Your Saturday Dose of Mary Oliver


Watching the sunrise over the mountains on Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

It’s been a bit of a tough week. So when I read this poem from Mary Oliver yesterday morning, the words immediately grabbed me. I hope that no matter what mood you’re in on this beautiful Saturday morning [or whenever you’re reading this] they grab you too.

Here’s to Mary Oliver and beautiful fall mornings.

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver
from Dream Work (1986)

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.


Mary Oliver on the Power of Planting Seeds

The parable from church this morning talked about how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The smallest of all seeds, that grows into shrubbery large enough for birds to gather under for some shade.
I read through a collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry earlier this year and remembered one, in particular, that stuck out to me. So I wanted to share that with you today.
“What I Have Learned So Far”
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with a sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.
Great words. What do you think of when you think about the parable of the mustard seed? What part has always stuck out to you? Feel free to start/join the conversation in the comments section.
 P.S. For those interested in the “Living the Questions” series… Tomorrow I’ll be back with that, specifically the question of “Who Told You?” — in the context of Adam & Eve, the full question is “Who told you that you were naked?” Scandal! Haha. Be sure to swing back tomorrow for that.

Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.


In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.


Spoken Word on Jesus & Religion

My friend Adam showed me this video the other day (and has a great post about it here). The spirit of this video is one that I can get behind. The idea of expressing faith in new ways is something that the church needs desperately. That being said, there are certainly things that I’m not sure about in this video.

The problem with something like this is that the term “religion” is so broad. For a lot of people, religion gives some sort of structure to understanding how we can join the ministry of God in the world. Religion provides an avenue to understand God’s action throughout history to help us interpret how God is acting and moving in our lives and in the lives of our communities. Religious traditions express the deep doubts of our communities but stands united against the emptiness that threatens to overtake us.

That being said, religion can also be incredibly damaging, which is what I think this guy focuses on and hits right on the head. When “religious” people are much more concerned with what candle is lit at what certain time throughout the service than with helping people in the community, we have a problem.

I think of great speaker Tony Campolo’s opening line when speaking at a church one night. He said,

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

False religion is the religion that cares more about the small misbehaviors of one rather than the great amount of suffering endured by entire nations. This is the religion that he is speaking against. And I think that’s the type of religion we should all speak against.

That being said, I enjoyed the video. I think the line “it’s not a museum for good people, but a hospital for the broken” is a great line.

And if the church is going to have anything to say to the generations coming after us, we better adopt that attitude and quickly.

What did you think of the video? What stuck out as positive? What wasn’t so positive?


My Last Post of 2011 & Words to Ring In 2012

Does it seem like this year has just flown to anyone else? It’s hard to believe there is less than 48 hours left of 2011. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this year, because it was such an incredibly fulfilling and wonderful year. I started blogging — a journey that has brought more conversation and insight to my life than I ever thought possible thanks to the 7 of you who read this 🙂

It’s been a great year. It’s the year I got married. It’s the year that, for the first time since I was 5, I didn’t have a first day of school. It’s the year I learned more about myself than I ever cared to thanks to experiences like my Clinical Pastoral Education and beginnings of my internship. All of these things have made 2011 an incredible year.

As we make the switch into 2012, I wanted to offer a poem/prayer for those of us still striving to find our way…

I Tremble of the Edge of a Maybe [1]

O God of beginnings
as your spirit moved
over the face of the deep
on the first day of creation,
move with me now,
in my time of beginnings,
when the air is rain-washed
the bloom is on the bush,
and the world seems fresh
and full of possibilities,
and I feel ready and full.
I tremble on the edge of a maybe,
a first time
a new thing,
a tentative start,
and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.
In silence, Lord,
I share now my eagerness
and my uneasiness
about this something different
I would be or do:
and I listen for your leading
to help me separate the light
from the darkness
in the change I seek to shape
and which is shaping me. Amen.

I wish you all a 2012 full of blessings and wonder. Happy New Year!


1 Excerpted from: Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

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