Category Archives: Easter

Mary Oliver Reads Poems at the Leid Center

Tall, slender, white hair falling over her face, stooped at the shoulders, unpretentious – she read about foxes, red birds, rivers, her dog, Percy. And a heron.


I saw it lift off the rail of a high balcony in the Leid Center. Unfolding her great wings,  the heron sailed over our heads and slipped neatly through the mottled blue curtain behind Miss Oliver.
I saw the tucked black foot of the swan in the dark water of the lake. I wondered if someone said there was a bear in the Truro woods, would the bear just maybe appear, because the town so much needed something wild and singular.


As she bowed over the podium picking out poems, Mary Oliver handed me my life on a platter. Lean over it, she said. Inhale its beauty. Taste its exotic flavors. Slurp the juice and let it run down your jowls.


The next day someone told me told about coming close to her own death, while flying north in a small plane. Ice began to form on the wings. Shaken to the core, she met her own fierce desire to live. “I don’t want to leave yet. I am not done enjoying the world and being part of it,” she told me.


The poet made a mistake. She was reading A Summer Day with its unforgettable closing line: What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Instead of reading precious, she said perfect.  Later in the question and answer time, a woman asked the poet if she finds her poems changing over time and that she had noticed Oliver had a changed a word in the last sentence of A Summer Day. “I did?! What?” the poet exclaimed. She had no idea she had replaced precious with perfect. “Well, isn’t that interesting?” she laughed.


Some are blessed enough to know life is precious. A moment is given where our wings take on ice, we go into a stall, and hover an instant before a freefall into the secret.


But what does it mean to know your life is also perfect? Coming from God and returning to God, how could it not be perfect? Ours is a God who told Moses his name was being itself, Yahweh.


Our life – frayed, fretful, and failed – is perfect. It is we, who give it a dwelling place and personality for a time, who are too distracted to see its splendor and too imperfect to perceive its perfection.


We – querulous and argumentative, standing center stage in our little dramas – miss that great and perfect bird sweeping silently through the blue, light streaked, curtain of mystery.


…Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is
that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed
back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.
.   .   .   .   .
…this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body
into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.
from Heron Rises from the Dark Summer Pond, Mary Oliver
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Consider the Maple Keys

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin.
The helicopters have landed. I returned home last week to find them scattered across my lawn, piled in drifts along the curbs, and clogging the gutters.
Maple keys are on an exuberant mission of fertility. Formed after the early spring flowers bloom on the maple’s branches, they hang in thick green clusters. As the fruit ripens, the color drains out of the wings. They thin to paper husks and release themselves, sailing off in dizzy circles.
These single winged wonders propel themselves by the auto gyrating principle of flight. The wing, which reminds me of a tiny squirrel tail, is counterbalanced by the weight of the seed or fruit.
Helicopters in the backyard, grass growing like weeds, a new crop of bunnies down the alley … Life wants to live, to express its live-li-ness. It cannot help itself. What Dylan Thomas called “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is at work here in Kansas. What sucked Jesus up from that cold slab and put him back on his feet, trotting down to Galilee, is loose in the world propagating itself in heedless prodigality.
Lately I have been noticing that how I evaluate, or interpret my experience and people is less and less important. Oh, my thoughts may be of riveting interest to me. Those closely held opinions, my ego defining and enhancing assessments about how things ought to be can enthrall me.
But now, really, am I not merely one maple key turning, floating lazy in one of millions of backyards? Am I not, too, heading for some crack in the sidewalk to insert myself into this good earth? Will I not lie resting, as my skin dries and peels away, as my seed splits and a tiny root weaves down into the substance of things hoped for?
What interests me more than my opinions is the seed – being itself, that hidden fuse in the mortal soul, which has amazing resilience and determination to express itself, to live.
I see this life in others more and more. I hear it in the subtext of conversation, hidden beneath the skin of things. It murmurs, like leaves whispering in a breeze. The ache and thrust to live, to sink into some welcoming soil, to be seen, heard, and received is an awesome power encased in the fragile, tissue thin, vulnerability of humankind.
As a species we seem always to be wanting things or not wanting things, or being angry or hurt, or disappointed, when our desires are frustrated or denied. Sometimes as rampant anxiety, sometimes as a yearning that tears and consumes, sometimes as a sigh at the end of the day, the seed strains against its waxy membrane, splitting its boundary with the need to grow and endure, sending out seeking tendrils asking: Am I all right? Will things be okay? Am I doing what I am supposed to? Will I get what I want?
When I see this collective longing buried under our anger, cynicism, cruelty, and fear, my criticism turn to compassion, my fretting to trust, and my impatience to surrender to the wind.
Life possesses us. And it will live through us. Do not believe for a moment that you can stop it. Not oil spills, economic downturns, illness, failure, not even death, not even death can stop it. For life owns death, makes it bow before it, and will reclaim all losses.
Consider the maple keys, loose in the skies. Catch a ride. And for God’s sake, for all our sakes, allow the life in your unique and splendid aerodynamic design live.
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A Hand Caught Beyond Death’s Grip

