Our laughing neighbor

Truly being here is glorious. Even you knew it,
you girls who seemed to be lost, to go under –, in the filthiest
streets of the city, festering there, or wide open
for garbage. For each of you had an hour, or perhaps
not even an hour, a barely measurable time
between two moments –, when you were granted a sense
of being. Everything. Your veins flowed with being.
But we can so easily forget what our laughing neighbor
neither confirms nor envies. We want to display it,
to make it visible, though even the most visible happiness
can’t reveal itself to us until we transform it, within.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, The Seventh Duino Elegy,
translated by Stephen Mitchell

I am struck by this: “But we can so easily forget what our laughing neighbor / neither confirms nor envies.” What about these “laughing neighbors”? Surely we have all had the experience of having an intensely inward perception deflated within us by some non-reaction of the world, by pure indifference. (Disputatious rage or a kind of clock-minded logic — e.g., the “New Atheists” — is easier to take. Equally useless in terms of understanding and preserving your experience, but easier to ignore and move away from.) But the other, the laughing neighbor, this wounds us, and it does so because every genuine impulse of inwardness contains a little propulsion back toward the world and other people. In fact, as I’ve said, this is how you ascertain the truth of spiritual experience: it propels you back toward the world and other people, and not simply more deeply within yourself. This blankness of faith, this indifference that doesn’t even reach the level of resistance, it is simply one of those weakening influences that we must push through. And without ego, without thinking ourselves superior, for we don’t know all the ways in which God manifests himself or why some people in our lives, even some whom we most love, seem immune to inwardness. Perhaps we are the weak ones, and God comes to us inwardly only because we have failed to perceive him in the crying child, in the nail driven cleanly into the wood, in the ordinary dawn sun that merely to see clearly is sufficient prayer and praise.

— Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

The comprehensible slips away, is transformed; instead of possession one learns relationship, and there arises a namelessness that must begin once more in our relations with God if we are to be complete and without evasion. The experience of feeling him recedes behind an infinite delight in everything that can be felt; all attributes are taken away from God, who is no longer sayable, and fall back into creation, into love and death.

— Rainer Maria Rilke,
in a letter to Ilse Jake

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