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.

~

I’m experimenting with providing an audio version of my posts. Let me know what you think!

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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.)

738. Jessica Brown on beauty and moral vision

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My dear friend Jessica Brown has a new essay up at Duke University's Faith & Leadership website about beauty and moral vision. The beauty she writes about is not the beauty promoted by cosmetic companies and car manufacturers in the ads in the front pages of magazines. The moral vision she writes about is not the impulse for bold statements on social media feeds. In these days of loud sound bytes and antagonistic banter, her words offer so much good to think about. I hope you'll take a few minutes and read; click here to go to her essay.

"Beauty isn’t just ornamentation or sentimentality; it provides the life-giving force of warm, appealing graciousness to what could otherwise be moralistic positions in danger of never blooming into real-time goodness." –Jessica Brown

Jessica has a book coming out soon from Kalos Press, The Grace to be Human.

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[Photo: taken this morning of a bowl of mandarin oranges.]

736. Ashes to go

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A picture in the current issue of Sojourners magazine caught my eye. On a city sidewalk stand two women. One is wearing a clerical robe. The other is a wearing a winter jacket, and, to me, it appears she has the beginning of tears in her eyes. The woman in the robe is marking the woman in the jacket with the sign of the cross on her forehead. It is Ash Wednesday. Instead of waiting for this woman and perhaps a man walking behind her and a couple running to their bus and an untold number of others to come inside a church, the church is going out to meet them. During the last month I've been slowly reading through the gospel of John. Here Jesus is at a wedding, here he is just walking along, here he is in the countryside, here he is getting water at a well, here he is by the sea, here he is walking ON the sea, here he is on a mountain ridge. All the while, he is meeting people where they are.

This short video expands on the story in the magazine picture. You can see the pair I described above at about 45 seconds in. It's quite a moving video; I hope you'll have the two minutes to take a look.

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[Photo: taken of a staircase at St. John's University]