Heroes of the Faith

December 2018: Mary Oliver

December 6 2018American poet Mary Oliver finds God through being truly present, particularly to the natural world, and in the compassion, love, wonder and gratitude she experiences as a result. Cath Connelly celebrates one of the great poets of our time, who challenges us with the question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

The god of dirt

came up to me many times and said

so many wise and delectable things, I lay

on the grass listening

to his dog voice,

crow voice,

frog voice; now,

he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever.

(One or Two Things, Dream Work)


What is it to be truly present? To be so connected to something that its very essence radiates in its exchange between us? What might we see if we were to look into the soul of that tree, that painting, that sunset, that politician?

To truly see is a place of compassion, for compassion is about making the connection between the heart of my being and the heart of your being. American poet Mary Oliver (born 1935) invites us to truly see: “Oh do you have time / to linger / for just a little while / out of your busy / and very important day / for the goldfinches…” (Invitation, Red Bird) and again, “Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, / except that / they have no tongues, could lecture / all day if they wanted about / spiritual patience?” (Landscape, Dream Works).

With her ability to move from the general to the specific, drawing us in to the intimacy of engagement with the smallest detail of her experience, Oliver asks: “Who made the World? / Who made the swan and the black bear? / Who made the grasshopper? / This Grasshopper, I mean - / the one who is eating sugar out of my hand…” (The Summer Day, House of Light) There is an intimacy of presence, of the ability to see, that is here captured so honestly.

Yet Oliver takes us beyond the visual observations of the natural world. She invites us to take the next step, to the vulnerability of feeling, and finds that the natural world can similarly meet us at this place: “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” (Wild Geese, Owls and Other Fantasies)

Cath Connelly is a retreat leader, Celtic harpist, spiritual director and co-director of the Living Well Centre.

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