This past Christmas I created a homemade wedding album for my daughter, Julie, and her husband, David. On the front page, before the picture sections of the book, I included one of my favorite verses by poet Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Julie and David loved the album and were touched by the poem that always seems to speak on many levels to those reading or hearing it for the first time.
That following Sunday, we all went to the Unitarian Universalist Church
in Berkeley—a rare event for me to join Julie and David at their church (it had been a couple of months since I’d last attended).
After the traditional opening words to the service, the first item on the agenda was a reading and enactment in dance of the poem “Wild Geese”! I was touched beyond words by the performance.
Ostensibly, I attended church that morning because I wanted to hear dream worker Dr. Jeremy Taylor
’s talk after the main service. True. But the universe had it’s own plans for me as well, a meaningful gift of grace, if you will, where the world offered itself to my imagination and called to me like the wild geese.
It is fitting that the service itself was organized around the theme of Grace.
I’ve given a lot of thought to my place in the family of things. That is why the Oliver poem is so meaningful to me. It connects our basic earthiness and need to relate on a human level to the larger spirit, mystery, and imagination of life.
Poetry, like dreams, visions, and synchronicities are living pools of water in the drier ground of my secular life. In the West and increasingly in industrialized cultures in the East, there is a tendency to live life from the neck up, numbed out to the body, heart, and spirit of the world within and around us. We’ve developed science and the intellect to the near exclusion of other ways of feeling and non-analytical knowing. Forgetting that we are always and inextricably part of the deeper mystery of the world that speaks to us on many levels, we often deny the few messages that do get through to our consciousness. How refreshing it is when a synchronicity appears in striking ways like the example above or in subtle ways through a passage in a book, music, nature, a scent, a touch, or an overheard conversation, and we take time to understand its meaning for our life.
The message for me that morning at church was to trust completely that I am enfolded in a loving, intelligent universe that announces over and over to me—through the ‘still, small voice,’ a big jolt, or an inner aha!—my perfect place in the family of things.