I offer this week the closing portion of a Readers’ Drama for Easter, Quem Quaeritis? (Whom Are You Seeking?)  The drama is a conversation among a narrator, the three women who come to the tomb to tend to the body of Jesus, and the angel who meets them with the words, “He is not here. He is risen.” A poetic exploration of the meaning of the resurrection, the drama weaves back and forth between contemporary and historical settings. I wrote it over the course of a year in which I meditated, read, and prayed about the resurrection.
at once giver and receiver,
the one who bore
and was raised
that who thrust forth
and who was penetrated,
the willing victim
the union of opposites
now bids us
rise from the dead kingdom of duality
to a realm of holiness and power
that transcends categories
of human making.
“See the holes in my palms?
Have you anything to eat –
a bit of fish to chew,
some bread?” he asked,
extending a hand
caught beyond death’s grip.
On the afternoon of the day my friend died
in a hospital bed in Iowa City,
my daughter and I made cookies.
In the Kansas kitchen overlooking the finch feeder
while seventeen finch gobbled
two pounds of thistle seed
(95 cents a pound at Allen Farm and Feed),
we measured flour and brown sugar
butter and ginger
and mixed them in the yellow bowl.
Patting out the dough on the cookie sheet,
we stopped to taste.
“Umm very good!” she said.
There while she stood on the orange chair
with a brown apron hanging to her ankles,
I saw for the first time
how the smooth curve of her cheek
presses against space
with such exquisite beauty.
How is it that we have come so far
yet missed so much?
How is it green fields tumble in the wind
and tulips pierce last fall’s leaves,
spearing death neatly
with pale green blades?
How is it that we
afflicted with resurrection fever
drowse through it all
like sleepwalkers?
We hobble over the land,
our actions:  jerks and twitches
random, impotent tossings in our sleep.
The hand I clasp
has a hole in it.
The cheek I kiss
wears the odor of nard.
The eyes I behold
contain celestial vistas.
Once divinity
underneath a woman’s heart.
She who had been so empty
walked in fullness.
Now Earth,
who carried patiently
the son of humanity as he ripened,
the forces of deliverance,
squeezed him
through the narrow channel of the cross,
disgorged the stone
in a rush of living water,
and thrust him
wet and slippery
into the arms
of the astonished church,
which at the same instant
the body of Christ
and became it.
Oh then Mary’s joy
swelled into our song.
And we,
magnified by our plentitude,
spied Infinity kicking
in our finitude.
He is here.
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The Morning After

Well, it’s over, thank
The lilies droop.
The chocolate bunnies hunch
half eaten in the plastic grass.
Mrs. Mitchell runs the sweeper
in the sanctuary
sucking up the alleluias.
It’s over
and we made it.
We said it wouldn’t be easy.
We said we would be taking up the cross.
But the pain catches us
off guard
and we hunt
for other causes.
We said, “Yes, Lord, we will follow,”
and sauntered into lent
with the nonchalance of toddlers reeling
along some sheer drop off
all ignorant of our peril.
So when it comes.
The event, the person, the inner turmoil
which nudges us to embrace
the cross’s hideous face,
we forget
and call it irreconcilable differences
or stress or heartburn.
Once I went through a very painful period of deep suffering. When I talked with my spiritual director about it, he asked, “What have you been praying for?”
“To be conformed to God’s will.”
“Well, what did you expect?” he said.
We have an uncanny way of compartmentalizing our life in God. For some of us the things we say to God in church, the prayers, and songs, appear to have little connection to the life we lead outside church. How many times have we prayed “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and then gone home and worried all week about the state of the economy, our nation, or our families?
Several people lately confided to me how afraid they are about the world. These are deeply faithful people, yet they are afraid. As for me, I, too, fretted most of last week – those useless “what should I do next” worries. The one we follow has explicitly told us not to fear. Yet we try to justify our fear by hunting around for the cause of our discomfort and call it whatever is fashionable – midlife crisis, the government, the economy.
In doing that we subvert the process of growth and maturity God has initiated within us, usually at our request. Think about it. What sort of things have you been asking of God lately?
The sacred action of transformation within our souls as individuals and nations will create turmoil, uncertainty, painful loss, and suffering. This is the cross. At the same time it is purposeful, hopeful, and to those who remain grounded in faith will, absolutely, result in new life and greater freedom to love and serve one another.
For me the bottom line is this, where do I get my news?  What is my foundation, the central fact and eternal truth of my life?  CNN, FOX News, my wimpy ego, or the Risen One calling me to trust in the hidden life and power of God around every bend in the road?
Now – go eat the rest of that chocolate bunny and have a day full of wonders!

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Spices at Dawn

The First Woman Speaks:
on her way to the tomb at dawn 
I needed one last look,
a chance to smooth your blanket,
touch your cheek
and press my lips against your hand.
I wanted to straighten up a bit,
put things in order
and I guess
it’s true
see for myself that you were dead.
Who is to tell what you were to me
how I found power in your glance
and freedom at your feet
and, say it,
How I loved you so.
Me so timid, awkward,
eager to please.
It was like falling in love for the first time.
I was dizzy with the joy of it.
It is true I loved you the most
for what I became in your presence…
happier, braver, stronger.
Now do I mourn more
the loss of the self you gave me
than for you?
How your aliveness
gave me definition, clarity, and sense!
What was dormant and stunted
took root and bloomed.
Oh Jesus
I could have knelt forever before you
in that quiet way
sipping sanctity like wine.
Now I falter at death’s grim behest,
to slam against the stillness of your chest.
Dare I invade you
with my gaze?
Death’s shroud uncovers all.
Dare I view holiness
in such a feeble state?
Dare I behold the dark veins of your wrists
frozen as winter twigs?
Forgive me when the oil
disturbs the tangled sleep
of all the hairs upon your breast.
May I not faint
to touch
the skin
your ear.
~ from Quem Quaeritis (Whom Are You Seeking) A Reader’s Drama for Easter by L.F. Ross
On your walk to the tomb, expecting to find a corpse, do not let your assumptions about what is over and dead prevent your seeing the fullness of your emptiness. Savor the love that has brought you to this place. Honor the holiness that has passed through your life. Greet the unexpected stranger.
And may you not faint to place your palm upon such beauty.
Easter Joy to you and yours!
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