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vulnerability : what emperils is also what saves

Nah ist und schwer zu fassen der Gott. Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch.”

“Near and hard to grasp Is the God. But where danger is deliverance also grows”

― Friedrich Hölderlin

These are the opening verses of Hölderlin's celebrated long poem Patmos. Martin Heidegger has written a commentary on it. They have accompanied me for many years and I have kept coming back to them.

There is a koan-like quality to them that defies intellectual understanding. It needs to be appreciated at a different level. And so my journey with them. In the beginning, I tried to grasp the meaning of the words, then slowly realized what the poet is conveying here is something that could only be appreciated from the depth of human experience.

Experience itself is a Latin word composed of two words: ex, meaning over or beyond and, peri, the root of peril, meaning; trial, test, danger. An experience has by definition the notion of risk and peril built into it.

These lines feel very close. We can not touch the essence of what our existence is about without venturing outside of the comfortable and convenient, without stepping into the unknown, without facing perils and taking risks.

If we dare, if we embrace the unknown, if we extend ourselves more fully to what life has to offer then something grows and matures in us. We begin to worry less about the outcome of our actions and while we are happy when the wind turns our way we also develop the fortitude and patience necessary to endure and accept adversity. I think this is what the poet means by deliverance growing in the face of danger


In a deeper sense, this means we can not hide from ourselves and from our lives. Exposing ourselves to the vicissitudes of existence, to the unavoidable ups and downs of life makes us develop a deeper sense of trust in our vulnerability.

It is through vulnerability, so seems to me, that we meet at once what exposes us to risks and perils but also to what secures and shields.

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