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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

creation?

Instead: such patience!

Such willingness

 to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices—

only, so far, in

pockets of the world—

suggesting

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.

Dialogue

Dialogue.

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.

Eliminating the Horizon

We need boundaries. They create structure in our lives. Having said this, I think Linda Nemec Foster asks a great question, “Who needs boundaries?” Can we close our eyes and imagine where the earth ends and the sky begins? Or, where the stream wanders it disappears from our sight?

Many years ago, Kathy and I camped with friends at Quesnel Lake, a beautiful and isolated glacially-fed lake, in central British Columbia.

There is a waterfall, named Niagara Falls, that flows into the east end of the lake.They are 30-40 metres high and narrow. As we approached the falls, we cut the boat motor and heard them thundering from about 1 km away.

We chatted and wondered about the waterfalls’ source. We arrived at a consensus is small lake at the base of a distant mountain fed Niagara Creek. I imagined what that looked like as we climbed to where the falls cascaded over the edge. There was a mountain in the distance which seemed to confirm our guess, but our view – our horizon – was obscured.

That evening, as we sat around the fire, we pulled maps out and found the river did not seem to be lake-fed, but just began at the base of a mountain. Today, I see different possibilities in my mind’s eye. It might be glacial fed, spring fed, or emerge from an unmarked, small lake.

When we close our eyes, we imagine what is beyond the boundaries and their limits. We move past horizons as our imaginations lead the way. There are no lines there.

Who needs boundaries?

If your eyes fail to imagine

where the earth ends and the sky

begins, think of a place bereft

of lines: the blue depths of a stream

flowing like hair that will never

be combed. Deep indigo of nothing

but fluid memory ebbing around

blossoms of white asters. “I remember

how flowers feel when you barely

touch them,” says the water. Like leaving

one world and embracing another:

seeds bursting into wildflowers,

clouds changing into rain,

the image of our borders

a mere outline the soul ignores.

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