Don’t end up simply having visited this world.

wild-and-precious

Today, we say goodbye to beloved poet, Mary Oliver, but her poems remain to inspire and awaken us, to uplift us and call us to task. She had a gift for seeing the holy in the mundane and for helping each of us open our eyes a bit wider, to see. Who among us doesn’t pause to consider deeply her question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

We are all on a one-way conveyor belt from birth to grave, but along the way we have opportunities to seize. Today, cherish these words from Mary and make sure to live:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Be amazed.

amazement

When was the last time you were amazed? Maybe it’s time to look around you and marvel. The complexity, the beauty, the interconnection of all things. The realization that all this amazingness swirls around you and in you and through you every second of every day. That you live and breathe it, that you are a part of it –both inside as something to be marveled at yourself, and outside as something to behold the beauty and majesty of it all and marvel. And then love it all intimately despite the vastness.

Why is everything so beautiful?

attention

Have you ever wondered why everything is so beautiful? Have you stood rapt in the brilliant colors of a sunset, or listening to birdsong in the morning, or watching the way a caterpillar humps along with all its little feet working together? Perhaps there are logical, book smart reasons, like flowers are beautiful to attract bees, or animals are beautiful to attract mates or to warn predators they’re toxic, or some such thing, but don’t those answers beg the question really? Why is beauty? Could the answer be that it is to inspire awe in us? And our job is to notice.

A master violinist can play Bach on a precious instrument, and most people will just walk by:

 

We are living in a place filled with beauty if we only stop to notice. For inspiration, consider Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

What a gift we have been given to have the chance to notice the beauty all around us today!

 

 

SaveSave

What (or who) is your woods?

tothewoods

We don’t let just anyone see us vulnerable, hear our secret stories, watch us struggle. To most of the world, we carry a bit of a shield between them and our tender parts. But there are some few we trust to see the real person behind the mask. We must love those people very much to be so naked and exposed.

Because we need to lay those masks down sometimes, don’t we? We can’t live a life of posture. And so we seek out places where and people with whom we can relax and let down our hair, unafraid of judgment, unconcerned with being deemed eccentric.  Perhaps to be part of nature, to rest among creation until we lose sight of where we stop and others begin.

In this poem, Mary Oliver takes us into her sacred space–the woods.

She must love us very much.

 

How I Go To the Woods

by Mary Oliver  

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way or praying, as you no doubt have yours.  

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much. 

How do we pray.

preciouslife

What does it mean to pray anyway?

Is it a prayer when we breathe in the scent of the baby in our arms as we close our eyes against the press of tears and think, “Thank you, thank you, thank you”?

Is it a prayer when we groan with the weight of hopes and dreams unrealized and unclear and seemingly out of reach?

Is it a prayer when we crumble to the ground, broken, and whisper, “Help. Please help me.”

Is it a prayer when we stand in awe of creation as Mary Oliver does of this grasshopper:

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Yes, all of it. It is a prayer every time you are grateful. It is a prayer when you reach out in hope. It is a prayer when you glimpse something more, deeper, wider than the here and now. Paying attention to whomever or whatever is right in front of you and to the longings of your own heart puts you in the middle of the miraculous unfolding all around us.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Touch eternity.

eternity

Have you ever stepped out of time? Have you ever looked about and literally seen connections between things– the trees, the grass, the wind, the birds– like a giant web of life, with you right there among it all?

Perhaps you’ve lost yourself in conversation and looked up to realize hours had passed. Perhaps you’ve been enjoying a sunset to blink and realize the night stars were twinkling. Perhaps you’ve been creating or building and felt a life force thrum inside you that felt somehow bigger and more powerful than just your own body and thoughts churning away. Perhaps a baby has curled his tiny hand around your finger.

Perhaps you’ve experienced eternity.

William Blake wrote,

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.

How? How do we do it? How do we step out of the present moment and feel a part of something greater, something infinite? How do we hold infinity in the palm of our hands?

The trick is to let go of the past and future and to focus on the present. The right here and now. Who or what is in front of you right now? Attend to that. Focus there. In the now lies everything.

 

Hope.

hope

We begin the year with hope. Hope for peace; hope for good health; hope for reconciliation and redemption; hope for progress on our journeys and throughout the world. Emily Dickinson’s poem is a lovely metaphor to return to when drawing on this hope to get us through rough days:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Hope is active, isn’t it? Sometimes singing, sometimes soaring, sometimes hanging on by its toenails. Faith is different. Mary Oliver describes this difference beautifully in her new book, Upstream:
In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _______. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith–only, say a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know is a fighter and a screamer.
As we go forward, let us hope for a better world for every one, but let it be an active hope–a fighting, kicking and screaming hope– a hope that urges us into that battle of making the world the better place.