For those who do not know exactly what a Prayer is

The Summer Day

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?

Mary Oliver


Oliver’s well quoted “The Summer Day” has embedded in it this statement:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I suppose we can say, “welcome to the club.”  But she goes on to say that she does know how to pay attention, among other things.

She ends with that wonderful question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

But this question comes out of observation; it comes out of what exactly a prayer is.

Prayer includes being idle and blessed, strolling through fields, and just paying attention:

Pay attention to the Creator and His creation – the world, the swan, the black bear, and the grasshopper.

Pay attention to yourself as you stroll through the fields.

Pay attention to those who die at last and too soon.

Pay attention to this one wild and precious life.

Pay attention to the One who made us for Himself all that is wild and precious in life.

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Learning to Live

Silver Weeping Birch Tree

I Learnt to Live, by Sofia Kioroglou

Before I got cancer
I cavilled at everything
Caterwauled and spat out
Unmentionable adjectives

Before I got cancer
My children hated me
I was controlling and unbearable
A helicopter hovering over them the whole time

Before I got cancer,
I didn’t know I had a present
But now that I am suffering 
I cherish the moment and the now

Before I got cancer
I didn’t know I had a future
I sucked each potential out of its viability
Before I got cancer, I was dead


​Copyright 2018; reblogged with permission

A new poetry book by Sofia is available at :https://payhip.com/b/zK7h


Sofia understands the paradox of life and death – the threat of death that exposes the deadness that already exists, and the catapulting to life that the diagnosis of cancer can give. One would think that the harsher reality would be living (or dying) with cancer. But the poem ends with the harsher commentary on life before cancer.

Before I got cancer
I didn’t know I had a future
I sucked each potential out of its viability
Before I got cancer, I was dead

She exposes something of what it takes to come to life under the shadow of a potential death sentence. I can relate to this in my own experience (31 years ago this month) and I can actually look back with some fondness at the gift of that season with cancer, or as Sofia put it, realizing that “I didn’t know I had a present.” I love the play of words where present offers both gift and presence.

And I can relate to the life recently lost to cancer of a friend who’s artistic output in her last years was so fruitful but not frenetic. She offered herself and her gifts freely and generously.

A number of years ago my neighbour’s weeping birch tree (image above) started casting off more seeds that I had ever seen before; coincidentally a friend of mine was visiting who is an agricultural expert. When he saw the weeping birch he commented that the tree was actually dying, counterintuitive to such fruitfulness. This prodigiousness is what these kind of trees do before they die. It is a knowing without cognition: the dying tree weeps off thousands of seeds before it’s life cycle ends.

I might add therefore,

Before I had cancer, I didn’t know I could be so fruitful


Oh, I’m still dying (and so are you), just not at the hastened pace of cancer. In the mean time, cast seeds wherever you may be.


Since I posted this, a friend sent me this clip of Jane Marczewski – stage-name “Nightbirde” -who sang her original song “It’s Okay” at “Americas Got Talent”.  

Written in the last year of her life (with a 2% chance of living beyond her 6 month prognosis), she said:

You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.

For more from Nightbirde see: “God is on the Bathroom Floor; if you can’ see Him, look lower.”

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Lap Upon Your Shore

Lap Upon Your Shore

 

Everyone has wanted a piece of you

till there would be no pieces left, I thought.

I have watched you proceed and recede

As age washes up on your coast.

 

After all these years, and years yet to go

At one time swimming, then treading water

Now being carried by currents

finding ourselves; finding ourselves near.

 

The tide laps upon your shore

Sometimes washing up debris,

Sometimes washing away sand,

Continually changing; always transfiguring.

 

And I have lapped at your shore

with the daily tides of presence;

And who can know the imperceptible ways

We have transformed each other?

 

Slowly have we eroded our rocky outcrops

Leisurely have we smoothed the rough surfaces

Languorously have we drifted 

Within the stream of our time.

 

Let it all wash away then dear friend;

Let is all go as it came;

Let the beach be indifferent to ebb and flow

As the tide laps upon your shore.

 

On the occasion of our 38th Wedding Anniversary
Image of Mercy on a rocky shore near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
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The Awesomeness of the Universe…

“CHRISTIANITY, the belief that a God created a universe 13.79 billion yrs old, 93 billion light years in diameter, consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars, only to have a personal relationship with you”

It was a tweet meant to mock the Christian belief in an awesome God who is caring and knowable. In response there were many like “A Spirit living in the material world…” @Mikie33474558 who replied to @Caring Atheist:

If you could build a universe would you not do so? If you were the only one in the vastness of space. Who would you have a relationship with?

I don’t fault The Caring Atheist for being bewildered by what he thinks is a belittling idea of the Creator’s capacity to create something so magnificent and also want a relationship with something The Caring Atheist thinks is not (you). It seems such an underwhelming purpose of the universe if you reduce the universe to transactional materialism as atheists are apt to do, and further reduce the worth of personhood as atheists are want to do. After all, who are we to God that He would think of us at all?  But this is the secret treasure of the gospel.

The Caring Atheist, without knowing it, was only echoing what the Psalmist sang in Psalm 8:

When I consider your heavens,  the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

Why do you bother with us?  Why take a second look our way?

It is the right question: the Psalmist considers the creation that engenders awe – the heavens, the moon and the stars – in order to consider something else that arouses awe – how God would be “mindful” and “caring” of humanity. The Caring Atheist considers the awesomeness of the universe but cannot grasp the awesomeness of a God who would want a personal relationship with you… or with him.

