I’m Needy

by Karen Richter

I’m needy and so are you.

How do you feel about being called needy? Why is needy such a pejorative… one of the worst things we can call someone else? As you’re reading, do you even hear that word differently, like ‘nEEEEEEEEE-dy,’ with an exaggerated tone and a little eye roll?

I'm Needy by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog, United Church of Christ

 

 

 

 

 

Our culture, even in our churches, is so infused with American-style rugged individualism. For our children (in lots of families), no skill is prized more than independence. Whether it’s toileting or sleeping solo or shoe tying, we are hell-bent, so to speak, on passing on the values of independence and individualism. English idioms in the US evince a huge cultural preference for NOT being needy.

self-made / ‘self-made man’
pull up by one’s own bootstraps
your own person
independent as a hog on ice
making it / I made that
lone wolf
free mind
live and let live
cup of tea / ‘that’s not my…’
grit
stiff upper lip
spunk
stand up / ‘stand up guy’
elbow room
green light
like a dog (doggedness, dog with a bone)
run of / ‘the run of the place’

However… have you tried recently to declare your independence from oxygen? from water? from food? from sleep? … from love?

We need things, and those things are remarkably consistent from person to person. Besides the usual physical needs (food, water, air, shelter), we need respect and fairness; we need to be heard; we need our lives to have meaning; we need a sense of safety. Can you think of other needs?

Today, can you be gentle with yourself? When things go sideways, can you ask, “What need was alive in me when this happened? What need was I trying to meet?”

Today, can you be gentle with others? When you’re tempted to blame and shame, can you ask, “What need might that person be trying to meet?” Even if you guess that person’s need incorrectly, you will have awakened your spirit to empathy.

Stop worrying, then, over questions such as, “What are we to eat,” or “what are we to drink,” or “what are we to wear?” Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. Seek first God’s reign, and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you besides.
~Matthew 6.31-34, The Inclusive New Testament (emphasis is mine ☺)

I'm Needy by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog, United Church of ChristThis kind of empathy for self and for others is a building block of Nonviolent Communication. It’s a helpful skill (I’m totally a beginner).

Explore more about human needs here.

Phoenix NVC Learners meetup

Blessings on your needy human journey!

The Cure for Writer’s Block

by Ryan Gear

If you are a pastor writing sermons, or if you serve in any creative role, you have undoubtedly experienced writer’s block (or some other form of creativity block). All creative people feel blocked at times.

The pressure to produce sometimes motivates us. At times, however, we experience some funk that holds back our ideas like an emotional Hoover Dam. Perhaps we have begun to idolize some predetermined expectation of our work. Or maybe we’ve grown generally fatigued in our busyness. Or, instead of being intrinsically motivated, perhaps we feel uninspiring expectations from faceless masses of critics just standing there with their arms crossed, daring us to impress them.

So how do you break through the block?

I remember Bono saying something in an interview about how, for him, the key to overcoming writer’s block is to write songs about writer’s block. The suggestion is that in whatever media you create, whenever you feel blocked, just express what it feels like to be blocked.

In other words, you create from where you are, not from where you want to be.

It’s that concept, familiar to all creatives, that is at once both comforting and maddening… honesty. A block in creativity seems to come from having a subconscious edit button for some yet unexplored reason. An author I know refers to the “Censor”. We might have slowly given into expectations about what we should be creating. My counselor friends call that “shoulding on yourself.”

What if the experience of writer’s block is actually a blessing in disguise because it is an invitation to ask yourself, “What are you editing? What are you censoring? And why are you editing or censoring?” An even more probing question is, “Why are you blocking what is already in you?” As you perform the potentially gruesome soul surgery of answering those questions, your best work will spring from what is actually going on deep in your gut and not what you think you should be creating in your head.

Writer’s block is a flashing neon sign imploring you and me to be honest with ourselves.

If you’re experiencing a creativity block, here are some questions to explore…

  • What does it feel like to have writer’s block?
  • What great writers are known to have struggled with writer’s block?
  • What causes writer’s block?
  • What role do fatigue and depression play in writer’s block?
  • Do you have an overactive edit button? Why are you editing? Why are you censoring? What are you afraid of? Who are you trying to please?
  • What would it look like to be honest about how you feel and why?

