At the end of last week, in reflecting on Mary Oliver’s life – small respite in the wake of her death – I ran a search through my previous 12+ years of blog posts to see what I’d written of her before, where her poetry and prose have inspired my own words (and heart).
I’ve chosen one of those many posts as remembrance; more, as tribute.
An edited version of writing from March, 2007
Though I know unfruitful, even unanswerable, I sometimes find myself asking questions like, Can’t things be easier? Can’t my life go the way I want it to? Does it so-often have to feel like a struggle?
And then I begin to wonder: if the divine were to answer these questions the way I subliminally desire (translate: a tame, sedate, even predictable life) who would that god be? Surely not the one that Sacred Text portrays.
That god, that understanding of the divine, is one who falls asleep in storms – not one who prevents them from happening at all.
A case in point:
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
This is no tame, sedate, predictable story. For this is no tame, sedate, predictable god.
So, a better question to be asking is: Why would I ever anticipate, let alone desire, my life to be such?
If I choose to reflect on, and even believe in this god (not to mention being created in the image of such) – one who is nonplussed in a treacherous storm – how then shall I live? Ahhh, yes. Dangerous. Risky. Unafraid. Hardly tame, sedate, and predictable.
Mary Oliver speaks of this better than me:
Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,
silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
But you know how it is
the threshold—the uncles
the women walk away,
the younger brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.
It comes and goes
Like wind over the water—
Sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.
Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth
like a tremor of pure sunlight
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them
miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails;
before he rose and talked to it—
tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was—
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer sea.
This understanding of, conception of the divine is one I find myself far more able to believe in; a thousand times more frightening than the killer sea.
Then choosing the storm (vs. demanding the tame, the sedate, the predictable) feels right; more, sacred.
Rest well, Mary Oliver – in the arms of the divine you named. In your absence we feel and know what you did: tender, luminous, and oh, so demanding, to be sure.