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What Do You Plan to Do with Your One Wild Life?

Mary Oliver wrote the beautiful poem The Summer Day. She ended the poem with a question: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Actually, she included several questions, which are not answerable in any certain way. Life is unpredictable, but what we want to do with it echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer who wrote “desire beyond wanting.” To me, this suggests we each aspire, perhaps can aspire, to something beyond simply knowing and planning. There is more to life than we can plan and predict, yet we can hope.

I think, as important, the question is about vocation and what calls us forward and animates each of our spirits. Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer write about how vocation and voice relate to one another and are how we express who we are in life. Merton goes so far as to say some of us are perhaps destined to search without discovering what calls us.

I wonder, “have we lost this sense of spiritual purpose in the early part of the 21st Century?” We look out there, read the newspapers, follow 24/7 news, etc. and feel deep despair and hopelessness, perhaps even disinterest to follow what beckons. I don’t say this lightly. Two incidents led me to wonder about this. First, at a recent community engagement conference, I was struck by how much despair filled the room. Second, in a private conversation with a parent, they commented how a child was struggling with what exists beyond our individual life. The child is experiencing a sense of despair over this. In part, this is exacerbated because the parents are atheists and feel unable to give guidance in a spiritual way. Finding our voice and who we are is more than an instrumental process of work. It goes beyond to the spiritual essence of who each are and how that brings meaning to our lives and the world.

In the latter setting, I emphasized the idea that we conflate religion and spirituality. One can be deeply spiritual and non-religious and non-theist. One can be religious and theist without being spiritual. The essence of spirituality is to find what calls to me and respond with the qualities of life I want to find in the world. I don’t think those in short supply, but, if we listen to the media, we come away with a different view. At the heart of this, might be the great existential questions poets, like Mary Oliver, ask us.

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?

I include a lovely reading by Mary Oliver of this poem.

My Ojibwa prayer.

via My Ojibwa prayer.

John shares a beautiful prayer and a wonderful segue into a New Year. Many Indigenous peoples, like the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe and Saulteaux) cherished Mother Earth in their spirituality. Also in his post, there is a cover of John Lennon‘s Imagine.

When I read the prayer, I consider what questions arise from the various words and lines John shares. What if each human being prayed for peace? What would this mean? What if we questioned how much an acre of land is worth in human life, lives of other creatures, and destruction to land ? What if we each reflected on sacred places we seek refuge in, whether they are in some remote spot, a city park, or our backyard garden? What do those places mean to each of us? What is the cost to us if they disappear?

John’s words remind me of a story Leo Tolstoy wrote, How Much Land Does a Man Need? The main character Pahom consumed with greed makes a bargain with the devil to acquire as much land by walking around and returning to the starting point by the time the sun sets. As it turns out, Pahom’s greed gets in the way and he fails, giving up his soul and life in exchange for a grave that constitutes the amount of land he needs in his life.

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Kathy took this picture from the one of the overviews on the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park.

There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of
wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the
greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or
generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken . . .
that does not sing hymns to God.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

Please drink of me, my love

via Please drink of me, my love

John provided a wonderful post. He often writes poetry and includes images, but this time he was prosaic. His most common theme is love and he was true to that in his post. The link above includes a video.

Along with images, John embedded a video of one of my favourite performers, Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s songs are poems put to music. This link includes a video from Cohen’s recently released posthumous CD.

I have listened to his music and read his poetry for 40 years. The song John posted, Dance Me to the End of Love, is my favourite Cohen song. I am unsure of its underlying, but I think of it as an ode to perfect love that continues like a great dance. Love of this kind does not die. Instead it lives on and is remembered by those who witnessed it.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about how our ancestors are always present. I think, with a perfect love, people remember it in the stories and people who were part of that love.

Here is the URL for the Leonard Cohen song Sisters of Mercy. He was well known for writing songs about what he experienced. People interpreted this song as being about prostitutes, but Cohen said the idea came to him as he sat in a hotel room in Edmonton watching nuns come and go from a convent. He took some poetic licence in writing the lyrics.

