Letters to Peregrinus #59 - On the Thread & the Web

Alder thinking, in Ursula Le Guin, The Other Wind, chapter 4, pp. 183-184 – “Not having known of this larger aspect of his gift till he lost it, he pondered on it, wondering about its nature. It was like knowing the way to go, he thought, like knowing the direction of home. Not a thing one could identify or even say much about, but a connection on which everything else depended. Without it he was desolate. He was useless.”

Robert M. Doran, SJ (2011) - “In the literal sense of the word, a horizon is the limit of one’s field of vision. What lies beyond the horizon cannot be seen. But as one moves about, the limit of one’s field of vision changes, and so perhaps what one cannot see from one standpoint can be seen from another. And so, the key to your horizon is your standpoint…. In this metaphorical sense, a horizon is
the limit of what one knows and is interested in. What lies beyond the horizon is not only what one does not know but what one has no desire to know and what you don’t even know exists to be known. There can be much within your horizon that you don’t know but want to know.”

James J. Bacik in
Apologetics and the Eclipse of Mystery (1980)[1]: “They[2] are immersed in a secular[3] mood dominated by a desire for autonomy[4] and possessed of little sense[5] of the need to submit[6] to a higher power. They do not consciously understand themselves as dependent on an ultimate source or moving toward a transcendent goal. In short, for them the mystery dimension of life is eclipsed….”

Alder, having mended a green pitcher, speaking to Ged in Ursula K. Le Guin,
The Other Wind, chapter 1, pp. 45-46 – “When Ged thanked him, he said, “It was no trouble at all. The breaks were very clean. It’s a well-made piece, and good clay. It’s the shoddy work that costs to mend.”
Dear Peregrinus (Wednesday, the feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian[7]):


I am writing to you from the western edge of the continent, on the Oregon coast, in a hideaway graciously offered me to inhabit for a week by John and Denise, in this week before my 67th birthday. Writing is why I am here, and for long walks in the afternoon through the ocean-saturated air.

It is interesting to me the way that we stumble about in Time. For example, if I were to say that I had a mobile phone that was 67-years old, then you would say that it was “a really old one.”[8] Yet, for me to acknowledge that I will commence my 68th year next week means that I am into the 68th version of me.[9]  But, the current version of anything is what we call the newest, the most developed, at the “cutting edge.”

It now appears that on my birthday I will be brand new … rather than very old.

What do you think of your current “version”, Peregrinus? Any announcements about the “innovations” planned for your next version?


I was out walking a couple of days ago, “taking my Rosary for a walk” is how I like to put it, and I found myself thinking about spiders. (I think that it was a line in a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin[10] that opened my imagination in that direction.) I got to thinking about a day, long ago (I may have been in high school), when I witnessed the bursting open of a spider “nursery” (a silken sack)[11] on a sunlit Spring afternoon. I witnessed dozens of “embryonic” spiders transforming into “spiderlings” – the middle stage of a spider’s existence.[12]

I watched these spiderlings shoot from within themselves, out into the wind, an elegant thread of silk. Because of the sunlight and where I stood, each thread was illuminated. I watched each strand bend and curl in the breeze, as if each spiderling were a fly-fisherman, who was expert in the art of casting his or her line. “Why are they doing this?”, I wondered.

And then this happened.

Each spiderling let go of its hold at the torn-open door of the nursery and fell onto the air, hanging on by a thread (perhaps this is where that expression came from). They were flying (spider scientists call this behavior “ballooning”), carried by their wind-grasped thread, towards an unknown somewhere.

John 3: 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; and so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[13]

My heart stirred that day witnessing[14] these tiny beings taking a risk on the wind, pulled by a thin thread of silk from the known – their nursery - into the unknown.

I had always thought that their silk was for building; it had never occurred to me that it was for flying.


Since as far back as I can remember, Peregrinus, I have felt the “pull” of mystery. I think that is why my heart stirred watching those spiderlings. They, just born, threw themselves inside a single thread of silk towards mystery – into the whole, wide world – riding on the back of the wind. I loved that they could do that.
In a famous encounter one night, Jesus conversed with Nicodemus (John 3).[15]

John 37 Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind* blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?[16]

Jesus recognized a good-hearted man, a man comfortably positioned in the Jewish ruling class, a scholar/teacher of the Law. His theological position was so competently constructed, so carefully built and defended, that Nicodemus had ceased to be able to recognize God “from above”, Who at that moment was sitting right in front of him, trying to reach him, in his own language![17]

John 4: 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you. [18]

At some point, Nicodemus had built so well the “web” of his theological convictions that he, poor man,[19] had forgotten how to “fly” – how to let the Spirit have him.

