Monthly Archives: January 2019

gifts from Mary Oliver

When I Am Among the Trees…

light road landscape nature

Photo by Pixabay on

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Beloved poet Mary Oliver died on January 17. She was 83, and shared so many poems, and so much light with the world. It was as if, through her poetry and through her own living, she held a flashlight for us all, shining it onto all the small and ordinary details of life, illuminating a sacred shimmering presence – grace, beauty, wonder, nature being nature, human being human. In her poetry everything belonged. Through her noticing, we notice. Through her deep appreciation, we learn to see. Through her awe, we are drawn into wonder.

Writing a reflection on Mary Oliver for the New Yorker magazine, Rachel Syne highlights a rare interview Mary Oliver gave to Maria Shriver, in which she spoke of the damage of her early abuse.  Syne writes, “for more than five decades Oliver gave voice to the process of confronting one’s dark places, of peering underneath toadstools and into stagnant ponds. And, when she looked there, she found forgiveness. She found grace. She found that she was allowed to love the world.” (italics mine)

In the broken places of my life — through all my efforts to manage, order and set strict boundaries (walls, really) — I tried my best to protect myself and others. Unwittingly, I had traded a (presumed) safety for true freedom and joy. It didn’t work. Instead, I became increasingly guarded and fearful, and pain didn’t respect the boundaries/walls I had so carefully erected against it.

The poetry of Mary Oliver is a significant source of light and truth that helps free me. Grace, beauty, and joy flow through her words – assuring me that (in spite of all the brokenness) I can still take the risk to be present, pay attention, and love. As Mary Oliver says elsewhere: “Love for the earth and love for you (Lord) are having such a long conversation in my heart.”

Which brings me to her well-loved poem about prayer, which I’ll share here. How liberating it is to think of prayer as a simple, humble noticing: a gentle “doorway” into gratitude and quiet where our own clamoring is hushed, so that we might hear another’s voice:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

background balance beach boulder

Photo by Pixabay on

I encourage you to seek out some of Mary Oliver’s poetry. There is much online, and some wonderful books available. I have decided that in the coming year I will focus on her poetry and prose – to absorb her words and spirit, and learn from her. So I will probably be sharing more of my favorites here as well.
I end with Mary’s three instructions:.
“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
(from her poem “Sometimes”)
Please feel free to share your favorite Mary Oliver poems in the “comments.” I’d love to know how her words – and other poetry – have touched your life.
in peace this day~

following the star


 (The wise men set out) and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:9-12, NRSV)

As I have contemplated my “word for the year” (following the 12-day retreat with Christine Valters Paintner — see blog dated 12/30/18), I was immediately drawn to the word “wild.” This word has been living in me for 2-3 months, inviting me to a free, reverent, and more holistic way of living, exploring, playing, loving.

In her book “Braving the Wilderness” Brene Brown writes:

“The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid—all in the same moment. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind….  You reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, “I am the wilderness.”

This is very close to what I am seeking.

“Wild” has been appearing to me in so many ways – I won’t take time now to detail all of them. But during this time, I found this quote by Jonny Ox which particularly grabbed my attention:

“Don’t let the tamed ones tell you how to live.” 

The time has come to follow the star (planted in us by God). Certainly there is a time for seeking advice of others. But remember the wise men asking Herod where to find the “King of the Jews”: we need to be wise about who we look to for advice and wisdom. For me, the “tamed ones” are people who have compromised and/or limited their own journeys in order to feel safe and fit in with the expectations of others (which we all do to some degree at different times). Usually these “tamed” people will want us to do the same thing. They are often well-meaning. And perhaps for a while, it is the understandable choice. But now — in my mid 60’s — I feel ready to follow the star of the unique journey God has given to me.

Yesterday, as I followed a guided meditation led by Christine Valters Paintner, I was invited to imagine St. Brigid of Kildare handing me a gift. It was easy for me to imagine  St. Brigid: dressed in a deep green gown, her head covered by a simple scarf, with long, red, curly hair escaping wildly below. As I held out my hands, Brigid placed a compass in them. I really didn’t want a compass, and I thought I would ask her for a different gift :)… but as I looked more closely, the compass became a star, which felt mysterious, exciting and perfect. I also noticed the compass-star was a locket, which I could slip over my head and wear close to my heart. I knew that I could trust this star to guide me on this wild journey – which feels new, and yet, familiar. I believe I have always been a “wild child” but was not able to live out this truth as fully as I can now — which is total gift – and total blessing.

Perhaps as you listen to the music in this video, you might consider your own star, and what you are seeking in this season of your life.


Blessings on this journey we share, seeking the star — leading us to Love.



images from Flickr:

above: Star of Bethlehem, Magi – wise men or wise kings travel on camels with entourage across the deserts to find the savior — Holy Bible, Etching, 1885

below: The Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones

standing at a new doorway…


We look with uncertainty…

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

(Ann Hillman)




At the turning of the year, consider the new thing being born in you.

What might help you to allow this new thing to emerge?

Blessings as you cross over the threshold into a new year. May you listen for what wants to be born in you. May you open to that “softer, more permeable aliveness.”


(photos: Flickr, ami and Jeff Wallace)