you pronounce a hard g.) There’s a tensing of the jaw with certain words that have too many i’s or e’s. Words that involve your lips tend to be on the softer side. They feel nicer.
I love words. I love the many nuances of meaning, the way a few words can strip a ragged idea down to an essential truth. I love the way a word sounds, the way those sounds play off one another in verse and prose. I love how a word can create an image unrelated to its dictionary meanings by its proximity to other words (the paradox of a political party calling itself “Progressive Conservative” for example). A word can trigger an emotion, a memory, a vision, a song, a sound. But I’d never given much consideration to how a word feels.
All words chosen with as much attention to the sensations of speaking them — by the affect of them on our body — as to their meanings, their sounds, the feel of them in our heart, our mind, our soul. Now a single word can fill up my senses.
Considering this, I realise how far I’ve drifted lately. Last year…last year I filled up my senses. I discovered that the sunrise is a sacred experience, and nearly every morning would greet it with my didjeridu. I danced…on the beach, under the light of the moon…in a frenzied crowd to latin-techno. There were cold, crisp mornings so silent you could hear the snowfall, and nights by crackling campfires. There was laughter, and there were smiles and deep soulful kisses. A child’s glee, and skimming through curling envelopes of salt water. A road wound through Oregon into California, steep, curvy, wooded, a driver’s dance. Another drive along a seashore of broken cliffs and breaking waves. And another through a desert reef, crumbling red rock rising above the autumnal yellow aspen.
These are the sacraments of a sacred life. Fill up your senses with them. There is always room for more. A good thing, too. The more sacraments we observe, the easier they are to sense. Until the simplest acts, the most mundane events, become sacred, something as simple as sleepy blue ocean, or a night in a forest, or the lovely feel of the word forest as it forms on your lips, your teeth, your tongue.
John Denver understood this: fill up your senses and fill yourself with love.