This morning, Gentle Reader, I re-read and re-savored Robert Frost’s powerful poem, ‘Directive.’ In response to Frost’s poem, Greenleaf wrote an essay he titled, ‘Directive and the Spiritual Journey.’ Before you continue reading this post, I invite you, Gentle Reader, to read and perhaps re-read Frost’s poem. Although you might find somethings in Greenleaf’s words that stimulates your intellect without reading Frost’s poem.
This morning I am going to quote at length from Greenleaf’s introduction to his essay. Greenleaf writes:
If Robert Frost had a deliberate strategy of influence in mind when he wrote ‘Directive,’ he kept it to himself the one time I heard him asked about its meaning. His answer was, ‘Read it and read it and read it, and it means what it says to you.’ He read this poem in a way that carried the impact of its obviously great importance and meaning to him.
What one gets by reading and reading and reading this poem cannot be predicted. One gets what he is ready for, what he is open to receive.
Of course, this is what the poem is all about. Our problem is circular: we must understand in order to be able to understand. It has something to do with awareness and symbols.
Awareness, letting something significant and disturbing develop between oneself and a symbol, comes more by being waited upon rather than by being asked. One of the most baffling of life’s experiences is to stand beside one who is aware, one who is looking at a symbol and is deeply moved by it, and confronting the same symbol, to be unmoved.
Oh that we could just be open in the presence of symbols that cry out to speak to us, let our guards down, and take the risks of being moved.
The power of a symbol is measured by its capacity to sustain a flow of significant new meaning. The substance of the symbol may be a painting; a poem or story; allegory, myth, or scripture; a piece of music; a person; a crack in the sidewalk; or a blade of grass. Whatever or whoever, it produces a confrontation in which much that makes the symbol meaningful comes from the beholder.
The potentiality is both in the symbol and in the beholder… All symbols are potential sources of new meaning. Nor is meaning a product of the conscious intent of the creator of the symbol. The poet is sometimes as surprised by new meaning in his own poem as is anyone else.
Meaning from an interaction with a symbol is a new creation. It can be new with each opportunity. Taking the opportunity may be the measure of one’s growth.
If one views spiritual growth as a unique and personal journey, then what one makes of a symbol is to some extent unique and personal. A symbol may say something in common to all beholders; but the real lift and insight is beyond the range of verbal communication.
Yet it is important that we try to share our symbolic experiences because, as responsible people, we need the check and guidance of other responsible people.
All of us encounter obstacles to growth. We may find new paths in the accounts of fellow seekers. . .