Matthew 19: 20 The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”[20]
Jesus perceived how Nicodemus had forgotten that when he was a young man, his thoughts had still been able to “fly”, his thoughts of God lagging far behind his understanding, but steadily advancing toward it. “His heart in hiding”[21] already knew God, passionately loved God - “the arsonist of the heart.”[22] A person must first “fly” before he or she thinks … or he or she will never understand for what profound thinking is.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī (1207-1273)[23] 

I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.
Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
“What a bargain, let’s buy it!”
You and I know, Peregrinus, that Jesus has enormous powers to charm, to persuade, and to invite a soul to awaken, to trust the Father. How well we each know this! Or, if I could put it this way, Jesus could inspire a person to want to “fall onto the wind” – “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” – and to feel once again the “pull” of mystery, to let the “holy Mystery”[24] have him or her – all of his or her memories, understandings, and affections.

How firmly I feel this: No religious understanding has value, no philosophy of life is sufficient, if it, with all of its formal elegance and thoroughness, has shut down its ability to teach a soul to fly – that bold reaching towards Mystery of intrepid[25] “spiderling” souls! We must be souls, holding on by a thread, flying on the back of the Spirit, into the holy Mystery.


You know me well enough, Peregrinus, to know how much I esteem the poet, the local poet (though now among our Ancestors), William Stafford (1914-1993).[26] You will see why I thought of this poem as now I say goodbye to you.
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it, you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.[27]
I remember you always, old friend, so grateful for our long friendship on the pilgrim’s road.



[1] James J. Bacik, Apologetics and the Eclipse of Mystery: Mystagogy according to Karl Rahner, SJ. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980, p. 6. The best, most insightful book that I have ever read on Rahner’s fundamental viewpoint, which reveals the mystical intention/motivation of Rahner’s professional theological writings. In the first chapter Bacik describes “five types of people” aware of whom Rahner was, people who think and proceed in the world, who – “eclipse a proper sense of mystery.” Bacik put it this way: “This ‘eclipse of mystery’ is an umbrella phrase that indicates that a sizable number of people in the modern Western world have a diminished or distorted perception of the deeper dimensions of their experience – the mysterious depths that are necessarily present even though temporarily hidden or misunderstood.”

[2] “They” – Bacik is describing here what he calls the “secularized atheists.” What he means that is that more and more people, trusting less and less what the Church is or its claims over its people, establish for themselves a life and a pattern of meaning that does not include the Church. This growingly large group, at least on the American scene, are not atheists per se, because they do not deny God or disrespect God. They just consider the Church mostly irrelevant when it comes to living their lives, facing what they are facing. As Bacik puts it, “Thus, the world is separating itself from the Church and not necessarily from God … [and so this] need not be interpreted as a totally anti-religious process.” I am no fan of Church power, but I am a fan of its tested wisdom – a vast wealth of it. I recognize the enormous self-harm done in people when they cut themselves off from wisdom.

[3] The Oxford English Dictionary at “secular” – “Belonging to the world and its affairs as distinguished from the church and religion; civil, lay, temporal. Chiefly used as a negative term, with the meaning non-ecclesiastical, non-religious, or non-sacred.” From God’s perspective, there is no distinction between “secular” and “sacred.” This distinction lies in people, sourced in those who do not mind that distinctions between groups become divisions or separations, with each side disesteeming, even despising, those of the other group … and feeling good about that.

[4] “autonomy” – Literally, an entity that desires to be its own law. The Oxford English Dictionary at “autonomy” – “The condition or right of a state, institution, group, or person, etc., to make its own laws or rules and administer its own affairs; self-government, independence.”

[5] “possessed of little sense” – Something playful in the language here, when a “desire for autonomy” in a person proves that he or she has “little sense.”

