Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Poem, Mary Oliver

Of course I have always known you
are present in the clouds, and the
black oaks I especially adore, and the
wings of birds. But you are present
too in the body, listening to the body,
teaching it to live, instead of all
that touching, with disembodied joy.
We do not do this easily. We have
lived so long in the heaven of touch,
and we maintain our mutability, our
physicality, even as we begin to
apprehend the other world. Slowly we
make our appreciative response.
Slowly appreciation swells to
astonishment. And we enter the dialogue
Of our lives that is beyond all under-
standing or conclusion. It is mystery.
It is the love of God. It is obedience.

--Mary Oliver, "Six Recognitions of the Lord"

Erica posted some poetry of Oliver's a while back, and so I thought it would be alright if I post some more. The tension that Oliver seems to be exploring in this section of one of her longer poems is that tension between the apophatic and the kataphatic--or between, as Oliver puts it elsewhere, God's "body" and God's "mind" (all metaphors of course). For a poet like Oliver who has explored the "touching" side of spirituality through a mysticism of nature for forty years, this discussion seems like a deep realization. We "listen" for "the other world" and aim for a "dismebodied joy" even as we maintain our "physicality."


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting poem. It's always fascinating how great mystical theological statements (even orthodox statements) are always right on the verge of heresy. I mean, think about this idea of embodiment versus the deep senses. And while orthodox theology would have us avoid making strong distinction, we must do it to be able to point toward the ineffable. I think only really good writers and mystics have the courage to do this... For me, I confess a sort of cowardice which leaves me longing for the ecstatic and pondering synesthesia--that blended and unification of senses which is the interface for so many mystics. All the same, I join Rumi as dust blown up into a shape who cannot stop pointing to that glory... Thanks for this post, I needed it.

RC said...

Great poem! Insightful, stimulating commentary! Thank you!

Daniel said...

Paul, thank you for sharing this excellent poem and reflection. I've enjoyed returning to it a couple of times now.

living stones said...

Paul, I'm glad you and Erica have thought to include poems by Mary Oliver. Even this evening I'm thinking about what it means to listen, and it seems that entering "the dialogue of our lives" implies listening and hearing what is "beyond all understanding or conclusion." My prayer is to be open to the mystery and the love and to be able to obey. Thanks for sharing such a good poem.
--Blessings, Anna

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