What The Beats Can Teach Christians About The Voice of God
Gary Snyder is a lot of things. One of them is a poet of the Beat generation. He broke all of the stereotypes for that wild movement in the mid-50s: a counter-cultural group of frustrated youth raging against the confines of the “Leave it to Beaver” lifestyle track. While most of his ilk were pounding New York and San Francisco streets in broken-soled loafers and secondhand sports jackets (the cheesy, black-beret image began sullying the waters in the early sixties and there is little reality to it), he tromped on the scene in logging boots and rough flannel straight out of the High Cascade range. He was equally adept as a trail builder, logger (choke setter), high mountain fire lookout, merchant mariner, and mountain climber as he was a Berkeley professor, Japanese academic scholar, and environmental activist. He is a seeker. Arguably, he is a seeker of enlightenment. Here’s one of my favorite poems of his:
Mid-August at Sourdough Lookout by Gary Snyder
Down Valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir cones
Across the rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I can not remember things I once
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
To seek enlightenment is to seek a new perspective on life that must ultimately elicit positive change. That search has to be both intentional and have embedded checks and balances. As Christians, our intention is to be more Christ-like as we drive down Highway 14, pick up our living room, enjoy time at Heathen Brewing, and talk with co-workers. We have to invite God into our consciousness as we work and play and do all the little things that make life go.
Our checks and balances are three-fold: the Bible, our prayer life with God, and our like-minded community. If one of these things is out of joint in our search for enlightenment, we run the risk of spiraling into self-involved spiritual lunacy. A buddy of mine spoke of some “seekers” his friend witnessed while working as a pilot in India. He saw many who were searching for enlightenment, but their search never produced any demonstrable change in heart or behavior in either themselves or those around them. If there is no change, then what’s the point?
Gary Snyder traveled the high country of the world to seek enlightenment and experience. He came back transformed and began changing the world around him for good through his writing, teaching, and environmentalism. We can’t all be poets or professors, but we have the abilities God gave us, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us do the good will of the Father. Our intent is to be more Christ-like and we, as Christians, live our lives in search of this enlightened state. We make sure we are on the right path by reading the Bible, praying with our God, and talking with like-minded (and otherwise) people around us. Based on what we find in our search for enlightenment, our hearts and our actions are ultimately changed.