[6] “submit” – In some Christian ways of thinking and teaching, people highly esteem submission to God … at least they like it when people other than themselves submit to God. But I cannot shake the conviction that for such Christians God is a God who controls things, including people. And so, for such Christians, an accomplished Christian is one who chooses to “let go … and let God”, to use a well-worn expression, as if “allowing” God to do what God wants were ours to grant Him! The problem with this is that God never has been about control. Control is a distinguishing characteristic of the Satanic principle, and way too often characteristic of humans. And the further problem is that those who imagine that God is Controller in Chief inevitably, when they get into positions of power, have a habit of demanding the submission of others ... to them. Or, if they cannot seem to do that very well, then they seek to force people to submit, or if unsuccessful, to marginalize them. These kinds of things have nothing to do with God’s ways.

[7] Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306–373 CE) – “Ephrem of *Nisibis … is unquestionably the most important of the Syrian Fathers and the greatest poet of the patristic era. His original work is, with that of Aphraates, an irreplaceable link in the chain of the Eastern tradition. Witness to a Jewish Christianity that developed on the fringe of the Roman Empire, he placed the biblical-Semitic tradition and its symbols in opposition to the influence of Greek philosophy.” [Frédéric Rilliet, “Ephrem the Syrian,” ed. Angelo Di Berardino and James Hoover, trans. Joseph T. Papa, Erik A. Koenke, and Eric E. Hewett, Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic; InterVarsity Press, 2014), 810.]

[8] The first publicly available mobile phone was released by Motorola in 1973 – the famous “brick” – it weighed 2.5 pounds! The current iPhone 12 weighs in at 5.78 ounces.

[9] I realize, Peregrinus, that you might challenge me about this language of “versions” of the self. You might inquire as to how deep a “version of the self” goes in a person? You might insist that the “soul” of a person has no “versions”; that the “soul” does not “grow” or “expand” or “develop.” But this line of questioning would require that you and I head off into the wilderness for a week-long hike, so that we might sufficiently get to all of this.

[10] “Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (1929-2018) was a celebrated author whose body of work includes 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, 11 volumes of poetry, 13 children’s books, five essay collections, and four works of translation. The breadth and imagination of her work earned her six Nebula Awards, seven Hugo Awards, and SFWA’s Grand Master, along with the PEN/Malamud and many other awards. In 2014 she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and in 2016 joined the short list of authors to be published in their lifetimes by the Library of America.” See: https://www.ursulakleguin.com

[11] “The mother spider first constructs an egg sac from strong silk that is tough enough to protect her developing offspring from the elements. She then deposits her eggs inside it, fertilizing them as they emerge. A single egg sac may contain just a few eggs, or several hundred, depending on the species.” See: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-spider-life-cycle-1968557

[12] From the same source as the previous footnote: “Immature spiders, called spiderlings, resemble their parents but are considerably smaller when they first hatch from the egg sac. They immediately disperse, some by walking and others by a behavior called ballooning. Spiderlings that disperse by ballooning will climb onto a twig or other projecting object and raise their abdomens. They release threads of silk from their spinnerets, letting the silk catch the wind and carry them away. While most spiderlings travel short distances this way, some can be carried to remarkable heights and across long distances.”

[13] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 3:8.

[14] The Oxford English Dictionary at the 14th century verb “to witness” – “transitive. To bear witness to (a fact or statement); to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of.”

[15] “Nicodemus appears only in the Gospel of John (John 3:1–10; 7:45–52; 19:38–42; see JOHN, GOSPEL OF). Some interpreters understand Nicodemus as a historical figure who lived either during the lifetime of Jesus or in the author’s community. Most scholars reject this approach, seeing Nicodemus as a representative figure who exhibits characteristics of certain people who come into contact with Jesus. Exactly which characteristics Nicodemus represents is disputed.” [Susan E. Hylen, “Nicodemus,” ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006–2009), 270.]

* Wind: the Greek word pneuma (as well as the Hebrew rûah) means both “wind” and “spirit.” In the play on the double meaning, “wind” is primary.

[16] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 3:7–10.

