Category Archives: mary monday

Mary Monday: lessons, shells, and solitude

Cape Cod-tide on its way out, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

My visit to Cape Cod was two months ago, but I feel like I’m just now actually processing the lessons that I learned while I was there. I was so raw, still, from John’s excommunication. For a very long time I’d been feeling this urgency to have some time just for me, and I had those few days to sort out some of the concerns that weighed rather heavily. I needed the time to be on my own, to wander, and to face the sea wind.

It’s not often that we get a chance to be apart from the world for awhile, in such a beautiful place. Cape Cod will always be dear to me now, as the landscape that held me when I was aching, that taught me to feel strong in the midst of fear and change.

Today’s passage isn’t from Mary Oliver, but from another woman who knew the gifts from the sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her insights gained during her time on the “island” are resonating with me today as I think back to my time on Cape Cod.

She writes:

“Moon shell, who named you? Some intuitive woman I like to think. I shall give you another name–Island shell. I cannot live forever on my island. But I can take you back to my desk in Connecticut [or in Irvine]. You will sit there and fasten your single eye upon me. You will make me think, with your smooth circles winding inward to the tiny core, of the island I lived on for a few weeks. You will say to me “solitude.” You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days, and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island-quality. You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends, or the world at large. You will remind me that woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities, that she must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for her own salvation, but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization.”

The need for solitude and stillness is not just essential for women and mothers, but for everyone so they can find center. Where do you go when you need to be alone for awhile?

Mary Monday: what should I fear?

a simple cabin, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

I love small cozy spaces like this cabin in Temescal Canyon, where our family stayed last weekend. My fantasy would be to live in a small bungalow cottage near the beach someday. With one big room for entertaining and a small sleeping loft with a step ladder. And a front porch, of course!

This weekend I found myself immersed in something of the fantasy life that I dream of: staying in an oceanfront room, spending the long hours of the evening chatting with old & new friends over a multi-course meal, wandering up and down the wet sand in the dark as I mulled over the concerns of the world, falling asleep to the insistent rhythm of the waves. And not to mention a victorious morning paddle out on the open ocean in a tandem outrigger canoe (it was a race, our first in a 2-man boat!).

And of course, I have a wee morsel of Mary Oliver poetry for you today, this is an excerpt from “Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith.” These lines reminded me of the fear I had to face down on Saturday morning as my paddling partner and I realized that we’d have to do a surf entry for the boat in some rather rough waves. We came ever-so-close to not going through with it…

And therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine,
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Mary Monday: Daisies

mellow yellow, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

I’ll bet that you’re not at all surprised to know that I brought some poetry along on my weekend excursion with Friends. Fortunately, the weekend offered plenty of time for silent contemplation and poetry reading!

Mid-morning on Sunday I came across the words below. After digesting them for awhile I found some yellow daisies growing on a nearby bush and I picked one to wear behind my ear. I probably should have left it on the plant for others to enjoy, but I do have such a weakness for wearing flowers in my hair.

An excerpt from “Daisies” by Mary Oliver:

…What do I know.
But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given,
to see what is plain; what the sun
lights up willingly; for example–I think this
as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch–
the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the
daisies for the field.

Previous Mary Monday entries

Mary Monday: on beauty and god

this crab has leopard spots, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

On Friday I shared a favorite poem, “Pied Beauty”, with friends. It was the first time I’d read it aloud since college and I’d forgotten the spell of Hopkins’ words:

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

As I traveled this weekend to speak at a conference and spend time with friends (such beautiful souls), I stayed up far too late and awoke early each morning. Despite that, I was rarely exhausted–as I was absorbing the energy of everyone around me, infected with the excitement of hearing their stories. I suspect that my travel-mania and joy in having new adventures is as potent as any drug…

Revisiting my Mary Oliver this morning, the prose poem “West Wind” resonated with me. This weekend I listened to tales of many spiritual journeys. Tales of joy, abandonment, fear, ambivalence, faith and struggle. Some were hard for me to hear as they hit so close to home. Others reminded me that my journey is unique among many paths. And thus, Mary’s words about the pull of an embodied god feel so true this morning…

And the speck of my heart, in my shed of flesh
and bone, began to sing out, the way the sun
would sing if the sun could sing, if light had a
mouth and a tongue, if the sky had a throat, if
god wasn’t just an idea but shoulders and a spine,
gathered from everywhere, even the most distant
planets, blazing up. Where am I? Even the rough
words come to me now, quick as thistles. Who
made your tyrant’s body, your thirst, your delving,
your gladness? Oh tiger, bone-breaker
oh tree on fire! Get away from me. Come closer.

Picture above is the shell of a crab from a ramble on the beach in Cape Cod. I loved how every detail of this shell was so artful–how the closer I got, the more there was to see. And now that I’m home, the pull of the ocean is so strong I can hardly sit in my chair to write…

Mary Monday: The Poet With His Face in His Hands

a park, in winter, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

I’ve decided to start a new blog feature, “Mary Monday,” where I will feature an excerpt of a Mary Oliver poem with an accompanying photograph. I will probably branch out beyond Mary occasionally, but for right now I’m so thrilled by her poetry I think I could spend quite a long while focusing on just her oeuvre.

excerpt below from “The Poet With His Face in His Hands”

You want to cry aloud…
But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets…

and you can stand there, under it, and roar all you
want and nothing will be disturbed.