Words are such clunky things. But I love them.
Words can take you a lot of wonderful places, but they cannot usually lead one the subtleties of the divine spark, the human heart, the natural mysteries.
It is, I guess, predictable that Henri Nouwen in the book I just finished was kind of down on words in general, preaching about the need for silence. Silence *can* lead one to the subtleties of the Great Mystery within one’s own heart. Sticking only to words is like traveling our great nation using only the U.S. Highway System. There are a lot of cool places to go on the country’s major highways, but they won’t take you to the places that most real people live.
So, I can totally understand Nouwen’s problem with words. But if you do it his way, you can only travel alone. What if you want to take someone’s hand and lead them to a wonderful grotto you found? Silence pushes a path through the underbrush that’s big enough for one. Words allow you to return and build a little trail, if just a dirt one big enough for a couple of hikers.
Yes, it can be overdone. We don’t want every dirt road to be a highway and we still want to have spaces free from roads. Yet we all love discovering a new path to a wonderful new vista and telling people about it. Webloggers, of all people, should understand this love.
Robert Frost captured our love for these roads in his famous poem. Poets often are our intrepid explorers, the Lewis and Clark’s of our Human Experience. They don’t build highways — big treatises and ponderous tomes — but little gravel paths that lead the reader to a place the poet discovered in her own heart.
Mary Oliver is my current favorite such explorer. I picked up her “New and Selected Poems” last night to fill that uncomfortable void that follows the completion of a really good book. Like a handwritten letter from an old friend, it took just one page to make me smile:
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver – 1990
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I *do* know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
by Mary Oliver
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world–
or have you too
So this post has been my little trail to lead you to the porch of a wooden cabin in which lives a Great American Poet. She can show you lots of wonderful spots within your own heart. Go ahead and knock.