We live in a world that needs healing, from gentle hands of grace.
Writer Kim Rosen visited a safe house in Kenya for young Masai women who had run away from home to escape genital mutilation. The girls liked to sing, and asked Rosen if she knew any songs. When Rosen said that what she really likes is poetry, the girls asked her to recite a poem. The first poem to come to Rosen’s mind was Mary Oliver’s The Journey, a poem about leaving home, which begins:
One day you finally knew
What you had to do
By the time Rosen was done reciting this poem, she and some of the girls were in tears. One of them asked, “Who is this woman, Mary Oliver? Is she Masai?”
We do not know the horror experienced by these young Kenyan women, but we do know what it means to feel, even in a small way, the encumbrance of shame, or the weight of fear. To not be seen. To not be known. To, quite literally, disappear.
Rosen writes, “It can be lifesaving to return to a poem that you hold within you. It lives inside you like a sanctuary, like a mosque or a church. Whether you know it by heart, or you turn to it on the page, that poem literally does what I believe temples were created to do. It returns you to what matters most.”
I preach this stuff.
I believe in the exhortation to live deeply and deliberately.
What Annie Dillard calls “spending the afternoon.” What Thoreau described as “sucking out all the marrow of life.” How Jesus invited us to “life more abundantly.”
This matters today, because I hear many stories, from people who feel untethered, inundated, or lost. Doing their best to pretend otherwise.
And I wonder. Why is it so easy for me (choose any number of synonyms) to live cautious, guarded, measured, numb, detached, apathetic, on the fence? Or, to live vicariously? (Or, on the other extreme, to perform, aiming for perfect, faultless, without blemish–though still carrying shame.) Maybe you can relate? I do know this much: All of these options are fueled by fear. And all of them take me away from a place where I feel grounded and integrated; where I am known, whole, and alive in my own skin.
“On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love
and on his left hand was the word fear,
And in which hand he held his fate was never clear.”
Bruce Springsteen, Cautious Man
As if that’s not enough, we give ourselves grief for having not lived the way we “should” live. Or, we feel beholden to the identity others have given us. That somehow, whatever or whoever we are, is not enough. Lord have mercy.
So. What could a poem actually do—to give hope, or to “save”—those young Kenyan women? There is no doubt that it offered some kind of key, or invitation, or blessing, to unlock their shame. Here’s my take;
The poem honors them.
The poem speaks the truth, reminding them that they matter (in their particularity, in their uncertain moment).
The poem gives value.
The poem offers sanctuary in the gentle hands of grace.
My friends, we live in a world craving gentle hands of grace.
Yes, a poem is (to be sure), beyond words, and yet words do make a difference. Words have power to open doors, rather than shut them. To invite vulnerability, rather than disconnect us from our heart. To create space to give, rather than put up rigid boundaries that divide us from one another.
We are—all of us in our own way—broken. (Even in this cheery-photos-aplenty time of year, many are sad, sorrowful or exhausted.) I love that the poem’s gift to the young Masi women, was not a denial of their brokenness. The poem offered mercy, and in that mercy, freedom; freedom to live deliberately and deeply, even in their brokenness.
My favorite part; this freedom did not come from a sermon, or a doctrine, or an argument, or an explanation. (I laugh, remembering my seminary days, when I spent an entire year in a course where I was required to “prove” the existence of God. I was to accomplish this by writing a paper–50 pages or more–with a convincing argument. Now, in retrospect, I realize that it would have been better to have simply read a poem. Or perhaps, brought a bouquet of freshly picked flowers to class.)
I wish I had read St. Catherine of Siena;
“I won’t take no for an answer,
God began to say
when He opened His arms each night
wanting us to
Or to simply write, borrowing the words of Robert Browning, that “God is the perfect poet.”
Happy New Year (and New Decade) to you. I’m not a list maker. But this is a good New Year to make an exception. So, here’s my wish list (for us all).
I wish for you sanctuary; and the permission to go there and be nourished at that well.
I wish for you moments of gooseflesh, discovering beauty in the mundane, and awe in the ordinary.
I wish for you dollops of joy and a bonanza of laughter.
I wish for you the gift to be gentle with yourself.
I wish for you the permission to quit keeping score; with yourself and with others.
I wish for you the permission to set down the weight you carry (any weight of should or nagging grievance or feeling never enough or the assumption that grief makes us less than.) Set it down. Not to run from, but to let it know you are more than the weight you carry.
And I wish for you, eyes to see those left out (on the outside), to offer a hand of compassion and mercy and inclusion.
We remember all friends and family members who have died in 2019. Grateful for their gift to us and this world. This past week, our brother and teacher, Ram Dass.
I’m extraordinarily grateful for this Sabbath Moment community with old friends and new. Thank you for your kindness. And one more wish; Let’s invite others to join us for the New Year.
Quote for your week…
Everything that was broken has forgotten its brokenness. Mary Oliver
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(1) Kim Rosen’s work from Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words
(2) Mary Oliver’s poem is from her book Dream Work
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Thank you, Terry. For continuing our exploration of “what sustains us” and of the importance of self-care. Thank you for being with us to kickstart our year. What a wonderful way to begin the new year! God bless, The staff of St. Augustine School
–Terry, Your Sabbath Moment is very inspirational. Thank you for sharing your God given talent each week. Barbara
–Thanks for another good year of Sabbath Moment. Just read that Ram Dass has made it home. Happy Gardening in 2020 Namaste. Brenda.
–I’ve always enjoyed your messages & I hope to re-subscribe later. I’m just overwhelmed & need less email. Blessings on you & everyone you love. Nancy
–Love the sabbath moments. They lift me up and bring me great joy. A very blessed and peaceful Christmas to you Terry, Raedene
–Terry what a blessing you are! Keep shining your light and sharing your thoughts as we all walk this journey of life together!! Peace to you and yours. Bev
–Hi Terry, I love the new word: Hyggelig, I like to pronounce it “hug a lug”, ha ha ha!! Creating warmth, connection and well being is a good definition of what else but a “hug”. We should all hug a lug and share the warmth with others! Thanks for another year of SM and many blessings and much joy for the New Year! Donna
–A Blessed Christmas and Chanukah to Terry with Love from me!! The word HUG came from the Danish folks!! We adopted it as ours, too. Love and HUGS all year long 2020!! Peace. Barbara
–I loved the story of the boy with impaired hearing and the Merton quote. Waiting is a sacred practice. During Advent we are (to quote the title of dear friend Katerina Whitley’s inspirational book) “Waiting for the Wonder”. Pam
POEMS AND PRAYERS
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. Pema Chodron
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.