757. With thanks to Mary Oliver

757. Carlson-MarchIdyll.jpg

Mary Oliver, superlative poet and essayist, died this past week at the age of 83. I first started reading her work, particularly her essays, in mid-life when I was in graduate school. Reading her was like having a friend next to me, urging me on to pay attention, to pause, to look, to wonder, to praise. In Long Life: Essays and Other Writing, Oliver wrote:

“And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That's the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning, ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’"

When I heard that she had died, I took Long Life off my bookshelf and went through, re-reading the lines I’d starred and underlined.

Here are a few of the other lines my eyes landed on:

“What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?”

And this:

“I walk in the world to love it.”

And this:

"And here I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend." ( I had wanted to use this as an epigraph for Finding Livelihood but due to permission issue I had to cut it.)

This morning, here in Minneapolis, the sky is blue and sunny, the air cold. New snow, not much, is glistening white. Although the thermometer reads –1°, it is all so beautiful. Oliver wrote, “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning. Beauty has its purposes, which, all our lives and at every season, it is our opportunity, and our joy, to divine.”

May you divine much beauty, live the life yours to live, think thoughts and aim high, walk and love. I thank Mary Oliver for writing and sharing her deeply meaningful words. If you have some words of Oliver’s to share, I’d love to read them in the comments.

~~~

To read other posts I’ve written about Mary Oliver, click here.

[Photo: taken of a painting viewed at the Minnesota Museum of American Art: “March Idyll or Winter Landscape, Woodstock” by John Fabian Carlson; used with permission. I love that crack in the sky in the upper left corner that tells you the sun is about to break through. I think Mary Oliver would also have loved it.)

756. Let our soul breathe hope

756. Let our soul breathe hope.jpg

A reader of this blog/newsletter—a friend—recently recommended to me the book Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace by John Philip Newell (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011). For each day of the week, morning and evening, the book includes a “prayer of awareness,” a “prayer for the life of the world,” and a “prayer of blessing,” as well as scripture and prompts for meditation. On this Monday morning, December 31, one of the prayers of the day seems so fitting for the New Year that I want to share it with you on this New Year’s Eve day.

For the freshness of this new day

thanks be to you, O God.

For morning’s gift of clarity

its light like the first day’s dawn

thanks be to you.

In this newborn light

let us see afresh.

In this gateway onto what has never been before

let our soul breathe hope

for the earth

for the creatures

for the human family.

Let our soul breathe hope.

Blessings to each of you in 2019!

~~~

[Photo: some wood ready for a New Year’s fire.]

755. Beyond work

755. Juniper Berries.jpg

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the 2016 film Paterson for the first time. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Paterson the film is about Paterson the man who lives in Paterson the village. Paterson the man, played by Adam Driver, is in his late 20s or early 30s and drives a city bus. He is married to Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani, who is passionate about many things, including home decorating, learning to play guitar, and baking and selling cupcakes at a weekend community market. Paterson does more than drive a bus; he also writes poems.

He writes poems in his head as he walks to work each morning. Before he drives his bus out of the garage, he writes down the lines that came to him during that morning’s walk in the notebook he always carries with him. At lunch, while he eats his sandwich and drinks coffee from his thermos, he again takes out his notebook and adds the lines that came to him while he drove. At home, he goes down to his basement office—a desk and some shelves in an unfinished basement—and adds a few more lines. His wife begs him to read some of his poems to her, and he keeps promising he will but never does. She begs him to send his work out to some magazines. Instead, he just keeps writing, line by line.

The world around him seems to give him signs that what he’s doing matters, although the signs are not profound or recognizable to anyone else. No readers show up cheering his work, and no agents or publishers suddenly appear. He has no social media account that magically gains followers. The signs are more along the lines of “I see you.”

As he writes line by line in his head and in his notebook, he has a steadiness about him and an inner drive, not toward success, which is usually how the word ‘drive’ is used today, but a drive to keep putting the words together until they fit, and the final click unlocks some inner release and the eyes widen and the soul opens.

I wish this film had been around while I was writing Finding Livelihood. It probably would have made its way into one of the chapters. While the film features a man writing poetry while he also drives a bus, the broader implication can be a fill-in-the-blank sort of prospect for any of the rest of us. What else are you about beside your work or alongside your work? In what ways do you seek the opening of eyes and soul to what is beyond your work?

~~~

[photo: taken of the juniper berries on the table at the American Swedish Institute while I drank my coffee last week.]