Writer’s block is an invitation to get honest with yourself and explore what is really going on deeper within you. And yes, ironically, once you give up trying to create something awesome, that thing you create out of that vulnerable honesty will be what is celebrated as super cool and profound and mind-blowing. It is your honesty that will inspire others who, just like you and me, know deep down that they need to stop trying so hard and just be honest with themselves.

There Is Hope for The Last Jedi… and for All of Us

by Ryan Gear

Reviews of the latest installment of the Star Wars saga The Last Jedi are as mixed as U.S political opinions, but one thing is certain. As much as the  galaxy far, far away needs hope, we need it too. With a culture war raging in the U.S. and a resurgence of fascism in Europe, the Dark Side seems to be winning in our world at the moment.

As a people, we seem to be aware that we are trapped in a tragic time in history, and we need a spark of hope. Like the seven previous episodes, The Last Jedi is a great modern example of Greek tragedy. In his foundational work on drama, Poetics, Aristotle instructs that one of the features of a tragedy is that the main character possesses a tragic flaw.

The tragic flaw is a character deficiency or a mistake that leads to the main character’s downfall, and that downfall creates suffering both in the character’s life and usually in the lives of those around them. The first six episodes of Star Wars follow the life trajectory of Anakain Skywalker who becomes known as Darth Vader. His tragic flaw is obvious— for a combination of reasons he turns to the Dark Side of the Force. Brilliantly, he is also a physically flawed character who is so deformed by his choices that he needs his suit to live, move, and breath. Those first six episodes could be titled “The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.”

Similarly, in the latest two episodes, like his grandfather before him, Kylo Ren is a character with a tragic flaw. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Anakin, and a turn to the Dark Side is a necessary choice. In The Last Jedi, we see Kylo Ren’s tragic flaw contrasted primarily with the pure character and choices of Rey.  She is a light to his path, and we can’t tell whether he is in love with her or only wants to use her power to accomplish his plans. The tragedy of Kylo Ren is unfolding in a way that will make Episode 9 interesting, and possibly just as controversial.

Aristotle’s Greek word for this tragic flaw is hamartia (pronounced Ha-MAR-tia). It was originally an archery term for when an arrow misses its mark and falls short of its target (an ancient form of an “airball” in basketball). About 400 years after Aristotle, the word finds its way into the books and letters of the New Testament, also written in Greek. English translations of the Bible translate hamartia as the word “sin.” And like a basketball feels heavy to a child who can’t even make it reach the rim, sin is a heavy word.

Hamartia can be both individual and collective. A woman in a church I pastored shared with me one time that she was the “sinner of her family.” She grew up in a church-going, 1950s, pure-as-the-driven-snow environment, but she was the black sheep who transgressed the boundaries. In other words, she had sex before marriage and a child out of wedlock.

She felt like the worst person in the world because the people she loved the most defined her by a decision she made in her youth. It’s as if she wore a scarlet letter to all family functions, and the word sin became a soul crushing word that made her wince whenever she heard it in a sermon (despite her family’s disappointment, she was a regular church attender all of her life).

Collective hamartia is a description of the human condition. We live in a fallen world of conflict, turmoil, and an uncertain future, and we all play a role in the drama. Yes, our world leaders influence global conditions far more than the common person, but we all share collective responsibility more than we would like to admit— as voters, as citizens, and as “actors” in our everyday lives.

If you feel like the sinner of your family, or if in your most reflective moments you feel heavy guilt and wonder if there is hope for your spiritual life, the biblical meaning of hamartia might be helpful here. In the same way, an understanding of collective hamartia and its role in our society might also be the spark that gives hope to our galaxy.

In Aristotle’s definition of a tragedy, and in the Bible, the tragically flawed character is not the worst person in the story. Think about it— Emperor Palpatine is the evil, Satan-like presence in the first six Star Wars films. Compared to the Emperor, Darth Vader is a sympathetic character. In fact, we feel pity for Darth Vader throughout the series, because he is a man who was deceived and manipulated by Palpatine. Even in his rage and hatred for rebels, Darth Vader loves his children. He protects them from the Emperor, and in that climactic moment in The Return of the Jedi, he turns to the Light and throws Emperor Palpatine into a reactor to save his son. The conflict within Kylo Ren is just as pronounced, and we feel pity for him compared to the absolute evil of Supreme Leader Snoke.

