Nature’s Veils


     A proverbial saying is that nature has “veils,” which, like an exotic dancer, she takes off one by one until we see her as she “really” is. From the perspective of age 64, I find that “nature” (broadly conceived as our human experience of everything we can detect by our mind and senses) removes veils at times but, at other times, puts them back on again.

     Wordsworth says in his famous poem “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” that the child is “Appareled in celestial light” — veiled, in a way — by wonder and by the child’s unfettered and innocent imagination. Later, this radiant clothing is taken away, as he puts it, “In years that bring the philosophic mind” when a rational understanding of what the child experienced intuitively replaces the child’s intense experience of oneness with nature as being more spirit than matter. One veil replaces another, which is lifted in its place.

In adolescence, and for many years thereafter, one more great “veil” is raised — to reveal the intense power of erotic attraction and, in time, the desire for children. And while knowledge of such attraction can never leave the mind, the power itself tends to wane with age — and the veil comes down again.

And what veil does nature shed and what thereby reveal to one in old age? I would call it the veil beyond which lies, in the title of Samuel Johnson’s famous poem, a vision of the “The Vanity of Human Wishes” and a full view of the human comedy — yet also gratitude for having had the privilege to live (see my first post — on Wonder), happy memories of accomplishments and the many kinds of love, making peace and forgiving, a quiet acceptance of the inevitable conditions of life, bowing before life’s great mysteries which we experience but cannot solve, the feeling that one has fought the good fight like St. Paul and developed one’s gifts as best one could, leaving behind competitiveness and the striving for honors and awards (which are as dust), laughing at the absurdities of life (“farce” is the kind of play most in tune with old age), and, in the end, hoping to have the courage to face that day when the “veil of veils” is lifted and one passes through death to see at last, forever unveiled, the loving face of God.

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