There’s a Place for Every Question in the Vast Container of Nature

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 11:48 am

There’s a Place for Every Question in the Vast Container of Nature

“Every day,” says Mary Oliver, “I walk out into the world / to be dazzled, then to be reflective.”

I love Oliver’s poetry because it portrays her dazzlement in ways that open me to being dazzled, too. I love her poetry because it reflects on the big questions we all ask — about living and dying — in the context of the natural world.

Those questions can’t be “answered” in any fixed and final way without distorting the questions, the self asking them, and life itself. But asked in nature’s vast container where there’s a place for everything, they lose the knife-edge of fear that often accompanies them and are endowed with a grace that makes it easier for us to “live the questions.”

What a beautiful image of life — “hard as flint / and soft as a spring pond.” What a beautiful image of death — “the tenderness yet to come.”

As Mary Oliver says, “so many mysteries.” And yet how blessedly clear everything seems at the edge of Little Sister Pond! Not simple, but clear.

“Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond”
by Mary Oliver

As for life,
I’m humbled,
I’m without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen—
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.

It suffices, it is all comfort—

along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can’t wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Bernie Wiscons Hoffman

    The Mulberry Tree

    We walk along through the park.
    On the pavement right there in front of us
    is fruit, stepped on and smashed with vivid red juice expended.

    Oh look, a mulberry tree!

    As we pause to behold there
    is more fruit on the branches,
    waiting for birds to feast and plant seeds at destinations near and far.

    We would not have known the tree for what it was
    without recognizing the fruit,
    even stepped on and smashed on the ground.