Matthew 17 – Mary Oliver – AYWJ 05

This post was meant to be put up on Thursday but just didn’t get it finished until today. So, imagine reading this a few days ago…

I read this afternoon the news that Mary Oliver passed away today. I wasn’t much into poetry until a few years ago when I came across a poem called Lost by David Wagoner. Lost opened a door to a new world of poetry that I had not spent much time with. In the years since, I have started to spend more time with poets – Rilke, Wendell Berry, and of course Mary Oliver. Poetry is a different sort of read. Unlike what I am used to reading, it isn’t an issue of intellectual pursuit or entertainment but letting the poem work on soul and spirit. It requires a turning of perception and practice. It requires listening, seeing, feeling, and thinking in new ways.

This morning, I read in Matthew 17 about what is known as the Transfiguration when Jesus was changed on the mountaintop before three of his disciples. What followed were several more vignettes that continued to speak to me of changed ways of taking in the world. Richard Rohr’s daily email this morning (written by Cynthia Bourgeault) talked about transformation like upgrading one’s operating system from a binary either/or type of living in perceptions that are not as linear and binary but instead recognizes the connections between all things and the oneness that permeates it all.

…(W)e do have the capacity, if we so choose, to shift to a whole different basis of perception. We come into this life with another untapped operating system, a nondual way of perceiving the world, and we can learn to steer by it, understand through it, and ultimately discover our deepest sense of identity within it.

Poetry helps to open that door for me. Mary Oliver spoke deeply to me through her beautiful painting with words. In her collection called House of Light, one poem “Maybe” spoke to me more than any other. It reflects to me how Jesus opened the door to this new way of living and feeling and thinking, how there was a holy of him that we can get a sense of and even enter into, but it will always be something that we are reaching towards and catching only a piece of the fullness. So, Mary Oliver, thank you for opening me up to this holy, to Jesus in this beautiful way.

Maybe by Mary Oliver

Sweet Jesus, talking

his melancholy madness,

stood up in the boat

and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry.

So everybody was saved

that night.

But you know how it is

when something

different crosses

the threshold—the uncles

mutter together,

the women walk away,

the young brother begins

to sharpen his knife.

Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes

like the wind over the water—

sometimes, for days,

you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,

after the multitude was fed,

one or two of them felt

the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight,

before exhaustion,

that wants to swallow everything,

gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,

as they are now, forgetting

how the wind tore at the sails

before he rose and talked to it—

tender and luminous and demanding

as he always was—

a thousand times more frightening

than the killer sea.

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