We all start off there I suppose: bewildered and without capacity to grasp the Creator God of the Universe… but it is God’s grace to be able to see the connection between the awesomeness of the Creator with the awesomeness of His love. 

The Awesomeness of the Universe and the Intimacy of God

Pekka Sinervo PhD, recognizes this and shares his insights about the late (great) cosmologist and atheist Stephen Hawking portrayed in the movie “The Theory of Everything”.  As great a thinker as Hawking was, there is something lamentable about not being able to “think” his way into the mind of the Creator who made Stephen for Himself.

“[The movie] starts with a very young cosmologist Stephen Hawking meeting an equally young humanities scholar Jane Wilde. Hawking, as we quickly learn, is at best agnostic about the existence of God, whereas Jane is certain in her faith that there is indeed a God.

For those who have been asleep for the last 50 years, or shun popular science, Stephen Hawking is considered one of most serious minds of the 20th and 21st century. He made some of the most important discoveries about gravity since Einstein. He discovered that black holes – celestial vacuum cleaners gobbling up anything that might stray near them – also give off radiation. He found that a black hole may even blow up.

Tragically, Stephen Hawking was struck as a young man with ALS, a disease that progressively destroyed his nervous system. The movie “The Theory of Everything” follows Stephen and Jane, first falling in love, then Stephen finding his scientific calling – a search for the how and why of our universe – even while physically crippled, then Jane searching for comfort in her religion. It ends with their divorce.

[The movie] depicted both Jane and Stephen’s search for, and relationship with God. Stephen turned from agnosticism to atheism and perhaps back again. Jane remained steadfast in her beliefs, hoping that Stephen would someday have to accept God’s existence.”


Credit to Alvin Oommen for putting me on to the tweet of The Caring Atheist.

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What it means to be a Burning Bush

Photo by Du01b0u01a1ng Nhu00e2n on Pexels.com

What it means to be a Burning Bush

While safe-keeping the flock in the wilderness

He saw it: the flame of fire out of the midst of a bush

And it was burning but not consumed. *1

It was there that that he met the One who sets us on fire

It was there that he heard God reveal Himself

It was there that the mystery began. 

 

While they were all together in one place

They saw licks of fire rest on their heads

And they began to speak: *2

It was there that they sang in manifold tongues

It was there that ecstacy and joy were a mixed drink

It was there that they uttered magnificent news. 

 

There will come a time when each one’s work will be manifest

It will be laid bare to be seen, exposed by fire

And it will consume only what is not glorious. *3

It will be there where the burn will be

It will be there where all that is not beauty will be ashes 

It will be there where all that is not God will be gone. 

“He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire” *4

He alights on the heads with tongues of fire

He reveals Himself through burning bushes.

It is here that He sets a flame

It is now that He lights a fire

It is what it means to be a burning bush. 

*1 – Exodus 3   *2 –  Acts 2   *3 –  I Corinthians 3   *4 – Hebrews 1


A passing comment was made about how the fire that set on the early followers of Christ (in Acts 2) was like the fire of the burning bush that Moses saw (in Exodus 3). 

I contemplated what that meant – the idea that God is a revelational God – disclosing Himself through fire – everything from the burning bush to now igniting those who would be faithful witnesses to His beauty.

Let us be a burning bush

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Out of love for his Mother

“My mother and neighbouring mothers” painted by 9 year old Anujath Sindhu Vinaylal from Kerala, India.

“The painting titled ‘My mother and neighbouring mothers’ is set against a rural landscape and portrays mundane life. The burst of colours brings out a sense of certain beauty in everyday chores undertaken by the painter’s mother and other rural women.” (Gopi Karelia).

“[In 2016], then nine-year-old Anujath completed the painting with no intentions of submitting it for any competitions. He had done it purely out of love for his mother.

However [in 2019] his father, Vinaylal decided to participate in an international drawing competition conducted by Shankar’s Academy of Art and Book Publishing in Delhi. The result was announced when his mother, Sindhu, was alive. However, by the time certificate and medal arrived, she had passed away from a heart condition.”

It is a tender and loving tribute to his mother and his neighbouring mothers, revealing the communal nature of mothering, and of how any community actually works. Invisible tasks are completed for the common good, and we can all do well with a renewed appreciation of this in the warm glow of Mothers Day.

For more read “Days after Mother’s Death, 14 year old Kerala boy wins Global Award.

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To hold you I had to break open

The Force, by Katharine Blake

Not a cracking of bones,
how the pelvis can snap
when the head 
then shoulders break loose, 

but worn threadbare,
waves against weathered 
bone every five to eight
minutes (mark it down)
no food, no sleep, only
vomit and water and strong hands
through my hair and the dog
who devoured a whole chocolate cake
(a fact your father kept
secret, for fear the dog might die). 

Fourth night, dark room,
your father’s face
a moon above us,
time slips then I hear 
grab your baby
and I don’t think how? or 
in what way should I grab him?
because there is no thought
at the sill of life or death,
only urge—I reach down
and sling you onto my chest
like a fish, bruised and wet,
head in the shape of
what you’ve come through—

the force of contraction
wasn’t easy for me or you. 

But who cares for ease and what isn’t
shaped by the hard bones of passage?
To love you I had to hold you,
blue fish, true light
and to hold you I had to break open. 

Katharine Blake is a writer and adjunct professor at Vermont Law School. Her JD is from Stanford Law, and her first book, The Uninnocent, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Blake’s poem is a powerful expression of the child birth experience and of what it means to be a Mother: to hold you I had to break open.

Reposted in grateful awareness of Mother’s Day.

To hear Katharine Blake read her poem go to “The Force found at Imagejournal.org.

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