[17] Rudolf Schnackenburg (1968: 363-4) writes: “Nicodemus is a well-intentioned representative of the ruling classes, a man with religious questions, and one from whom Jesus does not remain totally aloof, in spite of the principle laid down in 2:25. Though the encounter leads to no positive result, and Jesus finally expresses his doubt that Nicodemus and his fellows will come to believe (v12), this merely illustrates the difficulties with which Jesus sees himself faced on account of their attitude, and is no more than a hint of the coming conflicts (John 5 and 7-10). Nicodemus can hardly be considered as 'typical' of the unbelieving Jew. At the most, he is typical of the doctors of the Law, whose principles make it hard for them to submit to the new revelation 'from above' and bow to this revealer of salvation who claims direct authority from God….”

[18] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 4:23–26.

[19] “poor man!” – I exclaim this about Nicodemus not as a put-down but as an accurate description. He who was so rich in theological training, so thorough in the construction of an “orthodox” theological understanding, and so able to defend it, that he could not see how that had impoverished him. His theological convictions gave to him a managed life and stole from him a lived life. I think of what Jesus said, and with love, to the “rich young man” (see above in the text).

[20] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 19:20–21.

[21] I am recalling here a line from the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889) called “The Windhover”. The line is: “My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!” See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44402/the-windhover

[22] I have loved this expression by Father John Shea, Catholic theologian, a diocesan Priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and author of books of poetry and of such books as Stories of Faith. In more detail, this: “John (Jack) Shea is a theologian and storyteller who lectures nationally and internationally on storytelling in world religions, faith-based health care, contemporary spirituality, and the spirit at work movement. Formerly, he was a professor of systematic theology and the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, a research professor at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University of Chicago, and the Advocate Healthcare Senior Scholar in Residence at the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics. He has also taught at the University of Notre Dame and Boston College.” See: https://actapublications.com/authors/john-shea/

[23] This poem is on page 34 of the text cited here. Coleman Barks, the translator writes in the Introduction to this book: “The story of Rumi’s life is well known. Born in the early thirteenth century into a lineage of scholars and mystics in Balkh (then at the eastern edge of the Persian empire, now in northern Afghanistan), he left as a boy with his family just ahead of the advancing armies of Genghis Khan. After several years of traveling, they settled in Konya (south-central Turkey), where Rumi became the leader, after his father Bahauddin’s death, of a dervish learning community. His life and consciousness changed radically after the meeting in 1244 CE with his teacher and friend, Shams Tabriz, a wandering meditator of fiery force and originality. The inner work that Shams did with Rumi and Rumi with Shams produced the poetry. It springs from their friendship.” [Barks, Coleman. A Year with Rumi (p. 1). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.]
[24] The expression “the holy Mystery” is one of the favorite names for God of the late Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ – “Rahner, Karl (1904–84), RC theologian. Of Swabian extraction, Karl Rahner followed his elder brother [Hugo] into the Jesuit Order in 1922. He was ordained in 1932. He continued his studies at Freiburg and Innsbruck and was appointed to the theological faculty of the latter university in 1936. After the Second World War he returned to Innsbruck in 1948 and in the following year became Professor of Dogmatic Theology. He was Professor at Munich (1964–7) and then at Münster (1967–71). He was a peritus [i.e., a theological expert] at the Second Vatican Council.” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition)

[25] The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “intrepid” – “Fearless; undaunted; daring; brave.” The “in-“prefix is privative; while trepidus in Latin means “alarmed.” So, one who is “intrepid” is a person not able to be alarmed by that which would alarm those who are not intrepid.

[26] Britannica notes: “William Stafford, in full William Edgar Stafford, (born January 17, 1914, Hutchinson, Kansas, U.S.—died August 28, 1993, Lake Oswego, Oregon), American poet whose work explores man’s relationship with nature. He formed the habit of rising early to write every day, often musing on the minutia of life. Stafford attended the University of Kansas (B.A., 1937; M.A., 1945) and the State University of Iowa, where he received a doctorate in 1955. A conscientious objector, he participated in outdoor work camps during World War II, and these experiences were the basis for his master’s thesis, which was published as Down in My Heart (1947). In 1968 he joined the faculty of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, serving as English professor from 1960 to 1980. Stafford also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (1970–71; then poet laureate consultant in poetry) and poet laureate of Oregon (1975–90). A prolific poet, Stafford often wrote about the American West while exploring universal themes.”

[27] Stafford, William. Ask Me, “The Way It Is” (p. 24). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.

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