A little poem by Mary Oliver


I really love this poem, and it definitely inspires stillness.


by Mary Oliver


Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.


The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.


But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.


Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.


Oliver, Mary. “Today.” A Thousand Mornings. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. p.23. Print.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver ~

Today is a glorious day. So, this will be a boring post, nothing much to say, nothing much to learn. The learning is right here, and the saying is being done by the birds with their own special dialects: some whistling, some chirping, some calling, some lilting. Shadows cast by a rising sun are crisp and bold, and it’s cool for a summer morning.

Can't beat this office space--computer, coffee, and a windowless world!

This poem by Mary Oliver reminds me that waking up late on a day like this is like leaving money on the table. Lately, I’ve been taking my computer outside with my coffee and feeling like I have the best “office” in the world. Some boast of their corner office with views. How much is the rent for a space like that in New York, I wonder? But can it be any better than my “office”? No, you can have your corner office, I’ll take my windowless one with my view of the potted plants and the birdbath, and Nessie at my side.

Many “doers” and self-help gurus tout the benefits of waking early from a productivity standpoint. Leo Babauta, of zenhabits speaks to it in his blog entry: 10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How I Do it. Ben Franklin claims early to bed and early to rise will make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think rising early makes you feel part of the natural order of things. Sometimes when Nessie gets me out of bed for a walk as dawn breaks, I feel like I’m in the natural equivalent of “rush hour”–when dawn’s first light hits, you start hearing the bird’s morning chatter, the squirrels have already started staking out the goods underneath the trees, and the day is on the move!

This daily transition from sleep to wake, silence to action, inner world to outer world is all part of the ebb and flow of a harmonious life, and another reason waking early helps ground me–sets me up firmly on the balance beam we traverse during our waking hours.

A great self-help guide in walking this beam are the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I am a novice in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, but I do know that it’s a very practical spirituality. I’ve been reading about it from authors such as Margaret Silf, Larry Warner, James Martin, and from a really great website, ignatianspirituality.com.

What I’ve learned so far is, in a nutshell, is that Ignatian spirituality is a discipline that is both contemplative and very active–a discipline you can wake to and go to work with. It’s a program of reflection, meditation, self-examination, and determining God’s will for us, and how to take the inner silence that this discernment requires and go out into the world doing your job, whatever that might be. It helps me store up the first cold press of the day, and use it as a generator for the active life. The result: the ability to find God in all things–the mundane and the chaotic, the kind as well as the “miserable and crotchety.”

Nessie in a morning meditative state

Today is the first day of a 31-day “IgnatiusFest” sponsored by Ignatian Spirituality.com. Here is the link to a cool calendar–each day has a new topic. Today’s is “What Is Ignatian Spirituality?” Tomorrow’s is “Why Do We Pray?” I encourage you to check it out. When I first started exploring this spiritual program (which the AA 12-steps were supposedly loosely based on), it seemed like it would be reserved for spiritual heavyweights, but this 31-day IgnatiusFest is a great way to learn about the spiritual exercises, break them down, and see how you might use them as part of your own spiritual journey.

Good morning.

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

New Jersey back yard, May 2011.

I just changed the subhead of my blog to the above–“Pay Attention.  Be Astonished.  Tell About it.” by the poet Mary Oliver.

If you read my last post, you know that I sequestered myself for six weeks to try to listen to the “still, small voice” within me.  Part of this effort was my attendance at a Lenten series at Stella Maris, a retreat house on the Jersey shore.  One Monday night, Sister Ann Marie passed out a very homemade bookmark with this on it, from Oliver’s poem, Sometimes:

Instructions for Living A Life:
Pay Attention.
Be Astonished.
Tell About It.

“Pay attention” is a hallmark of so many spiritual leaders.   The Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I so greatly admire, is one of them.  Paying attention is SO important.  What else do we have, but these precious moments of our lives to which we should pay attention?

“Be Astonished.”  It’s so easy to just take things for granted, but just imagine you are an entity new to this creation.  How astonishing is it that life on this Earth is so prolific?  How astonishing is it that we have the ability to cry at the mere experience of a rainbow?   How astonishing is it, to see the perfect symmetry, the perfect order of the petals of a simple garden flower?  If we all took just 10 minutes a day to act as if we were new to this earth, how would that change our lives?

“Tell About It.”  And here is where I can thank God that there is a blogosphere.  There are so many wonderful writers who are telling what they see, what they feel, what they hear about the miracle of Life, and I’ve learned so much from them.  And of course, thank God as well for all of the authors who have paid tribute to the pure miracle of life and our human experience.  I’m humbled by them, and I thank them all.

On this topic, one of my favorite diary entries was written exactly 43 years ago to the day, when I was 16.   It speaks of one simple moment when I was paying attention, was astonished, and was driven to tell about it.  I pray to God that I can continue to experience more of these precious moments.  There were a LOT of moments between 1968 and 2011 that I’ve wasted in this regard, and I don’t want to waste any more of them not living out Mary Oliver’s advice:

Connecticut back yard, May 1968

May 22, 1968

I must write to you now because everything is so beautiful.

I am filled to the brim with (I don’t know what to call it!) extreme happiness.  I have never seen so much beauty as I do now in this simple situation.  Everything is perfect.

A couple of weeks ago I made a little window seat in my room.  Between my bed and my closet is a space about 3 feet wide with a window governing this tiny wall.  Here I am sitting–reading The Thread That Runs So True while my white voile curtains flow over my legs.  I have finished cleaning my entire room (it took two weeks–I’m lazy) and it is beautiful.  I painted it scarlet, and it is my private place, with the pure white curtains and bedspread, my statue of Mary and my guitar on my wall…it is so beautiful I could cry while I lean on the window sill, part of Mother Nature herself.

I looked especially good today.   My hair, for once, looked as I have always wanted it to look.  I am wearing the dress that Ann Marie  today told me she loved.  I made it–a Swedish print dirndl and matching gold jersey top.  My complexion is free from blemish for a change, and my eyes looked more sparkly and expressive.

The weather is a huge part of the way I feel today.  Every day for the past three days it has been shining one minute–raining the next.  So, while reading my book, I was paying equal attention to the sun.  Suddenly, a big black cloud hid the sun and it poured.  Hail was falling by the buckets.  It was beautiful.  The thunder pealed and hailstones bounced off my screen. That was an hour ago.  Now, the rays of the sun are abundantly overflowing on the violet lilacs and freshly washed leafy trees.

I love this new type of weather because it gives me a chance to appreciate all of God’s gifts at once–the sun, then the cleansing of the earth, and then the flowers’ and trees’ appreciation to God for their bath.

Words cannot describe the beauty I see from my seat tonight.  There IS no word to tell you the happiness I feel in my soul.  My heart cries out thanks to God for bestowing me with so many rare and wonderful gifts.

Tonight, indeed, I am the luckiest person alive!!!