It’s one of those weeks where I cannot help myself but check the news copious times a day. What’s up feels down and what’s down feels up. In these moments I find that words oftentimes fail as they usually do to help make sense of personal and national upheavals.
I have a meditative practice each morning. After I position myself in the right hand corner of the couch, coffee in hand, pillow on lap, dog at feet, I spend about 40 minutes writing whatever comes to mind in my $0.49 spiral bound notebook. While I’d love to say it’s 100% uninterrupted time but I will admit to checking the news even during this “time spent with the Lord.”
I’m working on it.
After writing the requisite three college-ruled pages in handwriting I will never again decipher, I reach for my copy of Mary Oliver’s Devotions – The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Her easy-to-read prose sets me up to receive, rest, and ease into my time of meditation, which depending upon a host of factors may last anywhere from two minutes to thirty. In a busy household I’ve learned to hold this developing habit lightly.
I have a couple of Oliver’s poems I return to regularly. They ground me and speak in a unique way, especially as the world and life tumble about.
Here is one of my favorites, a prayer for you today as you face whatever tumbles you about. Stick it out to the end. You won’t be disappointed.
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass
Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat
of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or
forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?
Behold, I say—behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings
of this gritty earth gift.
Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.
And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.
And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.
The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.
And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?
I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.
We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
you have changed.
Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some
And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure—
what would do for you?
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.
And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
Oliver, Mary. Devotions. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.