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Good Starting Point for Prayer and Reflection

April is National Poetry Month, so it seems appropriate to think about favorite poets. I can’t say I have a single favorite poet, but one of my favorites is Mary Oliver, a contemporary American whose works can be a good starting point for prayer and reflection.

Mary Oliver, poet. (Photo by Rachel Giese.)

Mary Oliver has been compared to both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Like Whitman, she is a keen observer of the natural world. Like Dickinson, she is able to tease out spiritual truths from the ordinary events of living, and she expresses those truths directly and clearly.

She has been called “a poet of wisdom and generosity” and an “indefatigable guide to the natural world, particularly to its lesser-known aspects.”

I’ve posted a representative selection here, a deceptively simple poem “touching the subject of faith.”

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green
stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

~Mary Oliver~

You can read more of her work here: http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/mary_oliver/

The 2012 National Poetry Month poster, designed by Chin-Yee Lai.

Do you have a favorite poet? A poem that opened new doors for your heart and spirit? Celebrate National Poetry Month by sharing it with others in the comments below.

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Sister Lisa Stallings

Sister Lisa serves as vicar of the Sisters of Providence leadership team. After teaching junior high and high school, she spent twenty years ministering in music and worship in parishes in Chicago, Kentucky and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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