 

 

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

via Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Yesterday was a day of riches as this wonderful Mary Oliver poem was posted by Dawn and re-blogged by John and Kenne.

There are prayerful and questioning qualities in Mary Oliver’s poetry that challenge me to think about the universe as a place where each sentient and non-sentient being thrives and flourishes. We grow mindful of our needs as they relate to the needs of other living and non-living being. Living is a practical and ethical way of standing in the world. Practical and ethical ways of living are essential to growing spiritually and acting with care towards sentient and non-sentient beings.

Wendell Berry has a poem entitled The Wild Geese asking me to be thankful for the gifts that come to me each day. What do I take-for-granted? What do I overlook and treat as ordinary that I can celebrate as (extra)ordinary? As Mary Oliver asks, “how does my body ‘love what it loves?'” How do I notice the universe and let myself find its way home each day?

Here, is a video of me reading the two poems about geese and the poet’s reminder of being present to what is here.

 

New Intersections

I began to write my first sentence to introduce the poem I intended to post and realized the prose had a poetic quality. I have been fussing since writing Autumn Promises about a lack of inspiration.

Inspiration is not something we chase. Instead, it emerges. I am reading Deeper than Words by Brother David Steindl-Rast. He refers to Jung’s concept of synchronicity. There are moments things emerge from nowhere with no real explanation.

The last few weeks I spent ruminating over where I am going. I am not teaching in a classroom and teaching is calling for me, deeply spirtual and inspiriting for me. When I talk to colleagues and others, they think I would be a good fit for college and university education faculties, but there is little happening and little on the horizon.

As a result, I considers how I reshape, without certainty and chasing, where I go next. The result is a Youtube channel and a Facebook Page with an introductory video about mindfulness in daily life. In various forms, I wrote about this topic in my PhD course work, presented on it, and facilitated retreats and workshops.

I posted the video below. If you have feedback on content, delivery, and directions for this project, please let me know.

Day arrives,

New intersections in life,

“Where next?”

Paths unmarked,

No map,

Experience informs a blurred present.

Take each step,

Inspired by hope,

Inspired by wonder,

Inspired by awe,

Mindful,

Aware of words and acts,

Fill with love and kindness,

Care for one another.

 

 

One Bourbon

via One Bourbon

Matthew posted this poem in response to my pressing of an earlier post. I included a video by John Lee Hooker of a song called One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.

Matthew wrote a poem that embraces how a blues singer might go about writing a song. I find blues songs are never complete. I listen to one version of a song, even by the same performer, to find it is slightly different. Sometimes it is quite different.

Although he is not a blues singer per se, I enjoy Jimmy Buffett, as well. He does a Lord Buckley song called God’s Own Drunk. It is funny, charming, and Buffet does his version as a kind of talking blues.

I tried several times to upload the video, but failed. I held my mouth just right and it did not work. Here, is the link to God’s Own Drunk.

 

Where Words Fails

via Where Words Fail

Thank you to Misifusa for this wonderful post.

I have not posted for some time. This seemed like a good way to begin again, afresh. When I was growing up, we listened to a wide variety of music, including Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought it was the norm and grew into a die-hard blues fan, attending concerts by Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and King Biscuit when they traveled to Canada.

As an adult, I saw BB King, John Mayall, Etta James, Ruthie Foster, Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and others. An American friend told me this was not the norm in the US. He did not have the same opportunities to see these performers as I did or, if he did, it was long after they were in their primes.

The Hans Christian Anderson quote fits well “where words fail, music speaks”. Music breaks down barriers without realizing they are coming down. As a Canadian, I had freedoms I took-for-granted, like the music I listened to and the concerts I attended. When I taught, I played a wide variety of music each morning. It ranged from the blues to jazz to country to folk to old rock and to more contemporary music. Students enjoyed it and it surprised them when they heard me play old Johnny Cash, the blues, and rock-a-billy.

Music is colour-blind or, better yet, music is blind to colour.

I like this particular John Lee Hooker song, which I first heard in the early 1970’s. George Thorogood plays it in most of his concerts in tribute to John Lee. Enjoy.

 

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