Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

words and pictures for spring

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

(Mary Oliver, “Spring” from House of Light)


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Filed under Poetry

The Work of a New Year

(a view of the lovely Claremont hills in southern California, on the last day of 2011)

The Business God Has Given Us

The author of Ecclesiastes writes:

I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

And isn’t this how it is at the start of a new year? We are caught up in wondering what business God has given us.

And yet, the mystery of time still pervades, beyond human comprehension or control. We understand that time is passing, but we cannot fully know the mind of God.

We just have to keep doing our best, day to day, with the business we’ve been given to do.

Endless and Proper Work

I think of the beautiful words of Mary Oliver in her poem Yes! No!”:

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

I wonder, isn’t this enough — to pay attention? Isn’t this the whole of the work to which we are called?

The waking in the morning, the moving through the day, the closing our minds and eyes at night — all these are summed up in this focus of attention on what matters.

And what matters is what brings us joy, what makes us more fully alive.

Nothing Better

Ecclesiastes goes on:

I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

It’s there, the call to dig deeper into joy, to pay attention to what is life-giving.

And God has declared it, as he declared that first light of creation, good. It is more than good: there is nothing better than this work of being alive.

There are seasons for all these times of up and down, but it is always good to be living joyfully in each moment.

So here’s to a year of living like sheep: following faithfully the shepherd’s voice, drinking deep from the wells of life, and surrendering to the pleasure of rich pastures.


Filed under Lectionary Reflections, Spirituality, Theology and Faith

Prayer slows me down

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No!

… Imagination is better than a sharp instrument.
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
(Mary Oliver, excerpt from “Yes! No!”)

Noticing the smallest of details can change our perspective. Our focus can wander unless directed, unless called back to now. How easy it is to miss things because we rush, because we imagine that we don’t have time to slow down.

Sometimes having a camera in hand is what helps me be intentional about looking at the world differently, soaking in its detailed colors and textures.

Sometimes prayer does the same thing for my heart.

Prayer usually doesn’t feel productive, you know? It feels silly at first, like I’m talking to myself, or like I’m trying to prove something.

But it’s the very intentionality of committing myself to it anyway that changes me. The transformative power of prayer is subtle and slow. It doesn’t burst in; it seeps in.

Prayer slows me down.

When I pray, I change my perspective, and I notice things — things there all along, just new to my eyes.

And I think that’s one of the most important reasons for taking time to pray: not necessarily because it changes the world, but because it necessarily changes us.

Our hearts are molded and softened by the very act of making space to stop and pay attention.

So friends, let your prayer slow you down! Let it reveal beauty in something small that would have been missed in haste, passed over in productivity. Let it offer perspective on your life, on the world, that surprises or challenges you.

And then come tell me what you see/learn/hear/smell/understand/desire/change/feel…

Want some more inspiration?

Check out Emily’s 10 ideas for making art in under an hour, or Ann’s recent post on really looking at the world, or my own suggestion for practicing attentive prayer.

A Note for plant nerds:

Twinberries and California Thistles are both native to the California coast. Queen Anne’s Lace (the lovely wild carrot plant) came from Europe, as the name implies. These days, though, it’s naturalized pretty much everywhere across North America. The root is edible — it really is a carrot — as are the flowers, but this plant looks dangerously similar to poison Hemlock, so be careful! Even though Twinberry plants are part of the Honeysuckle clan (whose berries are usually poisonous), these are technically edible. They’re just really bitter, so I hear. Thistles, however, have a lot going for them: they’re super useful and entirely edible (but spiky!)


Filed under My Faith Journey, Theology and Faith