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.
—William Stafford, “The Way It Is”
WILLIAM STAFFORD WROTE this famous poem just 26 days before his death. It was one of his last attempts to encourage us to “wake up” from conformity and the distractions of modern life, and instead listen to that authentic moral intuition that resides within each of us.
In this way, he was a lot like transcendentalist philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau. He believed that within each of us is the “Wise Silence,” the “Soul and the Whole” or, in other words, God. And we are connected to this sacred dimension through “the thread.”
But it takes patience and mindfulness to find and follow the thread, doesn’t it? And hanging on to it isn’t always easy.
One of the interesting discoveries I made while doing research is that Stafford’s concept of “the thread” is actually not at all unique. The idea of a thread running through our lives has emerged throughout time all over the world. For example:
The goddess, Neith, of ancient Egypt was a weaver who wove all of existence into being on her loom.
In ancient Greek mythology, Ariadne provided a thread to Theseus to lead him out of the labyrinth.
In the Teutonic myth of the Norns, there were three female divine beings who wove destiny and spun secret meanings into life.
In the American southwest, Grandmother Spider Woman spins all of life from the shimmering threads in her belly.
In the Hindu Upanishads, it states that those who glimpse the thread are also getting a glimpse of Brahman — the Ultimate — the spiritual core of the universe.
In this way, Stafford was tapping into a metaphor that we humans have been pondering for a long, long time. I’d like to suggest that, even today, it can guide us into thinking more deeply about the path we travel through life.
The thread nudges us to consider questions, like:
Who am I?
Where am I going?
What is the meaning of my life?
What happens when I reach the end of the thread?
This is not to say that holding onto the thread will protect us from life’s hardships. Enduring hardships like aging and illness, separation and loss are an inescapable part of being alive.
But holding onto the thread can keep us from getting lost in the dark woods that swallow us up every now and then.
To paraphrase Parker Palmer: Knowing we can find our way home with that thread in hand makes us more likely to explore the darkness and learn what it has to teach us. I believe that this is such a time.
May you take the time this week to search for the thread in your own life. May you grab it by the tail and see where it takes you. In so doing, may it deepen your sense of purpose and your connection to each other and the Holy.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]