May 1 2011

In The Family of Things

I feel strongly about the things I write on this blog.  They come from the heart and represent to a large degree who I am.   I know there are others who share my same passions and convictions but sometimes—like now—I feel alone.  I know I shouldn’t expect everyone to feel the same way I do about things.  I just wish more people cared about connecting God and Creation. 

Last night I was reading some of Mary Oliver’s poems before going to bed.  One of the poems I came across, “Wild Geese,” spoke to me in a powerful way.  It continues to today.  In this poem Oliver says “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”  She then goes on to write, “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.”

In these words there is a needed reminder that life goes on.  Sometimes we get down and grovel in our despair.  We may have our own little pity party but all around us life goes on.  The world keeps moving.  The sun keeps shining.  The geese keep flying.  Knowing this might cause some to despair even more but it brings comfort to me.  I am gladdened by nature’s reminder that whatever it is I might be experiencing life goes on.

At the conclusion of “Wild Geese” Oliver says, “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.”  Here, too, I find comfort.  Sometimes I do indeed feel alone and lonely.  I feel that way when others don’t really seem to understand me or to care about the things that I do.  But as Oliver reminds us here, there is much in God’s Creation that beckons us to remember that we have a place “in the family of things.”  We do belong here.  I do.  You do. 

In His infinite wisdom the Creator has given all that He has made its place.  The rocks, the trees, the flowers, the clouds, the geese, the wind, the rain, the fish of the sea and the cattle of a thousand hills—they all have their place.  It’s no different for you and me.  We’re all in this together in more ways than we can imagine.  We are family.  I am not alone.  Neither are you.


(I took the top image of a large flock of snow geese at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.  I photographed the whitetail deer and fawn in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.)

Apr 3 2011

A Poet’s Gift

I have to confess that I don’t know much about poetry.  Another confession; I haven’t found a lot of poetry I really like.  I realize that this says far more about me than it does about poets and their work.  Until recently the only poet I read with much regularity is Wendell Berry.  This past week things changed.

In a conversation with my friend and blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, he asked me if I was familiar with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  I had to confess I had never heard of her.  Rob told me he thought I would enjoy her writing so upon his recommendation I bought one of her books.  Having now read approximately half of that book I owe Rob a huge debt of gratitude for introducing me to this Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

John Keats once said, “Poetry should… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.“  Keats words ring true for me when I read Oliver’s poems.  She so eloquently writes about nature and spiritual matters that I feel at times her words have captured my “highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”  Let me give you some examples.

Writing about a thrush in her poem “North Country” she says “There is no way to be sufficiently grateful for the gifts we are given, no way to speak the Lord’s name often enough, though we do try, and especially now, as that dappled breast breathes in the pines and heaven’s windows in the north country, now spring has come, are opened wide.”  In a piece called “The Faces of Deer” Oliver says “Each hoof of each animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches then lifts away from the ground.  Unless you believe that heaven is very near, how will you find it?  Their eyes are pools in which one would be content, on any summer afternoon, to swim away through the door of the world. Then, love and its blessing.  Then: heaven.”

In a poem called “Patience” Oliver encourages all who would find God in Creation to slow down.  She writes, “I used to hurry everywhere, and leaped over the running creeks. There wasn’t time enough for all the wonderful things I could think of to do in a single day.  Patience comes to the bones before it takes roots in the heart as another good idea. I say this as I stand in the woods and study the patterns of the moon shadows, or stroll down into the waters that now, late summer, have also caught the fever, and hardly move from one eternity to another.” 

Finally, in a poem called “Circles” Mary Oliver writes a passage that I’d love to use as my epitaph some day.  She says “I am so happy to be alive in this world I would like to live forever, but I am content not to.  Seeing what I have seen has filled me; believing what I believe has filled me.” 

I share these words of Mary Oliver with you because I believe that here is a woman who can teach us all much about how to see and experience God in nature.  I know that her words will cause me to see things differently now.  What a gift!


(I took the image of the whitetail deer fawn above in Shenandoah National Park.)

Jul 7 2010

Nature’s Trail

SNP-AT-089I have long been drawn to the life and teachings of Francis of Assisi.  Yesterday I took some time to listen to a lecture on Francis.  It was noted in this lecture that Francis believed that nature was a trail that led to God.  His thinking was that like following footprints in the snow can lead you to the one who left the prints, if you follow the footsteps of Creation they will lead you to the Creator.  This line of thinking is consistent with what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:20:  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Francis’ belief that Creation led one to God no doubt contributed to his well-known love of nature.  It is what enabled him to write the Canticle of Brother Sun.  In this hymn Francis offers supreme praise to the “Most High, all powerful, good Lord.”  He then goes on to say, “Praised be You, My Lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun…”  This is followed by praise for Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Brother Fire, Sister Water,  and Sister Mother Earth “who sustains and governs us, and produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

In the lecture I listened to it was noted that in this hymn Francis mentions the four classical elements of nature: earth, wind, fire and water.  This could have been his way of claiming that all of Creation sings forth the glory of God.  In all that God has made we can find steps that lead us to Him.

If we could somehow adopt Francis’ view of nature’s trail leading to God it would greatly enhance our spiritual journey.  We might learn to pay more attention to God’s “other book” and be drawn closer to Him.  Adopting Francis’ view would also lead us to appreciate Creation more and instill within us a desire to be better stewards of the Earth.  This twelfth century saint has much to teach those willing to learn.


(The image above was taken a few summers ago on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.)