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Tag Archives: nature

The Meaning of Existence

I think this was a theme for the past week. What is existence? It is just being in the world and experiencing it in the most direct and pre-reflective way possible.

Les Murray writes about the impact that language has on how humans experience the world. Existentially, there is a difference between saying how we experience and saying how to experience. The former is just being and the latter is like a how-to manual.

When I just am, that is often the most rewarding moments I experience without realizing it and there is no way to intentionally recapture the moment. To just be is its own reward. When I try to express the feeling in words, it is indescribable. I use metaphoric, mythic, and poetic language to point at it, but always I fall short.

Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

 Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.

Song for Nobody

Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk and prolific spiritual writer of the mid-20th Century with many works published posthumously. He passed away in an accident at a relative young age so it is hard to say how much more writing he had in him. He is best known for his essays, journals, and letters, but wrote poetry and was an artist as well.

He included as one of his key themes the key concept of activism as a form of violence on one’s self. He drew on Eastern philosophies and mindfulness in describing contemplation as a human necessity in the 20th Century with its busyness and distractions. One can only imagine what he would think today.

I thought of the biblical passages about how lilies grow and just do what comes naturally. The flowers sing their songs without words by themselves without spin and toil. We find their  music in their simplicity.

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

The Fist

Mary Oliver has a way of starting with an idea and then she shifts it so well. She asks questions that provoke more questions than certain answers. Wouldn’t the heavens not have shaken their fist? I think about the ways that the heavens could shake their fist, but Nature does not.

There is patience. What are the little with which the heavens speak of peace. They are countless and, when I open my heart, they find me so easily.

How do the heavens invite us as they open up and invite?

There are days

when the sun goes down

like a fist,

though of course

 if you see anything

in the heavens

in this way

you had better get

 your eyes checked

or, better, still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens

have no fist,

or wouldn’t they have been

shaking it

for a thousand years now,

 and even

longer than that,

at the dull, brutish

ways of mankind—

 heaven’s own


Instead: such patience!

Such willingness

 to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices—

only, so far, in

pockets of the world—


the possibilities

 of peace?

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens

with invitation.

The Peace of Wild Things

I have many favourite poets that I always return to at various times. Wendell Berry is one of those poets. The words inspire me to pause, soak them in, and not rush on too quickly.

Sometimes just experiencing the primal world before I think about it is wonderful and filled with wonder as miracles show themselves slowly. It leaves me thoughtful and full of thought as I just, ponder, do not tax my life too much with forethought.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Prayer for a Field Mouse

Pat Riviere-Seel’s poem has a Mary Oliver feel where she honours a small animal that we might even notice in our daily walks. It is a blessing and prayer to have all that Nature offers us.

We soak in the world and find extraordinary in the ordinary.

Bless the gray mouse

that found her way
into the recycle bin.
Bless her tiny body,
no bigger than my thumb,
huddled and numb
against the hard side.
Bless her bright eye,
a frightened gleaming
that opened to me
and the nest she made
from shredded paper,
all I could offer.
Bless her last hours
alone under the lamp
with food and water near.
Bless this brief life
I might have ended
had she stayed hidden
inside the insulation.
Bless her body returned
to earth, no more
or less than any creature.

Wild Geese

Mary Oliver wrote this beautiful poem about sensing and perceiving Nature through direct experiences. Maurice Merleau Ponty wrote about the phenomenology of perception which is the about the way body and its senses act as gateways in perceiving the world. Our body is not an only a thing, it is an object that researches the world.

When we “the soft animal of your body” experience and sense Nature, we are in Nature. We have images for our imagination that fill our hearts and souls so fully. We belong in ways that we cannot as an observer standing outside. We are part of a community that includes all of Nature.

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.



The linked poem uses the word nature in an ambiguous and lovely way. Perhaps, we want to know our nature? Or, is it that we wait for nature to reveal itself more fully to us?

When we wait quietly and listen deeply, we hear the questions which are essential to dialogue. It is in the quiet we hear.


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