I’m going to guess you’ve never murdered an entire village with a lightsaber, so you’re no Darth Vader or Kylo Ren, let alone the Emperor or Snoke. Maybe you transgressed the moral boundaries of your family or your church. Like every human being alive, you have not always acted in love toward your fellow humans. You’ve made mistakes, just like I have, and just like every other person. Those flaws and choices are damaging. They are serious, and they do have consequences. However, the tragic flaw does not mean that you are irredeemable or a hopeless case.

Similarly, the collective hamartia of our world is an outgrowth of individuals missing the mark, the cumulative brokenness of all of us throwing up moral and spiritual airballs. If individual hamartia does not make one an irredeemable monster, then collective hamartia does not damn our world to repeat the same needless conflicts that create the same absurd misery for so many.

An understanding of hamartia insists our world is not a hopeless case. In The Last Jedi, while Luke Skywalker has resigned himself to Kylo Ren’s turn to the Dark Side, Rey protests his fatalism by saying, “His choice is not made. He can be turned.” Regardless of how Kylo turns out, perhaps we as a people are not doomed to wallow in a cyclical view of history that expects a return to fascism every few generations.

The New Testament author who is most known for his use of the word hamartia is Paul. He observes both the individual and collective definition of hamartia. In Romans 3:23 he argues that “all have sinned (hamartia)” and in Romans 5 that the consequences affect all people collectively because of it.

Paul experienced personal redemption. According to the New Testament accounts, prior to his conversion he presided over the arrest and even murder of Christians he persecuted. Hamartia does not mean you have to wear a scarlet letter to family functions or view yourself as an evil character God cannot stomach. You are not the devil. Sometimes even Lebron James tosses up an airball, and the hamartia in your life means that you’re human in need of God’s grace.

In the same way, the human race is not evil incarnate either. Our future is not decided. Our choice is not made. World history can be turned. From a Christian perspective, Paul insists that Jesus Christ’s “righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people,” and that gives us a continual hope that things can made better[i]

Basketball players can increase their field goal percentage. Darth Vader can turn to the Light. Kylo Ren might too— we’ll see. Like the once-controversial The Empire Strikes Back, eventually most Star Wars fans will probably approve of The Last Jedi (there is even hope for flawed movies). In an atmosphere of forgiveness, grace, and resulting self-acceptance, we as individuals can learn to make better choices over time, and we are redeemed, both personally and collectively.

So, as we enter the New Year, here’s to holding out hope for all of us. Hamartia is a tragic flaw in otherwise decent people, and together we can write our comeback story. Yes, our world condition is serious… and for a Christian that is exactly what makes the Good News such great news, in fact. It is the great news that redemption is possible for even the most flawed of characters. It’s even greater news that redemption is available to all of us together, and consequently, there is hope for our world.

[i] Romans5:18b

Younger Generations Uninterested in Organized Religion Not Missing Out

by Greg Gonzales

Never did I think I’d find God on the internet, but I did toward the end of December 2017. On Radio Garden, a radio station streaming service, I found a Dubai station called Ananaz that played awesome song after awesome song that I’d never heard before — I learned Paul Mauriat covered the “Godfather” theme and that a band called Banda Do Sul covered “Evacuate the Dance Floor.” Each song I learned about helped me branch out to discover more artists, more songs, and to fill my playlists for my own radio show. Those connections, that branching out, is one way I experience God; rather than a being, it’s the process of being, of participating in the world, of moving forward and bursting forth into the future as an effect of an infinite preceding cause, part of the nonstop cosmic evolution. To many, that kind of spirituality is nothing more than hippie-dippie hocus-pocus, but it’s central to my mode of living.

Turns out I’m not alone. A third of Millennials surveyed by Pew Research Center said they don’t affiliate with a religion, but two-thirds of that third said they still believe in a God, or some sort of universal spirit. Adults 18 to 25 apparently aren’t fans of traditional congregations, and I’m one of them. Though I grew up in a Disciples of Christ church, I never have liked the way a service comes off like a performance, or the way some people use church like a way to wash themselves of their wrongdoings. I appreciate the divinity in music, community, and ancient texts, but I don’t feel a need to have all those things bundled for me. I get all of those things in my daily life, through my volunteer work at the radio station, through sharing my homemade wine with friends and family, and by exploring the works of every philosopher from Ancient Greece to post-modern France. For me, choosing non-religious spirituality means not expecting anyone to curate these things for me, and more freedom to explore when I feel inspired (it’s not really acceptable to pull out my phone during the sermon to follow up on a Bible verse, for example).

