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Mindful

Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets and this is likely my favourite poem that she wrote.

Whenever, I get stuck this is a poem I turn to and get unstuck. I had bogged down in my writing and it simply was not moving. This morning, as l listened, ideas flowed into my conscious view. Most of what I was looking for was waiting to be seen.

Interestingly, I did not rush and write things down. I took time, finished sitting, and by the time I wrote things down more appeared. I often look for things in places they are not and they appear as part of what is waiting to be seen.

Poetry’s beauty is it does not always speak directly to what I am looking for, but approaches me in different ways and I encounter it afresh in those moments.

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

I Want to Write Something So Simply

Mary Oliver has a magical way of writing. There is a simplicity in her writing that is moving and stirring. It always gently reminds us that we are not alone even when we are alone. We are part of a larger complex called humanity which has many common shared loves and pains. When we pause, even for a moment, we get a sense of this largesse.

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your heart
had been saying.

Praying

Mary Oliver writes in uncomplicated ways. It is not simple, but there are elements of simplicity linked to complexity. Her poem Praying is an example of this simplexity. Praying is an entreaty or asks for something and suggests creating space for responses. There is a simplicity in the way prayer unfolds. It happens anywhere, anytime, and with few words. The complex part is being quiet and discerning the answers. This requires quiet spaces that we have to craft out of the busyness of modern lives and days.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Song of the Builders

As Mary Oliver aptly suggests it we each have a role in building our small corner of the universe.  Certainly, in each of our minds, it is not so small. It is rather grand in its own small way.

It is that small way that speaks to the humbleness we each undertake in being builders of something worthwhile and worth whiling over. It is in the natural world, the world we do not construct we find the great builders like the cricket. We can learn so much from their efforts and their places as we think and are thankful for what we receive each day.

On a summer morning

I sat down

on a hillside

to think about God -

 a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw

a single cricket;

it was moving the grains of the hillside

 this way and that way.

How great was its energy,

how humble its effort.

Let us hope

  it will always be like this,

each of us going on

in our inexplicable ways

building the universe.

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

When I looked for a poem to post, I found this Walt Whitman verse. It reminded me of the writing of Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who write about the quietness needed for the soul to emerge. It is like to a wild animal, perhaps a spider, which is timid and reluctant to emerge as we crash around. As we sit quietly and listen, it emerges for us to see and listen more closely.

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

The Journey

Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets. When I open a book, I am often drawn to her writing. There is something in the simplicity that is profound. She peels away layers in ways that help me see the world quite differently.

Father Richard Rohr comments that we live the first half of life in busyness and, if we are lucky, the second half is one where we slow the pace, contemplate, and find wisdom which helps us grow into the life we are.

Quite often, the voices which distract and the barriers on the road are ones I create. It takes time, patience, and support to find the light seeping through clouds. The stars’ make the journey hopeful, that I can go deeper into the life.

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations–

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice,

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

The Old Poets of China

I am back including my posts. Mary Oliver wrote this beautiful and short poem which points out the need for quiet time. I  accomplished a lot during my break. I flew home twice and am back in Edmonton for Christmas. I spent the time away from the blog completing the course work and getting ready for the next part of the journey: my dissertation writing.

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.

It offers me its busyness. It does not believe

that I do not want it. Now I understand

why the old poets of China went so far and high

into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Parable

As I check out for Sabbath, I came across this playful poem by Richard Wilbur. Some days, it is nice to allow the horse to find the way home. It would our personal quixotic and random journey on that given day.

I found this poem n a book about reading and writing poetry called Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver. The great poets have an eye for great poetry. Life is a dance that brings its own rules.

I read how Quixote in his random ride

Came to a crossing once, and lest he lose

The purity of chance, would not decide

Whither to fare, but wished his horse to choose.

For glory lay wherever he might turn.

His head was light with pride, his horse’s shoes

Were heavy, and he headed for the barn.

Mindful

I struggled for a few days with the overwhelming job, or so it seemed, of beginning to craft a purpose statement for the dissertation topic. Thankfully, my advisor told me to read and read and read the classics in education and the not so classic. I immersed myself in John Dewey, who I have read before, Alfred North Whitehead, who I had not read, and Ivan Illich, who worked with Paulo Freire. I am going to re-read Freire.

Last night, I fell asleep thinking about these people and woke up still thinking about them. As I got mobile, it dawned on me what happened and I recalled Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem. I don’t hold answers. I hold questions. Their eloquence lead me into life daily and the answers are often in the things I take for granted. I posted a re-worked purpose statement, based on just letting things percolate and doing some free writing, and one of my colleagues commented back that it was making more sense. Be mindful scholar.

Every day

I see or I hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It is what I was born for–

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world–

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful–

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these–

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

Wild Geese

I want to let my imagination seek out the world I live in and my place in it. Mary Oliver shared  the wonderful idea that we are but one in the greater world we live in. Take care and enjoy a wonderful Sabbath.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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