I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.
– Mary Oliver –
Recently this poem has shown up on friends’ feeds and in other social media. Personal life circumstances and the still staggering impacts of the pandemic here and around the world are reason enough for the reminder. I was taught to worry in that less than obvious way parents transmit what to do, though not necessarily what’s true nor even effective. It’s become a habit of mind, an addiction, even. And it never amounts to anything, always comes to nothing. When I catch myself, and have the presence of mind, I turn worry into prayer, the kind that Anne Lamott describes as the “help, thanks and wow” prayer. That helps, even if only by making me feel better and giving me space to put it down for a while.
Something just now moved through my heart like the thinnest of blades as that red-tail pumped once with its great wings and flew above the gray, cracked rock wall.
It wasn’t about the bird, it was something about the way stone stays mute and put, whatever goes flashing by.
Sometimes, when I sit like this, quiet, all the dreams of my blood and all outrageous divisions of time seem ready to leave, to slide out of me. Then, I imagine, I would never move.
By now the hawk has flown five mile sat least, dazzling whoever else has happened to look up. I was dazzled. But that wasn’t the knife.
It was the sheer, dense wall of blind stone without a pinch of hope or a single unfulfilled desire sponging up and reflecting, so brilliantly, as it has for centuries, the sun’s fire.
– Mary Oliver –
The photo above, taken when we spent a few days on the “off the beaten path” Hawaiian island of Molokai, might be a better correspondence with the image evoked by Mary Oliver’s words. Yet, I love how LIFE finds its way into cracks and crevices, making beauty within the improbable.
your voice the companion to my otherwise silent walks reciting others’ poems in my ears offering interpretation and invitation into new contexts, meanings, shapes, and forms
I’d thought that glorious enough until I heard your voice recite your words interpret and invite me into hearing anew holy scripture and story
your poems a clarion call to love and justice to curiosity and compassion to wondering as I walk who am I and how am I complicit in empire’s delusion?
Naomi Shihab Nye
hearing her disembodied voice coming to you across the plaza in Columbia telling you of kindness and its peculiar kin you take the only possessions you have left – save the clothing on your back – and with pen and notebook alone take dictation, writing words that become iconic for their naked, known truth
too, in Albuquerque’s airport you hear her call and with your broken Arabic and wide-open heart you tend to the distressed grandmother both of you delayed at the gate soon a party breaks out as Arabic cookies and American juice boxes are shared community made among women dusted for those hours of waiting in something far sweeter than powdered sugar
something my heart yearns for with every poem of yours I read
This is my third and final set of poems written as tribute to poets for National Poetry Month. I “met” Pádraig Ó Tuama last spring walking with Annie and listening to him host the podcast, Poetry Unbound. Becoming a fan, I discovered he was Poet-in-Residence at NYC’s Church of the Heavenly Rest, leading virtual workshops on contemporary interpretation of scripture, guided by his work in social justice and conflict mediation in Ireland. Naomi Shihab Nye came to my attention with her wondrous poem of tending and befriending at the Albuquerque Airport, Gate A-4. Her work often sheds light on the plight of refugees, immigration, cultural conflict, and belonging. Both poets incisively invite me into deepening consciousness of my privilege, complicity, and commitments.
you were the first poet whose words I memorized your famous question becoming my mantra my north star for realizing mine was a life wild and precious and worthy of planning
you said you got saved by poetry and the beauty of the world that in your later years Rumi became your daily companion bringing refinement to – what in my eyes are – your already perfect observations your morning walks with pencil and notebook pausing to notice and note, your practice rendering with words the details of God’s creation, your gift amazement, your holy vow
bentlily (Samantha Reynolds)
yours are words that fit exactly the shape of holes in wounded hearts you write one a day – pithy, poignant, piercing – about your life’s everyday moments about your husband, children, friends, and jeans sometimes less than twenty lines, barely more than twenty words those are the ones that take my breath away urge me to winnow mine to essence to notice well and choose what to let be
Today, two more poems to two more poets whose words instruct me in the art of noticing life, and in so doing, make sacred the mundane. Mary Oliver needs no introduction. Vancouver’s Samantha Reynolds, writing under the pen name “bentlily”, began writing a poem a day ten years ago “to find more joy in the tedious rhythm of life as a new mother.” It’s a practice she maintains to this day, delighting us who receive her weekly collection in our inboxes.
