The day was waning slowly as we approached Stonehenge from below the tourist tunnel. I pulled off the headphones that had been offered to everyone to help them understand what we were about to see. They offered only the distraction of fact and fancy, not the unbounded reality of the moment. Something let me know that I needed all my attention here and now. Nothing we ever learned about this place, historically, prehistorically, technically, could add to what was happening right now.
The long day behind us had been beclouded with a high, petty overcast. As for my wife and me, every little thing that day, had conspired to keep us away, (or to get us there just in time!.?) Once up on the Salisbury Plain, the sky above the western horizon, receding into the distance, began to clear. There they stood, as if older than time itself; these seemingly stationary stones that predate everything there, excepting the pensive sky. My inner senses, no longer distracted by the obvious, let me know that the stones’ unchanging attitude was not the source of serenity. They were there to stand in witness to the moment, to participate in the myriad moments that parade unceasingly past.
The joyful antics of a pair of giggling girls, leaping skyward to pose mid-air, arms and legs flung wide, frozen in their zeal by their camera’s split second shutter, melted away momentarily into the much grander mood that held sway. Un-busied by the bustle of the tourist crowd, this place rose above these smaller human events, and urged us to look and feel skyward as well. The sky and beyond was where the greater events originated, after all. That was surely the monumental understanding that guided its builders and rebuilders.
Time and change have always seemed a mystery to me. I am comforted in my ignorance, by the understanding that the mysteries of time and unceasing change have baffled much greater souls than mine. Since time immemorial, we have tried to predict time’s antics, sure that this would lead us to a greater grasp.
When I was younger, before time was anything more than the movement on the clock on the wall, longer durations than a day were almost meaningless. The circular movements of the clock at least bore some resemblance to movements in the open sky. A map, as it were. It was a very satisfying thing to have all the hands of the clock stand at the top of the dial at the moment the sun was also directly overhead. Clocks had a peculiar relationship with the night sky however. The stroke of midnight is the opposite of noon, clearly. This mystery eventually resolved itself when I first saw the full moon standing high above, at the moment of midnight. That particular conjunction was as rare as my permission to stay up that late, so it made some kind of sense. But the rectilinear calendar, with days and months in their own outlined boxes, rows and columns, never made sense at all. It was neither map or compass for my understanding. I could not study the calendar for clues about the passage of time. I just had to remember these longer spans without the support of my senses.
Time. At first there was day-time and night-time. School came and there was play-time, lunch-time, nap-time. All the good times! We were fortunate to have had a very regular schedule so that we could learn to anticipate. This was a great support of our inner sense of time. Then there was winter-time, summer-time and all the seasons. These too were punctuated by festivals like Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July. Anticipated and predictable. Prediction seems to be another, more intellectual way to get a grasp of time. For a while, it worked for me to picture the seasons in my mind without the confusion of a calendar.
But, as I grew into literacy, I became increasingly dissatisfied and even bothered by the boxy depiction of calendar time. In my imagination, the cycle of the year was just that. It had to be a circle, with midsummer, obviously, at the top, and midwinter at the bottom. The rest of the details emerged from milky obscurity as I grew older.
My many attempts to explain my circular picture of the year were met by confused looks or kind requests to put it down on paper. Now, memory starts to fade just as the amount we have to remember blossoms, and eventually, I had to put my imagination down on paper even to keep it sharp in my own mind. The paper had to be big; time was large! I looked for the largest poster board I could find and tried to put it down just as I thought I imagined it. Poster board is not forgiving about corrections, and it wasn’t long before I realize that I would have to get it pretty clear in my mind before I even began to sketch. I worked with a string, a pin, and a pencil to get the oversized circles. No compass came close to big enough. The four quadrants were easy. Months were like the clock face. But they didn’t line up with the seasons. What a mess! To have any practicality the circle needed to be divided into 52 weeks. That took weeks itself, to get right. But I was driven. I was enthused! The form gradually emerged as if from the board itself.
As soon as it stood there in front of me, in all its rudimentary imperfection, it was as if a window to a long-lost world opened. In the coming weeks, I started to have dreams and inclinations toward understanding that far out-stripped my intellectual development at the time. It was the same kind of feeling as coming home to a place that had only existed in my mind. I started looking up at the night sky for something. Time took on a meaning that was utterly new to me. The eyes of my soul looked upward and outward instead of only inward. There, outside of me, was the monumental living image of time, rough-hewn but much grander than I had ever realized. My feeble depiction had simply brought it home to me…
Circling the ring of standing stones, and pausing where the place was right, I sensed the palpable presence of a living peace that grew out of this moment’s constellation of Earth and Sky. I felt a humble empathy for the builders, knowing in my arms and back and heart and mind, with an unknown certainty, than they had pulled from celestial revelation as much or more than they had pulled from the distant hills to make this monumental creation. The stones had been the least of their toil and remain the least of their artwork. In this sacred place, standing stones still touch the sky. And the sky still speaks back.
As the sun cleared the clouds, it stretched its rays downward, not as a benefactor to a lesser being, but in a sort of reverence for what it illuminated. It was as if the Sun were worshipping the Earth, glad finally of being able to penetrate through the clutter of clouds. It was like witnessing the beloved, glowingly able to see its own beloved other, after a time apart. I felt honored to be there for that moment of grace. To be there to participate in this unending marriage ceremony. It was still only the beginning of September. The equinox was yet to come.
These stones draw us near, not to see them, but to let us witness the world through them. Our alignment gets re-aligned, if we can do what they call us to do in the moment, in the flow of all moments.