She wanted me to know there was no emergency but there was this:
Poet Mary Oliver died.
Knowing my heart as she does, she wanted me to know.
The melody of my soul is woven with Mary Oliver’s poetry and prose.
I was able to be in her physical presence once. She did a poetry reading in Minneapolis. The church where the event was held was full of those who, like me, came to pay homage.
I wept through most of it.
Some things are just too holy to behold.
I am far from my community and far from my books. I am far from the round table at our cabin that always held one of her books. I am left with Facebook as facilitator of communal testimony and grief and it is enough, I suppose.
The power of a soul compelled to sing is miracle.
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
The family joke goes like this: My children ask me what I want for my birthday. I tell them that I want them to write me a poem. Sometimes it has even worked, this birthday request of poetry.
Yesterday I received a gift. Aware that my heart is sore from the pain of my little sister’s beloved son in intensive care and knowing that my heart is sore from the bruising of this election and life, my eldest daughter sent me a poem.
I share it with you because it was balm for my soul and perhaps it will be so for yours.
And, would you loft a prayer for my nephew Miles? He is a paramedic who flies through the air on a helicopter to provide healing for others. His medical helicopter crashed early Saturday morning. He is in critical condition. We are not meant to fall from the sky and live but live he does and so we give thanks for good bones and the ways in which beautiful is made.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
Every year the church pauses to name the saints who are no longer physically with us.
This year we will be shepherded into and out of worship by bagpipes. The blast of sound will serve as a musical rupture of the thin veil separating the living from the dead.
The service is so very alive. We name church members who have died in the previous year and project their faces onto our screen as we savor the ways they have blessed and changed us.
This year our church has been changed by 20 deaths. While the grief around their passing is so very real so too is the pleasure of saying their names and remembering their being.
The seminary that I attended offered an opportunity to memorialize beloveds through buying a paver for a newly finished chapel courtyard. Since my father was for a time adjunct faculty at UTS and since my heart longs for places and times where his name can be in the hearts of the now, it felt so good to create a reminder that once he was, even as he still is in the hearts of many.
And of course during this thin veil time, I wonder about my own death and the day when it will be my face on the screen, my name on the lips, my being bookended with birth and death dates.
Poet Mary Oliver asks : “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Tomorrow we name those who answered that question every day they were given.
And so it comes to us.
How is it we plan to enter fully the wild and precious gift that is life?
Outside the sanctuary, the first snow flakes of the year were slopping.
Inside the sanctuary, there were hundreds gathered. We were there, pilgrims that we are, to listen to the heart of poet David Whyte.
Whyte wove a web of invitation to each of us to examine the temporary names we live under and add to them a name which honestly speaks the soul longing that thrums within each: Pilgrim.
As pilgrims, we know our call to “set out beyond ourselves” as we learn to ask more and more beautiful questions about this journey that is our life.
In reflecting on the grand mystery that is life, Whyte quoted his dear Anam Cara, John O’Donohue, who said that “The great miracle of life is that there is something rather than nothing and that you are a part of that something.”
In the sanctuary of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church we who gathered were keenly aware of our being part of the great “something”. As Whyte read his poems (the latest collection is entitled “Pilgrim” and is soul companion song), he left at the end of each reading a deep silence.
In that silence sang the longings, losses, and hope-beat of each heart present. We were woven by reverence for the sacred scripture that is life lived courageously, openly and cracked-open painfully.
In the silence was the “something” sung through the ages.