The Invitation and Mary Oliver … Inspiration and Spirit

June 29, 2012 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


Image from Shutterstock

As I child I was a voracious reader, consuming books faster than my parents could get them on the shelves that lined most walls of my room. Sadly, today my consumption rate is far surpassed by the magnetic attraction that I seem to have when it comes to walking into a book store to just pass some time and walk out toting a hefty sack laden with literature.

Yes, the old fashioned kind. I still read actual books. This isn’t, however, a discussion about digital versus hard copy or how I believe that while the digital realm is great, amazing and important that the serendipity of old school bookstores and the experience of cracking a binding for the first time must be preserved.

No. This post is about an invitation. Actually, it’s about The Invitation as well as a poet who I consider an American treasure, Mary Oliver.

I’ll start with the latter. Several years ago I was going through a rather stressful time. A dear friend handed me a book. It was Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One. On the flyleaf she wrote:

“Dear Cat, To me this collection is a form of subtle and extremely refined and intelligent armor. I pack it with me wherever I travel, whenever my roots in joy and ease might be challenged…”

She was spot on.

Over time, as I’ve grown to know Mary Oliver’s work more deeply it has become my go-to cure all. Feeling stressed? Mary Oliver has something of whimsy and joy to make me laugh. Feeling joy? Mary Oliver has captured a moment of sheer bliss in a bird’s wings or her dog romping in the woods that mirrors my mood. Feeling fear? Mary Oliver has gone to the depths of her own darkness and then lights a candle with graceful prose and leads me out.

At least one of her books always perches on the top of the teetering stack by my bed. (Occasionally I look at this leaning tower and muse on how its proximity to my pillow probably means I should stock it with paperbacks in case of earthquake.)

There’s another powerful woman’s words sitting on that nightstand – Oriah Mountain Dreamer. She wrote a poem entitled “The Invitation” for which she then wrote what I like to call a companion guide. It’s a short book that breaks the poem down, stanza by stanza, digging into the meaning and offering an array of meditations and prayers to complement the rather intense emotional sloughing the work incites.

These books had been laying fallow on the pile gathering dust … until last week. That’s when I met a new friend, someone who was moving her way through some truly deep emotional and spiritual excavation around an event in which she was involved. This new friend is one of those people with whom I felt an immediate connection. We’d spoken on the phone the day before meeting in person and upon our initial introduction it felt truly as though I were greeting an old friend. As we spoke about what she was experiencing with this event, I began to think about the two volumes sitting by my bed and how perfectly fitting they were for my new friend’s present journey. So I did the logical thing … I got her copies of each.

The beautiful thing, at least for me, about presenting someone with literature to which I have a deep connection is two-fold.

First, I get reconnected. My relationship with books is a deeply intimate one. They have been my guardians, guides and teachers and those that proffer ongoing lessons are my most connected friends – the ones to which I turn when I need answers. When I give someone a book that has deep meaning for me, it never fails that I then open the book again myself, and that return never fails to bring me joy.

Second, I get inspired. Work of great and inspired writers fuel me. Sure I get inspiration from other places – peaceful time at the beach, laughing with friends, people watching in crowded airports; but when it comes to sifting through all the ideas, to sorting thought into cohesive poetry or prose, it is generally by exposure to those whose work I admire that I find my direction.

While I don’t think that tonight will be the night I crank out the Great American Novel, I did feel inspired to channel some thoughts and wanted to share them … so with that…

She rises
from crumpled sheets, tossing
them helter skelter, and reaches across the
distance to brush back my hair
gently, with cool hands.

If it were day, perhaps I’d see the
blue-green sparkle of her
laughing under the sun; but
it is night and with it darkness
makes her glance dark and cool.

Knowing her as I do, the darkness
holds no fear for me, but rather
a sense of tenderness and comfort.

Again the mournful call carries through the
silken gray blanket she’s thrown into the air,
and that now floats gently misting onto my face,
bringing with it scent of the sea.

Oh and about The Invitation … Here’s a lovely video that sets the poem to music and images. (Note if the advertising banner pops up on the bottom, click the x to close it. The banner blocks the poetry text.)

Photo credit: The photo at the top of this post is courtesy of Shutterstock.


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