"Your one wild and precious life"
Epiphany 2C 2019
The Rev. Karen Calafat
Wedding at Cana
I fell in love this week.
I fell in love with Mary Oliver and geese and grasshoppers.
I fell in love with Maira Kalman and trees and whimsy.
I fell in love again with The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and dreams and justice and equality for all God’s children.
And I fell in love again with Jesus and surprise, abundance and grace.
My heart has been full this week of love, admiration and hope. That is not to say that my heart has not also be broken and hurting and burdened for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by the government shutdown – from people who live paycheck to paycheck and find themselves now in financial straits, to people who planned vacations to National Parks and now are being turned away, to the anxiety and stress that we all feel in these times of contention and “he said”/“she said”. Not to mention the heartbreak for the families of those killed in Syria, including four Americans. I hope you have lifted all these situations in prayer, for we definitely need God’s mercy and guidance.
But if you are like me, I must have a break from the seemingly constant bad news and look for positives… look for places of hope. And that is where I fell in love this week.
Mary Oliver was a poet who died this week at the age of 83. Her instruction for living was:
Tell About it.
Mary didn’t ascribe to Christianity because she “had trouble with the Resurrection,” but she was incredibly spiritual, prayerful and hopeful. She lived a horrific childhood that scarred her for life. Her solace was in nature and poetry. She believed poetry should not be “fancy,” but clear, accessible and understandable. She was a cancer survivor for years and wrote a sequence of poems titled “The 4th Sign of the Zodiac” about her illness that are worth reading. Her poem "The Summer Day" is one of her most famous:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Many of Oliver's poems are a joyful celebration of life and nature. She wrote a poem about Geese that I was listening to while walking on the Trinity Trail Friday afternoon. I am sure I looked akin to the Cheshire Cat as the poem ended and I simultaneously happened upon a small gaggle of geese – a surprise… a miracle… a gift. Thank you, God! Thank you.
My next love of the week is Maira Kalman, an illustrator and story teller who has had her share of suffering in life as well. She has written and illustrated many children’s books and is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker Magazine. You might recognize her whimsical artwork on the covers. Maira starts her days reading the obituaries – the daily reminder of her own mortality serving as the ultimate wake-up call. She says, “Reading the obituaries every morning makes you really conscious of the fact that you have a very limited amount of time.” (Echoing Mary Oliver: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?)
Having heard Maira speak about her love of trees and enjoyment of them on her daily walks in Central Park, I was especially attentive to trees this week. I often go through the forest of daily life and completely miss the trees. It was a wake-up call to pay more attention to my surroundings – not just the trees, but the clouds, the centipedes on the sidewalk and beetles on the pebbles; the people, and all God’s creation.
Attentiveness to all of God’s children is part of what inspired the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr. His “I Have a Dream” speech is as powerful today as it was the day he spoke it in 1963… and as much needed:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama —little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope. This is the faith…. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood.”
Martin Luther King’s Dream is a reality for some, but a long way off for others. How do we continue to make progress toward that symphony of all humanity?
I think “the mother of Jesus” (as John refers to Mary in his gospel) has the right instruction for us. “The mother of Jesus” simply says, “Do whatever he tells you.” ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.’
Did you notice the servants at the wedding did just what Jesus said? (Amy Richter:) And they got to participate in Jesus’ first sign, his first miracle. They just did what Jesus told them to do:
“Fill the jars with water” and they do.
No arguing, “We need wine, not water.”
“Now draw some out” and they do.
No complaining, “What’s that going to achieve?”
“And take it . . . So they took it.”
No, “Hey, Jesus, I have a better idea . . .”
They just do the simple, straightforward things Jesus tells them to
do and they get to participate in a miracle.
Do whatever Jesus tells you. Water becomes the finest wine. The mundane becomes miraculous.
Jesus tells us all some very simple, straightforward things to do. Jesus tells us to: love, share, give, serve, listen, learn, worship, pray.”
Love him. Love her. Love them. And those you don’t really like, love them, too! Share your money, your time, your particular gift, your ability with that child, with that elder, with that family. Worship with your parish family. Pray wherever you are.
Listen for what Jesus tells you to do.
You may participate in a miracle.
You may be part of making King’s dream come true for all God’s children. If you follow Mary’s advice and do “whatever Jesus tells you to do,” I dare say you will find renewed faith and hope in your own “wild and precious life.”