By Rev. Anna Blaedel
Sometimes, during sleepless nights or the stretches of time the medieval mystics came to call “dark nights of the soul,” I find myself turning to the Psalms. This scriptural collection of poemprayers reflects the full breadth of human emotion, fully alive—ecstatic songs of gratitude and praise, mournful cries of desolation and despair, abiding anticipation and sense of Divine presence, abiding fear and sense of Divine absence. Creation and destruction, both. Sorrow and gladness, both. Pain and healing, both. I find it helpful, sustaining, life giving—when I am scared, or searching, or weary from worrying—to invite poetry to keep me company in these depths.
“For me,” writes Jan Valentine, “there’s a likeness between poetry and prayer that is not so much an aspect of thanks or supplication or other conscious activity, but the more unconscious activity of meditation or dreaming. The likeness lies in poetry, meditative prayer, and dreaming all being (potentially, anyhow) healing, and somewhat out of our hands. For me, poetry is mostly silence. The deeper, the better.”
In the 42ndpoemprayer, the psalmist cries out to the Divine from the depths of longing, and despair. Their soul, cast down and disquieted. Their tears, flowing day and night. Their longing for comforting presence and enlivening connection, sharp and acute. “Deep calls to deep,” the psalmist cries. It is in the depths that Divinity dwells. If you are dwelling in the depths, you are not alone. It may be a hard place to be, but it is holy, too.
I turn to the psalms because they remind me that poetry and prayer are indistinguishable. I pray through poetry. I turn to poetry as scripture when I am in need of wisdom, consolation, and guidance, and over the years I have established my own scriptural canon of sorts, poetry that speaks to the depths of my being, poets who reflect the depths in which Divinity dwells, the depths of Spirit in which we live and move and have our being. Mary Oliver was one of the first poets I fell in love with, and her words have offered countless vital encounters with Sacred Wisdom about this “one wild and precious life,” “over at last, and too soon.” “I got saved by poetry,” Oliver said, “and the beauty of the world.” The healing salve of salvation comes to us, Oliver reminds, through poetry, and through continually opening to the haunting beauty of the world.
“Ms. Oliver’s verse is perhaps best read as poetic portmanteau,” writes Margalit Fox, “one that binds up both the primal joy and the primal melancholy of being alive.”
Deep calls to deep.Life lived deeply and well is bound up with primal joy and melancholy, both.
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, form those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
It did not surprise me to learn that Mary Oliver read Rumi’s poetry every day, and found in his poemprayers deep nourishment for life. Rumi, like Mary Oliver, is a vital voice in the canon that nourishes my life.
Let the Beauty We Love
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. There are hundreds of ways to pray. There are hundreds of ways to encounter beauty. There are hundreds of ways to heal. There are hundreds of ways to grieve. There are hundreds of ways to dwell in the depths and encounter the Divine in the darkest nights of the soul. There are hundreds of mysteries too marvelous to be understood. Songs can emerge from waking up empty and frightened. Look, dear ones! May we keep company and nourish connections that allow us to laugh in astonishment, and bow our heads, in both the deep pleasures and deep pains of being fully alive.
When Death Comes
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Dear ones: wonder, while gift, also requires work. The Sacred labor of looking, listening, living… Divine Life calls: Dwell in the depths. Keep company with those who dream. Taking the world into y/our arms. Churn in the primal joy and primal melancholy of being beauty-fully alive.
May it be so…