I've really been enjoying participating in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Program, which kicked off last September with a retreat at Priestfield Pastoral Center in West Virginia, and comes to a close with another retreat in May. During the intervening months, participants have gathered monthly in large and small groups for meals, worship sharing, and discussion of the various texts we agreed to read as part of the program. Recent books include Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God and Parker Palmer's The Active Life.
April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of the occasion we decided to read meaningful poems that inspire us or resonate with us spiritually in some way. This is a pretty easy homework assignment for me, since I love poetry and read a lot of it. The challenge for me will be to limit myself to a handful of poems to share with my fellow formers of spirit, rather than overwhelming them with my top 1005.
Last night at the library I picked up Mary Oliver's latest collection, Thirst, which finds the poet wrestling with the dynamics of faith and mourning in the wake of the death of her longtime partner. Oliver has long been one of my very favorite poets, but in this slim volume she plumbs depths of pain and beauty that made me feel as if I was reading her work for the very first time. Many of the poems are wounding to read, given the context of sadness and loss in which they were written, but they shine all the more radiantly for that. Each one calls the reader to feel reverence and compassion not just for the natural world, which has been the hallmark of Oliver's work to date, but also for Oliver herself, for her enormous love and her enormous grief. In these poems, her keen poet's sight pierces the veil of suffering and finds God there, hovering above the face of the waters. Thirst is a great gift from Ms. Oliver to her readers, and I encourage everyone to get a copy.
From Thirst: an excerpt from from 'On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate'
. . . How many mysteries have you seen in your
lifetime? How many nets pulled
full over the boat's side, each silver body
ready or not falling into
submission? How many roses in early summer
uncurling above the pale sands then
falling back in unfathomable
willingness? And what can you say? Glory
to the rose and the leaf, to the seed, to the
silver fish. Glory to time and the wild fields,
and to joy. And to grief's shock and torport, its near swoon.
So it is not hard to understand
where God's body is, it is
everywhere and everything; shore and the vast
fields of water, the accidental and the intended
over here, over there. And I bow down
participate and attentive
it is so dense and apparent. And all the same I am still
here, now, I am thinking
not of His thick wrists and His blue
shoulders but, still, of Him. Where, do you suppose, is His
pale and wonderful mind? . . .
Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again -- another day --
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy of -- what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.
- Mary Oliver