That time I thought I could not go any closer to grief without dying
I went closer, and I did not die. Surely God had His hand in this,
as well as friends. Still, I was bent, and my laughter, as the poets said,
was nowhere to be found. Then said my friend Daniel (brave even among lions), “It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it— books, bricks, grief— it’s all in the way you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not, put it down.” So I went practicing. Have you noticed?
Have you heard the laughter that comes, now and again, out of my startled mouth?
How I linger to admire, admire, admire the things of this world that are kind, and maybe
also troubled— roses in the wind, the sea geese on the steep waves, a love to which there is no reply?
Coming to God: First days
Lord, what shall I do that I can’t quiet myself? Here is the bread, and here is the cup, and I can’t quiet myself.
To enter the language of transformation! To learn the importance of stillness, with one’s hands folded!
When will my eyes of rejoicing turn peaceful? When will my joyful feet grow still? When will my heart stop its prancing as over the summer grass?
Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake. I would climb the highest tree to be that much closer.
Lord, I will learn also to kneel down into the world of the invisible, the inscrutable and the everlasting. Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree on a day of no wind, bathed in light, like the wanderer who has come home at last and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things; every motion; even words.
All afternoon the sea was a muddle of birds black and spiky, long-necked, slippery.
Down they went into the waters for the poor blunt-headed silver they live on, for a little while.
God, how did it ever come to you to invent Time?
I dream at night of the birds, of the beautiful, dark seas they push through.
These poems are excerpted from Mary Oliver's book Thirst (Houghton Mifflin), used wth permission of the publisher and the author.
I occasionally hear parents complain that their elementary school children have ended up studying dinosaurs for several years in a row. A few grades go by and suddenly it seems like the only specialized knowledge their child has picked up is how to tell a Pachycephalosaurus from a Pentaceratops. As for teachers, they know that kids love studying dinosaurs.
No nesting. You are the nest. No wind, no earthquake, no fire; Only still small stirring within. More motion, no fledgling— Only slippery sharp shards shattered below. Quiet. Only stillness will bear you To the fullness of time.
We practiced at “The Decontam”— clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf, and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge. The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full, an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights, an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets, clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,” old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward, rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess. They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers; full squadrons perched above in laden readiness, paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.
Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).