November 19, 2018

Letter from the Rector

From the Rector

Dear Friends,

Last month Mary Oliver, one of our best loved poets, died aged 88. A Pulitzer Prize winner, her poetry was marked by a gracefulness and simplicity (with depth), which endeared her to many, even to those who don’t like poetry.

She began to write from an early age; her “dysfunctional” childhood resulting in her making “a world out of words”. She had an affinity with the natural world, which inspired and nourished her art; reading a book of her poems is akin to taking a walk with a friend in the wild: as you wander along together she would be saying, “did you see that?” She was observant both of the beauty and cruelty of nature; something which resonated in her own life, since she had suffered abuse as a child.

She writes in the poem Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond:

As for life,

I’m humbled,

I’m without words

sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,

and soft as a spring pond,

both of these

and over and over

As an adult Mary Oliver was a reluctant celebrity and rarely gave interviews, preferring to let the poetry speak for itself. Her poetic voice is spare and musical, her words and phrases often achieving a harmony and lightness which, like the birds she studied, take flight and lift the poems out of the ordinary. She possessed an awareness of the “other”, of a reality beyond the senses, which is one reason why she is popular with clergy, poetry therapists and composers. Occasionally her poems startle us with their insight. In the poem White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field, a simple description of an owl turns into a meditation on death:

and then it rose, gracefully,

to lurk there,and flew back to the frozen marshes,

like a little lighthouse,

in the blue shadows –

so I thought:

maybe death

isn’t darkness, after all,

but so much light

wrapping itself around us

I can recommend spending time with a book of her poetry. Her style is simple enough to follow and there is not a wasted word. She encourages us to slow down and see things differently. Christians take inspiration from the Gospels, but we can also be moved and inspired by poets and the arts, especially where the light of God shines through their work.

Mary Oliver’s poetry was born out of a love for her subject. To respond to God’s creation with love is not only the vocation of the poet, but remains the calling for every person. When you learn to see as God sees – with the eyes of love – then the whole world opens up for you.

With love and blessings,

Father David

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