eight hundred years ago words tumbled from your mouth as you whirled in ecstasy caught by the quill of your scribe creating images read the world over in a future unforeseen a reed burned hollow yearning for your breath a ground knelt upon and kissed in hundreds of ways a house guest greeted warmly as holy visitor
your own blazing love and searching, afire with your Beloved’s glory now the flame that lights now the song that dances me home
Christine Valters Paintner
a modern monk moored in a Celtic landscape contemplation and creativity your stock in trade prayer and painting poetry and dance song and silence evoked by your Benedictine vows and wide awake discerning eyes where illness and grief have polished smooth the cave of your heart making space for the shimmering of earth, wind, sea, and sky and the wisdom of ancients and ancestors to tell their stories and shape your words into offerings for a holy communion
As April is National Poetry Month, in appreciation and celebration, I have written a poem to each of six poets whose words, for me, inspire, instruct, and illuminate. This week, through the lens of sacred inspiration, I write to Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervish community of Sufism and author of several of its sacred texts, and to Christine Valters Painter, poet and abbess of the Abbey of the Arts, a global online meeting space for contemplation and creative expression. In the past year, I’ve participated in several of the Abbey’s retreats and shared here impressions and impacts of their numerous prompts and invitations.
This supper a somber affair. The feast of Passover always is, but tonight is more so.
A foreboding hangs in the air, though it appears only the man they call Jesus knows its source. The other men, twelve in total, follow their master’s lead, talking quietly among themselves, unsure of what is unfolding.
I am the unleavened bread made special to order for this gathering. My flavor is bland but when I am broken and dipped into the finest quality olive oil, I come alive in the mouths of those who chew me. I fill their stomachs with a hefty goodness.
Now I hear the man they call Jesus say I am his body. What does this mean?
Now I absorb my cousin, the heavy, dark red wine that each man sips, as the same man says, it is his blood. What does this mean?
Together, I and my cousin, the fruit of the vine made wine, are proclaimed the body and blood of this man. I know not how this is so. But I do know that as each man slowly chews me, and reverently sips my cousin, savors us together with this man’s words, we warm their bodies as we nourish and enliven them.
Now, we are part of them and what is to come.
Now we, in each of their bodies, travel to the Mount of Olives, the home of our friend, the olive oil.
Now, I sit heavy like a stone in their stomachs as they hear their master tell them they will fall away from him. I feel their stomachs clench around me.
One man, emboldened by that inner alchemy between me and my cousin, steps close to his master and passionately declares his love and commitment.
Now, this same man, resisting the bile rising in his gullet from us as we sour in his belly, the reaction to being told he will soon deny his master three times, more passionately denies this.
Soon, for some, our life giving to be denied, too.
– KW –
An experiment in Midrash, the ancient Jewish practice of re-imagining sacred text, I wrote this piece during my participation last spring in the Abbey of the Arts “Soul of a Pilgrim” online retreat. As weekly my photo and poem feature, I’m posting this a day early, in acknowledgement of the Last Supper, commemorated in the Christian tradition on Maundy Thursday.
I’ve been thinking about joy and lament for the past few days. How – as poet Christine Valters Paintner described them – as “sisters,” who make space for one another, even, I’d say, needing one another for a purer expression of each. I had logged onto a live Zoom call with Christine and a couple of hundred others from around the world for this year’s Novena for Times of Unravelling, another soulful offering from the Abbey of the Arts, this time oriented around the principles of their Monk’s Manifesto.
