Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Counting on lightning
     Surprised by insight


In medieval Europe, people believed that ringing the church bells during bad storms dispersed evil spirits seeking to destroy God’s house. In a thirty-year period in the 18th century more than a hundred French bellringers were killed by lightning running down bell ropes. Finally, the custom was outlawed. The ancient Romans believed that lightning moving from right to left was a good omen while energy moving from left to right was a sign that the gods didn’t like what was happening politically. A leftward movement required that all public assemblies be canceled.

Probably the Romans were no closer to the truth than the medieval Christians, though both positions still claim adherents. It’s easy to misread the meaning of things.

For me, lightning is one window into the way of things. There are illuminations that occur suddenly. Unseen patterns connect and the darkness explodes in brilliant skeletal patterns, and I see.

There are slower ways of learning, of course. Some things we learn gradually, a little here and a little there, something like the way a coral reef is built up from the remains of innumerable individual polyps. This learning is vast and solid, forming the experiential base of all our knowing. 

But I have come to count on lightning. Living in a dry climate where lightning is rare, I know that conditions need to be right. Lightning forms in thunderstorms, and thunderstorms are brewed out of heat and moisture. So I read and observe and make notes, bringing the needed ingredients to mind. I am drawn outside at night when the sky is alive with tumultuous changes.

Sometimes, it’s true, the darkness returns so swiftly that we are little more than confused by enlightenment too brief to stick. But sometimes, we really do see and in seeing we are changed.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2007 Michael L. Umphrey

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