I know from umpteen paperback apologetics that Spiritus in Latin and Pneuma in Greek and Ruadh in Hebrew all signify breath of some sort, the oxygenating impetus that aerates biochemical life; and I’m told too that the gender of the noun varies in the different declinative languages. That would be typical of the Holy Ghost’s habitual devilment, as is the secondary meaning of Spirit, still preserved – or marinated, you might argue, in modern English – as the polite term for intoxicating liquor.
I say this because my own occasional experience of conventional contemplativeness has always and everywhere been bound up with, well, windlessness, the irreverent reverse of venting; which is, of course, an uncommon phenomenon among the island people of a North Atlantic outpost that is blown and battered on a Beaufort scale from Malin Head to Mizen Head. We are, in fact, little italics in a live-stream force-field, crouched like question marks against a horizontal adversary. We are all versus or vis-à-vis and never just via; which may be why the blessed, beatific moments that I’ve somehow survived half-a-dozen times in a total life-span reverberate within me as a standstill, a becalming I could not endure for longer than the sharpest periods of serenity. Physical stillness of that order is simply too distressing. It is, if you will, too Mediterranean.
Come to that, many such moments actually occurred in those southern latitudes. There was a boy, who might have been me or a quite different person with the same Christian name, who spent eighty-two days and eighty one nights with a strange family in a part of Provence where his future teacher lived, a scripture scholar whose own name would later become an adjective in English. At midday, while the strange family slept for almost three hours indoors through the high, hypnotic shrieking of cicadas, the boy would sit under a fruit-tree in a field, and stay there, utterly still, at the intersection of a happiness and a homesickness that was unlike anything he had ever named, while tiny, translucent lizards fled and then froze among the root-work. One of them perched on the strap of his sandal for a second, and scrutinized the sky, as if at lizard devotion. The boy could see his internal organs palpitate through the transparent flex of his olive-green fuselage.
This was midday, but not midway. This was there, the true Mediterranean. This was here, the centre of the earth.