From the archives… I wrote this short reflection a year ago and I happened upon it today. I had forgotten the Mary Oliver poem and it felt like I was discovering it brand new.
The sermon we heard on Sunday was mostly about prayer and this poem captures so perfectly how I think about prayer these days.
Most weekday mornings, after dropping the boys off at school, I make some coffee and sit with it by the fire. I take my time, sip it slowly, and endeavor to do only that. Just drink and breathe. And look out the window.
Sometimes I let my mind wander. Sometimes I try to notice what I’m doing: filling my lungs with air – and releasing, tasting my coffee – warm and slightly sweet, hearing the soft exhales of my dog sleeping beside me and the splat patter of the rain falling against the house.
Sometimes I hold a particular person or a thought that worries my heart before a benevolent God. Sometimes I don’t. But this morning I wondered about this and wondered about the unintentional delineation I had made. Isn’t it all a prayer? Isn’t my sitting and sipping and watching the birds drop and swoop around the winter trees as much a prayer as anything else?
If no space or place is untouched by God’s loving presence and if we don’t find God only in those spaces that we set aside to, say, read the sacred scriptures or prayer in a particular way, then certainly the contentment wrought by a well-pulled espresso shot is a signpost of God’s loving presence in all spaces and places.
Intellectually I assented to this long ago but old habits die hard. I’m still learning.
This morning when I set down my cup, I picked up a book of poems by Mary Oliver. I opened it and read this, which I hadn’t seen before. Maybe you, friends, will enjoy it as I have.
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not?
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.