Word of the Week

Recently I was talking with about what we were reading and as the conversation lingered we came to some points of consensus. We both could not live without poetry. And moreover, sometimes, especially in the darkest periods of our lives we are drawn in particular to poems. Poems express emotions that there are no words for. When we don't feel like reading, there are always the gifts of these kind of metaphors. Poetry feeds our souls in these moments in ways nothing else can.

I think there is a Mary Oliver poem for every occasion and for today this is mine.

Thank goodness for this gem: I have to be no less than what I am.

I am enough. You are  enough too.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work


Saturday morning in deacon's meeting, we shared a moment of lectio divina with the Mary Oliver poem, "The Journey." I was shocked that this poem was a new find for most in the room-- for it has been one of my favorites for a while now. It's a poem that has always spoken to me about the need to stay true to myself and to listen to my own intuition.

And, of course I begin thinking about the ministerial life.  . . .

Especially in a people centered profession where everyone seems to have an opinion about something around the church, it is easy for ministry types to be swept away quicker than we know it. For example, often people want to tell me what to wear, how to speak, what to say, what not to say, and how to lead. It is not that wise advice from time to time isn't and can't be helpful. But the temptation is to be consumed in what others think and to make decisions based on these judgments, not what is best for the group as a whole that I've been asked to lead. It is easy to live our lives as pastors in such a way that all we are doing is pleasing everyone and have no idea what makes us happy anymore or doing a good job of serving anyone either.

For me, this poem claims the fact that there are times when as a leader you simply know what to do and you must do it no matter what. One of the most powerful tools God has given all of us, I believe is our own voice. I see so many around me struggling to recognize their own voice and to see its power, but it is there nonetheless. We all have a voice. And I believe we rob the world of some its greatest gifts when we live out our journey led by the voices of others, not our own. Creativity has a voice and must be heard, otherwise it dies. What's your journey in recognizing your own? How have you come to understand like Oliver talks about that the only life you can ultimately save is your own?

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.


I've been thinking a lot about Sabbath keeping recently. Maybe because holy week is coming soon:  the busiest week of a pastor's year, the time when bulletins after bulletins and services and services must be planned and planned some more.  Maybe because it is something that our household is trying to be better at after my husband ended up in the hospital on Monday morning due to exhaustion and  dehydration (a preventable condition if he'd just taken better care of himself the week before). Maybe it is just because it is a topic we seem to talk about a lot in the church, but rarely put into practice. 

Can I just say that sabbath frustrates me.  It is easier to be "good" at work than it is to be "good" at rest. No one is ever going to praise you for rest the same way they are of work. But, the longer any of us go without rest, our work will of course suffer. So, why not get the hint and embrace it? 

But, after all, as people of faith, Sabbath keeping is not a suggestion but a command.  Keep the Sabbath day holy . . .

So I ask myself and my congregation regularly: "How can we live into Sabbath more often?" And, by Sabbath, I don't necessary mean one day (though one days of Sabbath are good), but a Sabbath filled life.

This is what I am noticing-

Sabbath finds me when I stop and listen to the voice that says, "Why are you in such a hurry?" 

Sabbath looks like turning off the radio in the car. Sabbath looks like not rushing out the door in the morning on the way to work; instead getting up early enough to just be. Sabbath looks like saying lots of "No's" to meetings that just aren't necessary. Sabbath looks like turning off the tv more often and reading a book just for fun. Sabbath looks like walking down the bakery aisle at the grocery store, just to smell the bread. Sabbath looks like finishing my sermon on Friday so Saturday is really a free day.

Sabbath looks a lot like a Mary Oliver poem.

“Just a minute,” said a voice…
By Mary Oliver

“Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

So, what about you: experienced Sabbath lately? What has it looked like? Any surprises?