That’s not the only reason my age group is turning away from organized religion. Some of them are indeed atheists. But the main reasons have more to do with feeling left out of the picture. We feel left out of traditional institutions, but find the same love and divine presence when we get in touch with our bodies at the gym or in yoga, when we join strangers at dinner or in support groups to share honestly our griefs and joys, or get to know our own minds through meditation — we get to become something larger than ourselves without the guidebook. We get to write our own books.

And isn’t the point of that word, gospel, is that it means good news? Those pages have some dust for good news. Though I don’t believe in magical miracles, I do believe in miracles of great fortune, of divine experience, and unconditional love — and those miracles happen every day. As we connect to each other, as we listen to each other’s stories and use those lessons to grow, we gather our own “good news.” Perhaps the only reason the Judeo-Christian traditions are so important still is because the people who lived out those stories bothered to write them down. This generation, and the generations who inspired us, have new gospels to write for a new era.

Dark Nights: The Spiritual Promise of Grief Work

by MK LeFevour

Editors note: Southwest Folklife Alliance, an affiliate of the University of Arizona, recently interviewed Mary Kay LeFevour. She has graciously shared her words from the interview with us.

Grief work is very spiritual work. How do you spiritually survive losing a beloved? It’s the family members that are left after a death. Trust is the biggest thing that gets jettisoned. There’s the primary loss, of course. But the secondary loss can be a trust in the universe, God, the idea that life is beneficent.

So all those wonderful questions of spiritual inquiry come forward: Who am I now? Who is God? What’s my meaning in life? You’re now swimming in unchartered territory. For a lot of people this is the first time they’re having an existential crisis. You are in the dark night of the soul.

I’ve always loved dark. What’s wrong with the dark? As a Taoist and Buddhist, I know you can’t have one without the other. We are a society in America that denies death and denies grief. When someone experiences a death, society says, “Get over it. Just start consuming, start eating, buy something, find someone new.”

But this place of despair is a great cauldron to bubble in, to find your essential self. This is the time when I feel people are the most open to wisdom or beauty or reconnecting. They have to reinvent themselves. Some call it “post-traumatic growth.” It’s an opportunity for growth, for differentiation, for resilience, to become more of who you are or who you were. Because you have to.

Of course you don’t say any of this to the bereaved. You don’t say it’s all going to be okay, when they’re thinking, I’m lonely and I hate my life and what am I going to do? I just go, Yeah that sucks.

I might quote Victor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, who says we are happier humans when we have meaning. It doesn’t matter what the meaning is, whatever it is you have to create it. Some don’t like that because they believe there is one meaning and that they have to find it.

The trick is to let them swim in the despair or sink into the quicksand and hold that space. Sometimes you have to just let them sit in there. You can’t fix it. You can hold a branch, maybe, but people have to move through it. I just hold the grief and I don’t do anything but hold the grief.

I saw a guy this morning—77 years old, just lost his wife of 50 years. He said, “I’m okay.” He’s been grieving for almost a year. And he did sound pretty good. “I’m okay because I’ve got lots of stuff to do, he said. But it’s hardest at night, when I’m alone.”

People say the nighttime is the worst, the evening. It’s the time of intimacy, snuggling, having dinner, watching TV. That’s when you feel absence. Insomnia is most common presenting grief symptom. So night becomes the enemy, because we make it the enemy instead of the friend.

But mammals, when they’re hurt, find a dark cave and lick their wounds. It’s natural for us to want to go into a cave—it’s dark, we don’t want external stimuli. Bereavement work is not about giving people a spiritual bypass with distractions. They get that from friends and family. I’m the one person who lets them wallow. This is the tax we pay for being human.

Grief isn’t good or bad. It is a human thing. Loss begins from the time we’re born. We lose this cozy place in the womb. Loss is inherent to our life as humans. My feeling is if you can’t avoid it, then what can you do with it?

Grief takes away your artifice, every shred of dignity you’ve had and makes you this mass of vulnerability and also someone who’s open to a different way of living, one that makes sense. That’s what’s exciting to me about it. I get to be at somebody’s birth. You’ve lost and you have to be reborn. I feel like a midwife in that respect and it’s such an honor.

Sometimes you’re just hoping people don’t commit suicide before they get through the dark night. You hope and you hold and that’s all you can do. I don’t even have faith. I have knowing on my side. I’ve seen people go from being barely able to crawl into the room to having a full life again. I see it again and again. I can sit with you in the not knowing. I don’t know if you’re going to make it but I have seen the most desperate people make it.

Rather than resist, through denial, the very thing that’s going to happen–which is that we’re going to die and we are going to lose things we love along the way and we are going to lose parts of ourselves–we can reclaim the night. We may never be able to embrace it wholeheartedly, but we can aim for it. We distract ourselves so we don’t have to pay attention to grief, mortality, death. And then we are unprepared when they come for us.

Many cultures have mourning ritutals–wearing the arm band, the day of the dead, putting a stone on the tombstone, sitting Shiva.  The ritual of mourning. But there are so many ways in which we no longer participate in the night. We look at is as something to get through, instead of something to enfold ourselves in.

Again, I’m not going to tell you this when you’re in the quicksand. I’m just going to hold you and tell you it’s okay to feel everything that you feel–angry, abandoned, miserable. All of that is welcome here. That’s what people need–a steady presence that radiates the idea that this is a cycle. This is a cycle. Life is a cycle. It’s going to be a roller coaster, but all things arise, develop, and fall away. All things. There’s no one thing in nature that doesn’t. And grief is that way. Because grief is part of nature.

The Womb of the Night

by Karen MacDonald

Morning meditation, chanting/singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on my Hindu prayer beads. A phrase in the sixth stanza struck a chord:

“Love stir within the womb of night….”

The dark nights of winter can seem depressing. These long nights can also be a time of renewing, resting, of taking care of our selves. Like bears hibernating.

These times seem dark and frightening, with such deep polarization, self-centeredness, greed, hatred, fear. We have lost our selves.

In the womb of this social night, what love might stir? What love might we nourish to birth in this night? How may we, individually and collectively, take care in this night and come to our selves? Like a baby in a woman’s womb.

“Love stir within the womb of night….”

Love being born in us, even in the night. Feel it stirring?

Sacred Courage

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I greeted the morning by taking our beloved pit-bull Lu out for a walk. We encountered a wounded owl in distress, flailing, unable to fly, but still trying.

Lu didn’t really react. I wasn’t sure she noticed as I didn’t approach the owl, just observed, and then brought Lu back inside as I worked with some neighbors to get the owl some help.

When animal rescue workers got there, I went inside and got Lu, intending to take her on a walk again, since we had to cut the first walk short. I was nervous Lu would react so I started walking the other way, trying to distract her as they helped the owl. She definitely noticed this time. She was transfixed, but not making any sound. I kept trying to have her walk with me but she was not having it. We stayed far enough away to not interfere and I just let Lu be. She stared. And then laid down. She was calmly and silently watching. It took about ten minutes and she remained.

When the owl was removed I expected her to want to walk. She continued to just lay there in this restful, peace-filled way. It took my breath away. There was something happening and it really felt sacred to see, but I wasn’t sure why I was having that response.

During my prayer and meditation time I sat with this some.

Why did that matter so much?
Why was I moved by her complete and full presence in that moment?
Why is there a need for bearing witness?
Why do we sit endlessly with loved ones as they die?
Why is this sacred?

Empathy.

Our mirror neurons in our brain make us able to climb into the lived experience we are watching. As we witness the lived experience of others we see ourselves.

That scares the ever living stuffing out of us at times.

If we acknowledge suffering exists, we cannot deny that suffering is a part of all of this living. We cannot deny suffering will happen to us. And we hate that.

It takes courage to admit our fragility, our limitations, and our mortality. It’s hard to live a life that we know will one day end. It feels impossible to live while also accepting that we will one day flail where we used to fly.

What was the invitation for the sacred moment I experienced? Was it in the watching? We have all kinds of motivations to watch all kinds of things. In and of itself I don’t think the sacredness was in the watching.

I think the sacredness was invited the moment we realized we were seeing suffering. The sacredness was that we stayed.

Wisdom to know the difference

 

You may frequently pray, as I do, the Serenity Prayer in which you ask for serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. And of course the wisdom to know the difference makes all the difference!

I see spiritual direction as a wisdom practice.

I go to spiritual direction to get a “perception check” on knowing the difference. For example, I have one support person in my life–a mental health practitioner–who has advised me to stop watching and listening to the news because “politics will always be full of rancor and conflict, and natural disasters will always be horrible.” She wants me to accept how little control I have in matters of national and international importance. Then I have other people in my life, friends and encouragers I call my “dream team,” who tell me we can make a difference if only we do X, Y or Z. Perhaps both are right, but even so, I need the wisdom to know the difference between shutting the news off and just going about my life as if all is well, and staying informed and making my voice heard.

I haven’t figured it all out. I haven’t found my wisdom. And my spiritual director doesn’t tell me what wisdom is, but he’s quite good at noticing when I have located my own wisdom in this question. And I hope I do that for those who come to me for spiritual direction.

What is wisdom? In one sense, it is the female biblical figure, Sophia, described as God’s helper who was present at the origin of the world. Every now and then I like to dig into the Apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, to reflect on the nature of Wisdom.

“Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light.
She is a spotless mirror of the working of God.”
Wisdom 7:26-27

“Wisdom reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well.”
Wisdom 8:1

As spiritual directors, we seek to hold this metaphorical Wisdom mirror up to our directees so that they can see the working of God in their lives. So that they can develop “the wisdom to know the difference” in their own lives.

As for my question, wisdom tells me to stay informed without becoming overloaded, to cut through the boarishness of political discourse and keep my eyes instead on the issues that affect people’s daily lives. I’ll use my voice when I can and hope for the best. Most of all, I will work on trusting that Wisdom orders all things well!

Do You Feel Out of Sorts Lately?

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those days where you just feel out of sorts? There is nothing happening in your life to cause it, yet you feel like that commercial where the little blue cloud is following you everywhere? If that has been happening lately, you are not alone.

One of the side effects of living a Deep Listening life will be days where –for no reason at all– the little blue cloud will show up. It makes sense if one believes we are all connected, and there are tragedies happening in large proportions, that one would feel the pain of others. When there is a lot of sadness in the world, that sadness touches others.

What do you do with these blue cloud days? I could make a list of ways to move through these days, yet I really believe each of you have your own wisdom. I’d love to hear what you do when these days of communal sadness show up.

For myself, the blue cloud days mean reaching out to community, increasing self care and meditation, and balancing the sadness with inspiration. In the midst of all the sad stories there are so many of how people have reached out and loved each other. These seasons are times for me to ask questions like “Is this sadness moving me in a new direction?”

Let’s take a moment and inspire each other with our stories of blue cloud days and how they call us to a deeper and richer life. If that sounds impossible, I encourage you to reach out to one of our community to assist you in finding your way through blue cloud days. In the meantime, may your week be filled grace as we interact with ourselves, others and God/Divine.

Reflection

by MK LeFevour

I never liked poetry. I believed if you had something to say, just say it – don’t couch it in fancy words or with metaphors that nobody understands. Then along came a well-meaning friend who loaned me a book of Mary Oliver poems. It sat on my nightstand filling me with guilt each night that I didn’t open it. After a month, my friend asked how I was enjoying the book and I lied, “Oh, I’m loving it!” But not being a fan of lying and knowing my friend would eventually ask which poem was my favorite, I broke down, opened the book to a random page and read Oliver’s most loved poem, The Summer Day. My life was changed by that one act of opening myself up to this woman’s understanding of loss, sorrow and hope.

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 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 won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her poetry. But what brought her to winning such prestigious awards was growing up in an abusive house where her only escape was to wander the woods near her home. In nature she found her true home and healing for a broken heart.

What we have in common with Ms. Oliver and each other, is that we live in a remarkable place of nature that others might experience as inhospitable. But what we know is that despite living with the constant danger of getting poked by plant life that doesn’t want to be touched is that we are blessed to live in a desert where we are surrounded by daily wonders – the magic and power of a monsoon storm, the collared lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, the roadrunner stopping on a dime and changing directions as she spies us coming down the wash, the hummingbird taking on all comers to protect his feeder , the coyote sauntering across the road and then turning to give us a smug look before he bounds away into the brush and javalinas who, if you sing to them, will stop and lay down to listen until you’re done with the song.

Mary Oliver’s poems bring me comfort. But why are they comforting? I believe it’s because she continually reminds me to pay attention to the world around me – from the grasshopper to the stars. And when I bring my attention out from the hamster wheel of dark thoughts in my head to the beauty of our desert, I am brought into awe and wonder and that brings me healing.

Ms. Oliver gave these instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. My wish for you is that you find your Mary Oliver who can speak your pain and bring you words of guidance and comfort.

Let me leave you with words from another poet, Rumi, that I’ve come to love (yes, open your heart to one poet and others will push their way in).

Grief can be the garden of compassion if you keep your heart open through everything. Your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.

 

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash