Poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m a fan and have been since my teenage years. A poet (and church member) befriended me in those turbulent times, anchoring my life with a love of words and nurturing my fledgling creative spirit with her own. This mentor introduced me to poets whose published volumes fill my bookshelves yet today. Anne Sexton. Adrienne Rich. e.e. cummings. Mary Oliver.
Mary Oliver died in January. A friend recently emailed a copy of her wonderful poem “The Summer Day” to offer me its inspiration. Even those who find poetry a torturous tangle in need of unknotting may know the conclusion of this delightful piece. It’s simple. It asks a straightforward question. It’s hauntingly hopeful.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
We know well that not all plans come to fruition. And sometimes we weary of setting a plan in motion only to have it go awry. Often we feel that any sense of control is beyond our grasp. And yet, Oliver reminds us that the life we are living is indeed our life. Ours and not someone else’s. Ours and only by the grace of God. Ours completely. Ours to withhold. Ours to give away.
Popular columnist Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying, “When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” Paul the apostle used these words in writing to the faithful in Philippi, “Even if I am poured out like a drink offering upon the altar of service for your faith, I am glad.” (2:17). No, not exactly poetry in either case but noble sentiments nonetheless. Generous, faithful intentions, much in line with Jesus about whom it is sung, “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself…” (Philippians 2:6-7a). Poetry indeed… and a beautiful plan for any and every wild and precious life!