Sunday, June 29, 2008

On My Knees

Forgive the funky font sizes and changes....I'm feeling just lazy enough to leave them!

This morning at church during the sharing of joys and concerns, I spoke about the privilege of worship--the pleasure in being back in a church community we have grown to value and love after two weeks away. It's a hot day--and humid, too, most critically--so the congregation met in the basement fellowship hall. The air conditioning was the pull, of course, but the more casual worship environment was pleasurable for me as well. We're tighter there, sitting side by side, and sharing in worship in the space where we typically share fellowship--lemonade, coffee, a friendly word or smile--somehow brings this spirit of exchange into the service.

Last Sunday I had church on my knees, hunched over our garden rows, patiently pulling weeds to unearth one and two inch basil seedlings, the unmistakable scruffy leaves of a carrot top, and the bushy green signs of watermelon coming to life. God was as much in evidence in that garden as She was today in fellowship hall--my co-congregants were spiders and ants and birds and trees and dirt....luscious, heavenly dirt. And while I didn't encounter any grasshoppers, Mary Oliver's phrase about not knowing how to pray--but knowing how to kneel down in the grass--kept coming to me. It's been with me all week long. So here is this treasure of a poem from a treasure of a poet:

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.

While searching for "The Summer Day," I found this new-to-me poem below, and it feels like a gift from God on this melancholy night when I'm struggling against returning to work tomorrow morning and leaving behind that garden and being on my knees in the grass. I suppose I do have the sort of spirit that carries a thorn--and that far too often I don't dare to be happy. But I do feel as though the world is somehow as it ought to be--as though what will be is what should be, even in the too-frequent losses and lamenting that follows. Somehow we are--Creation is--always straining toward life, toward energy, toward God. And Mary Oliver once again says it better than I ever could.

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver