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!

~~~

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.)

730. What to think about today

Fall Sky.jpg

This past Sunday our minister's sermon was on this text from Philippians, which gives a gentle push to thoughts of a higher order.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

I needed this reminder and perhaps you do too. These words are a touchstone that serve as not only wise guidance, but permission, yes permission, to at least occasionally turn thoughts away from the evening news, away from fears, away from sorrow, away from grievances, away from social media trivialities, away from [fill in the blank], and toward what is noble and right and pure and lovely and excellent and praiseworthy.

This morning I'm blowing the dust off something I wrote long ago. In Just Think: Nourish Your Mind to Feed Your Soul, I launched from this verse in Philippians to write a bulleted list of reasons to stock one's mind well. Here are some of the bullets in that list:

  • To be catalyzed, expanded, and ignited. Those of use who have battled a blah spirit and lifeless mind on one or more occasions won't find it difficult to draw a link between the state of our spirit and the state of our mind.
  • To stay optimistic and not lose hope or vibrancy. The world is full of wonderful things.
  • To link reason and imagination. To see the chasm between what is and what could be. To see possibility. To see opportunities for greatness.
  • To know the richness, vastness, and beauty of that which has been divinely created.
  • To form a solid foundation from which to launch action
  • To provide sufficient mental content of beauty and joy so that we are less likely to gravitate toward content of despair or fear.
  • To be equipped for creativity.

It's always OK to be a student of what you've already learned long ago and have needed to learn again and again. May your day be one of joy and hope. The world is full of wonderful things.

~~~

[Photo: taken this week of fall trees and sky.]

685. Think small to think big

Think small to think big.jpg

I rather enjoy abstract questions, giving my mind something big to ponder, but more and more I’ve found that it’s the small concrete questions and observations that are significant and add up to something. The big questions fill in with what's small.

Here’s a wonderful passage from an old book on my shelf: The Art of Clear Thinking by Rudolf Flesch, published in 1951.

“Next time you find yourself wrestling with such a question, stop and translate it into a low-level, concrete question to which you can find an answer. Instead of “What is the meaning of life?” ask yourself “What did I do today, and for what purpose?” Instead of “What knowledge is of most worth?” ask “What did I learn last year and how did I apply it?”
    And when it comes to the question “What is truth?”, remember that our civilization has developed an elaborate procedure to establish the truth about things and events, namely, a court trial. Yet, no witness has ever been asked to answer the question “What is truth?” More likely, he is asked: “Now tell us exactly what you did between 3:30 and 4:30 on the afternoon of August 4, 1947?”

~~~

Related post: Isak Dinesen on two courses of thought

[Photo: taken of some cuttings from a spruce tree in our yard, which have been in a vase in my kitchen for nearly a month and are now showing new spring-green growth fluffing out from the tips. There must be some sort of natural antibiotic in them because the water remains crystal clear.]