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Almost a Conversation
I have not really, not yet, talked with otter
about his life.
He has so many teeth, he has trouble
Wherefore our understanding
is all body expression —
he swims like the sleekest fish,
he dives and exhales and lifts a trail of bubbles.
Little by little he trusts my eyes
and my curious body sitting on the shore.
Sometimes he comes close.
I admire his whiskers
and his dark fur which I would rather die than wear.
He has no words, still what he tells about his life
He does not own a computer.
He imagines the river will last forever.
He does not envy the dry house I live in.
He does not wonder who or what it is that I worship.
He wonders, morning after morning, that the river
is so cold and fresh and alive, and still
I don't jump in.
—Mary Oliver, Evidence
Dearest monks and artists,
I am having trouble finding the words right now to express the things ripening in my heart. Poetry reaches toward it, like Mary Oliver's imagining of an otter's invitation to jump into the cold, fresh, aliveness of the great river.
Or like Joel McKerrow's gorgeous performance poem Search which expresses so many layers of what this pilgrimage time has been about for me. His words have been reflecting this journey I am on back to me. Joel says "They say that a girl who walks the edges of this world will find herself if she looks for long enough." When we moved to Ireland I knew I wanted to be on the west coast because I feel called to the wild edges. I long to walk in the footsteps of ancient monks who traveled to wilderness and desert places because they knew that God was found there, in the places that can't be contained.
My experience so far has been both the delight of following the otter's invitation, and making friends with the fierce wind that blows here. Joel says: "So turn your face now into the harsh breath of the wind and let it burn away, let it scrape away, let it sculpt your face as sand paper to the stone." This wind which comes in off the Atlantic, which I want so much to resist, asks me to stay and allow myself to be carved slowly.
This is definitely an ongoing journey. I alternate between the exhiliaration of knowing I have truly followed my heart these last several months and feeling the grief of both letting go and being in a deep unknowing place. I continue to be on a threshold. Towards the end of his poem, these words offer me solace: "When you arrive here now, exhausted and trembling- I promise that around this corner lies the treasure you have been seeking. So walk slowly now friend around the border and into the open arms of yourself and do not be surprised when the woman that embraces you is the same woman that embraces her." I have caught glimpses of her, this woman who is myself, who is carved by the wind, and does not resist swimming in the rushing river.
Mary Oliver and Joel McKerrow both speak about diving in and not holding back. About running headlong toward your deepest desire, which always awaits you with open arms. I imagine those ancient monks who knew this longing as well. Who yearned for an experience of God beyond the boundaries of what they had known. Who let this desire lead them to wild edges.
I have been remembering what I was learning all fall about the need to not work so hard at things: at love, at prayer, at discernment, at life. That the gifts of life and vitality are offered so freely. What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment and care. To trust in the unfinished nature of things. To give my heart to my work, as I always strive to do, and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility and honor my own limitations. Can I allow myself to simply sink into this moment, rest, and receive the fruit.
I wish the same for you, my beloved monk and artist friends: to be ever so gentle with yourself, knowing that life calls us to the twin path of jumping full-heartedly and surrendering yourself into an ocean of care and support so that you move through the world well-nourished. Can you say that about your life right now? If not, what would need to shift for it to be so?
May you jump right into that great river, so fresh and alive.
With great and growing love. . .