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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.

Winter Nights

Despite the title, this is a Christmas poem. I wrote it several years ago about the joy and anticipation I felt, as a child, at this time of year. This was embedded in family and community rituals I experienced growing up. In a consumptive and materialistic world, some of this has been lost. What I do is hold onto the memories.

We lived in an old house and it was often very cold. In the evenings, my mother and three older brothers went across the street to the church for evening mass. This was part of the rite of passage for me. In junior high, I joined them.

Many evenings, I sat by the heavily frosted window to watch my mother and brothers return. Some of those evenings were clear, the sky filled with stars, and sometimes the Northern Lights were part of Nature’s light show.

Breathlessly awaiting,

Through frosted window peering

Small children–

Soaking it in.

Heavens rippling–

Lights undulating;

A celebratory fury

An indisputable guide.

An old house speaking;

Nature answering–

The heavens crackling

Sweet symphonic music.

Earth’s floor–

Blanketed in white

Celestial colours shimmering

Capturing young eyes.

A vivid winter scene,

A sensual, sensory palette,

Reminding–

Christ’s Mass draws near.

I took this picture at the farm this past weekend. The sun goes down early here at this time of the year. They had just had fresh snow, with about 8-10 inches falling in one day, so the scene was still quite untouched.

Gift

I began reading a book called Thomas Merton—Evil and Why We Suffer: From Purified Soul Theodicy to Zen. The author, David Oberson, explores the evolution of Merton’s view of good and evil throughout his adult life, framed, first, through a mystical and monastic Christian view and, then, a growing interest in Zen Buddhism towards the end of his life.

I have always been fascinated with Merton’s wide ranging relationships, nurtured through letter writing. Some I knew about from previous readings e.g., Thich Nhat Hanh, Dororthy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. Today, I found another one of his relationships; this one with the poet Czeslaw Milosz who lived under Nazi and  Soviet oppressors in Poland before moving to the US. Merton and Milosz shared concerns about totaliarianism, scientism, racism, etc., which I can only imagine would be intensified in today’s global climate.

Milosz wrote a beautiful poem called Gift to remind me suffering that emerges from life is impermanent. In this poem, he reminds me their is always something beautiful and good, as he alludes to nature and creation that emerges to replace the suffering.

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

I took this picture in BC about two years ago. As I walked on this morning, I reached a higher spot on the path and saw the lake in the distance fog covered. Like the fog, the suffering lifts with time and a warming sun. I let go of the envy, anger, grasping to be present when I work in the garden that is nature.

Thanksgiving

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. We celebrated yesterday with two sons and a partner due to work schedules. We will celebrate again for American Thanksgiving. This is in part due to my time in the US completing my PhD and we have extended family who are from the US.

The idea of two Thanksgivings led me to reflect. What am I grateful for each day? I am thankful for family, friends, good neighbours, good health, a house that will feel like home as it is built on our original property, and many other people and things.

What if we thought of each day as a day to give thanks, a thanksgiving?

I wrote this poem called Thanksgiving several years ago.

Gratitude and thankfulness

Share each sacred moment–

Turn to beloved others,

Hold tight,

Acknowledge worth,

(Extra)ordinary emerges from ordinary

Moment by moment–

The taken-for-granted

Reveals itself.

Sharing bounty,

Feeling blessed,

Expressing gratitude,

Saying daily prayers of thankfulness.

I took this in Jasper National Park with the Athabasca Falls behind Kathy.

The video above is by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I have several of her CD’s. Enjoy and be thankful.

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.

 

 

Autumn Promises

In preparing a short presentation on mindfulness in daily life and autumn, I ended up writing a poem about autumn. More than writing, I reflected on how I understand seasonal cycles, including the equinox we experienced on the weekend.

I considered how I define phenomena. For example, autumn or fall was defined by my teaching with phrases such as “see you in the fall, school begins in the fall, and have a good summer, see you in the fall for school.” Nature does not define autumn quite so neatly.

Yes, there is a moment where the time from the longest and shortest days of sunlight is exactly balanced, but Nature and her other living beings are responding according to instinct and invisiable cues, not on artificial times. Trees are slow to change colour and shed their leaves this year, the rabbits in the yard are still brown/grey, and the geese are still gathering to feast on the grain left in farmers’ fields.

For me, autumn is a beautiful mix of the other seasons. On my walks, I experience the cool wind hinting of winter, the warmth of the sun suggesting summer is not gone, and the smell of decay to prepare the way for spring renewal and rejuvenation.

As well, there many metaphors and carry in our daily lives. Understood as a time of harvest, gathering, and bounty, autumn reminds me to be mindful of those moments when we gather, the memories and stories we gather to share with one another, and the readying for dormant times in life vital to our rejuvenation. This happens at all times of the year.

Another aspect of reflecting, preparing, and presenting was I felt rejuvenated. I am not teaching this fall and have been a bit down. Yesterday, I felt presenting and the writing that went with it put some “spring” in my step to be a little punny. I recording the presentation as a series of videos to upload and to put some of my poems into a book to publish.

Autumn arrives unannounced,

Alluding to other seasons

Touching body and soul as I walk.

Cool breeze;

Winter’s promise of dormant moments,

Readying for rebirth.

Afternoon sun chasing chill,

Warming body and soul,

Hinting summer remains.

Vibrant aesthetics;

 Artist colouring leave from Her palette,

Hanging above; fallen mates carpet ground.

Secluded, shaded, dampness,

Rich aroma of decay,

Spring depends on fall’s work.

Is there a typical autumn day?

Is there a typical autumn moment?

Nature whispers, “Maybe; Maybe not.”

This was a picture I took several years ago in the river valley. I remember the aroma of decay as it had been a cool and wet fall followed by some warmth.

CHANGE OF A WORLDVIEW

via CHANGE OF A WORLDVIEW

Worldview is interesting. I find words, like worldview and mindset, take on meanings based on my most immediate needs as opposed to different, more complex view.

Bruce offered me something to ponder based on the concept of Universal Christ, sometimes referred to as Cosmic Christ. In this, I consider God not as a finite, fixed entity easily imagined and as a complex entity existing beyond my thinking and imagining.

Richard Rohr calls me to understand God and universe as more complex than I am able to imagine. It is OK to try imagine who and what they might be, but they are so complex my mind cannot grasp them. There is always a considerable amount beyond my reach, calling me to resist temptation of neo-Platonic and neo-Thomistic views locking me into finite, fixed ways reflecting my own limits rather than those of God and universe. There is always something “uncanny” and hidden from my view.

Reading Father Rohr, I find echoes of Thomas Merton. Both authors remind me there is far more I do not know than I do and can know. Through nature, God is always revealing and telling me something new, humbling me in the face of my ignorance.

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Kathy took this picture several years ago driving through Glacier National Park. Although the picture is fixed, the landscape itself never can be. It is always changing with snow melting and falling; trees growing, the stream eroding the landscape, etc.

It reminds me of the Herclitus quote: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

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