Grand Canyon. Photo by Callen Harty.
Years ago when I first stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon I could not help but be struck by the realization of my own smallness in the world. The existential and agnostic aspects of my personality could easily take something like that and find confirmation of an ultimately meaningless existence. But I am a typical Gemini and tend to see and feel both (or more) sides of everything. I have also always had a deeply spiritual connection to the world.
Standing there that day I felt small next to the vastness of the canyon, but I also felt connected to the earth. The canyon was so large and so awe-inspiring that it further enhanced my belief that there must be some greater spiritual being. I don’t pretend to know what form this greater power may take, if indeed there is form at all. I only know that I believe that my spirit is part of a larger spirit, that my being consists of energy and that energy doesn’t cease, it merely changes, just as the Colorado River dug a deep chasm into rock to create the Grand Canyon. To me this change of energy could be the Heaven of Christians and the reincarnation of Buddhists. I know that I don’t know, but standing there reassured me in my faith in some way. Faith is belief without knowing. It is about intuition and connectedness. It is about knowing without knowing.
Lying under a night sky in Michigan, watching the clockwork eruption of Old Faithful, and sitting next to the roaring waters of Niagara Falls have all had the same effect on me. But one doesn’t need only vastness and large wonders to instill faith. I have also felt it sitting next to an ebony jewelwing damselfly, in the touch of a snowflake on my tongue. If God is the totality of the energy of the universe and beyond then God is present in all, large and small, and present within me, too. This is why Gandhi practiced ahimsa–to do no violence to any being, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. This is why the poet William Blake understood that you could “see a world in a grain of sand, and a Heaven in a wild flower”.
It is also why whenever I need to rejuvenate myself I can do so in nature, even in the nature of my own back yard. Nature is where I am most comfortable and where I feel my connectedness to all. I breathe easier and find myself more at peace in it. I can kneel in an altar of mud and be baptized by a natural spring. I can sense the constant and unchanging, yet ever-changing energy of the universe and know that I am of it. I can renew my faith on a blade of grass.
About Callen Harty
Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores,
He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History.
He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive.
Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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Simply stunning. Reading your older posts makes me realize how much I’ve missed you these past decades.