Oh!

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Imagine this scene… You’ve been visiting a friend who has a cabin near a lake. It’s
2 AM, and not being able to sleep, you wander down to the lake in the dark. No one is around. You walk to the end of the dock that extends out into the lake. Daring yourself, you take off your clothes and stand there in the blackness.

splash HRThe night sky is cloud-covered and dark, no stars. Your body is dark and the water below is dark. The darkness is cool on your skin. You want to dive forward into the air and the dark water, but you are afraid. Even the feeling of your fear is dark.

As you hesitate there, your whole life seems to be compressed into this moment: the way it has felt all these years to be a self, your self, alone in the midst of what’s out there and what comes next. It’s been this way for as long as you can remember: the sense of being you in here, confronting the it out there.

The darkness becomes so intense you withdraw from it into the only safe place you know: your self. But now with a shock you feel your self is just as dark as everything around you. There’s no safe place, no refuge. The darkness goes all the way through.

At that moment you give up. You stop caring about being safe or not being safe. What the hell… without planning or thinking, you dive into the darkness.

Suddenly the intensity of the darkness is overtaken by a silence that is even more intense. Your body, stretching forward in a perfect arc, is enwrapped in silence. For that brief moment suspended over the dark water, the passage of time stops. The silence reveals itself to be without beginning or end, or to have any duration. It goes right through you. You are silence.

And then the world erupts into a crashing, splashing roar of cold water, bubbles, and light flashes churning in the silence that doesn’t move. The coincidence of timeless silence with the coitus of body and water snap the last thread of your old separateness, and as your head surfaces you shout, “Oh!”

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“Oh!” is the best of our words. Nearly pre-verbal, nearly without meaning, it is the spontaneous sound of mystic surprise. It is the sound of humility and honor, of welcome, surrender and awe all at once. It is the sound of the nude soul opening into its home light. When Sufis invoke names sacred to them they say, “Ya!” which is their way of saying “Oh!” “Ya Hayy!” — Oh Alive! — “Ya Fatah!” — Oh Openness! Or as Mechtild of Magdeburg sang in her prayers:


Oh burning mountain!  Oh chosen sun!

Oh perfect moon!  Oh fathomless well!
Oh unattainable height!  Oh clearness beyond measure!
Oh wisdom without end!  Oh mercy without limit!


It is a sound that fits great choirs of angels in their praise, and a sound that lovers tell no one else. At the moment of our death it may be our last sound. “Oh!”

Could “Oh!” also be our most intimate spiritual practice? Could we let it voice the surprise of our hearts as we wake in the morning, or turn a corner, or see the light in a passing face, or when we hear the news of a plane crash or a bomb going off and wish to offer something to the dying ones — “Oh!”  This sound doesn’t even have to be spoken, because before it is a sound it is silence as big as the sky — the silent, blissful, transparent now, ever surprising us with what we are.