This day’s theme was cultivating creative joy by letting body and “heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love.” Christine was clear to say this joy “isn’t about happiness, but something deeper…an opening to the capacity to taste paradise…and that this capacity for joy is in proportion to our capacity for grief.”
A few days earlier, I sent a “thank you” email off to another favourite poet, Samantha Reynolds, who writes under the pen name of “bentlily.” I think I’ve mentioned here that every Monday I’m greeted with her past week’s offering of daily poems, her practice for eleven years of musing on life’s daily moments. Included that week was her “17 flavours of joy”, evoking my memory of the “visceral experience of joy hurting a bit, being like an arrow that pierces my heart…unlike happiness, which is lovely, but not nearly as deep, as profound, as indelible.”
Today, a full moon, and in the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Too, the beginning of Jewish Passover. And in a couple of weeks, Ramadan. A “trifecta” of high holy days among the Abrahamic religions. I always intuit a certain potency of energy and possibility during such synchronicities. Maybe even a thinning of the veil. Certainly, an opening to the range of feelings and memories evoked. Life’s joys and laments.
“I want the beauty, the psychedelic wildflowers, the call of the wild birds. I want all of that shimmering beauty to illuminate the northern darkness. We have peace of a kind, but no cultural resolution — the tensions which produced the Troubles are still there. It is important for me to see beautiful Carrigskeewaun as part of the same island as Belfast.”
Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021
I like how he describes what being a poet and writing poetry mean for him.
“…good art, good poems, is making people more human, making them more intelligent, making them more sensitive and emotionally pure than they might otherwise be.”
Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021
For me, the capacity to hold joy and lament…in one’s life, in situ.
Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.
– Mary Oliver –
“I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance.” – How this line resonates. A week ago I learned about a live stream virtual travel tour company and have been literally around the world, in real time, sitting still. Paris and Lyon, Florence, Venice and Pisa, Cusco, the desert in Dubai, Dubrovnik, Istanbul – 30, 45 and 60 minute tours hosted by professional guides on a “pay what you will” tip basis. I take photos “postcards”, ask questions, and delight in this remarkable use of technology that is providing a livelihood for guides, and “green” travel for me. One of the guides, Mike from Peru, shared the unforeseen, but countless benefits of this “pivot” for him, his company and community, making it all the more worthwhile. It’s been a door back into the worldand the people living in it.
Please forgive this interruption. I am forging a career, a delicate enterprise of eyes. Yours included. We will meet at the corner, you with your sack lunch, me with my guitar. We will be wearing our famous street faces, anonymous as trees. Suddenly you will see me, you will blink, hesitant, then realize I have not looked away. For one brave second we will stare openly from borderless skins. This is my salary. There are no days off.
~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~
Monday’s post, Our First Panniversary, struck a chord for readers, resonating with their own growing pandemic impatience, frustration, grief and weariness. This week, again, reading of lockdowns in Italy, France and Germany; and another white man going on a shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, aimed at Asian Americans prompted posting this poem. My reminder to pause, notice, see, and really take you in through my eyes into my heart.
How do you know what’s essential? Could you have predicted this particular version of paring down? Perhaps your work is essential, but maybe not. The face you wear to the outside world, the picture in the mirror, has probably slipped. Even the fundamentals of human touch might not be required to assure us that we are not alone. Who could have imagine that we would somehow come down to making bread even without yeast? To the fact that with nothing more than food and water and air and time, even the least of us will find a way to rise?
– Lynn Ungar – April 28, 2020
One year ago this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Determining what and who was essential continues to be of consideration in decision making. Global vaccination rollouts promise a light at the end of this very long, dark, and lonely tunnel. While this past year, much has changed and too, much has remained the same. Hoarding toilet paper is giving way in some countries to hoarding vaccinations. Home bakers are making their sourdough creations their livelihoods. Virtual meetings, family gatherings and celebrations have become “de rigeur” and may change the landscape of onsite work. Here at home, I continue to feel the absence of essential connections.