Saturday, April 2, 2016

My job is to observe all of this

It’s April, the cruelest month. Tomorrow it may snow but today the temperature got into the 60s. It was raining early this morning when I headed out for a long drive into the Shenandoah Valley for a day-long retreat on contemplative prayer. Luckily it was still light when I drove home. By then the sun had erased the rain clouds, the mountains were glorious, the redbuds were in peak bloom, and the buds in the apple orchards were just beginning to show some color. I drove home in peace and quiet, savoring the day.

This is not the first time I have gone on retreat, focusing on a getting some specific direction from God—often called discernment—and ending up on a completely different path than what I was seeking. Once again I wanted God to give me some marching orders, to tell me what I should do with the rest of my life. Instead He put me outside a farmhouse in the rolling Virginia hills, watching hens, listening to cows, and smelling the reemergence of life. I wanted a life plan. He told me to love His creation.

This is what I wrote in my journal at the retreat:

It’s early spring. The grass is starting to turn green, as if it is a sentient being and it miraculously knows that it’s time to turn green and soft and it begins to grow again. The buds on the trees start to swell, the hens cluck and peck at the earth, their feathers slick and shiny. The sun has a promise of warmth even when the wind blows with just a bit too much bluster. My job is to observe all of this, to feel the warmth of the sun, to smell the earth coming to life, and to thank God for so many blessings. I have been so deeply mired in the brokenness of the world—my own sorrow, the pain of others, the cruel violence and hatred of humanity—that I have forgotten to simply take in God’s goodness and thank Him.

And I vaguely recalled (and luckily found) a poem by Mary Oliver that expressed the idea that “my work is loving the world.” It is such a perfect reflection of the feeling I had today, the reverence for His work. Here I am, standing still and learning to be astonished.

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

          equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
          keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

          and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

          to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

          that we live forever.


  1. Welcome back, Ms Xander. I missed your texts. Thanks for this beautiful post and allow me to share this quote by Khalil Gibran here:

    "The human heart cries out for help; the human soul implores us for deliverance; but we do not heed their cries, for we neither hear nor understand. But the man who hears and understands we call mad, and flee from him. Thus the nights pass, and we live in unawareness; and the days greet us and embrace us. But we live in constant dread of day and night."

    1. Khalil Gibran heard and understood. Some may have thought him mad, but others know he had incredible insight. Thank you for that quote.