I realized that I had not posted much lately. I am in the homerun stretch of graduating from the apprenticeship program at The Guild for Spiritual Guidance, which has carried me through the last two years in community and love. After this Sunday, I will be a graduate and will dive deep into my writing and sharing with you here in this space. I very much look forward to posting more.
In the meantime, I came across this poem by Jan Richardson. I hope it brings you comfort.
Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House
I know how every time you return, you call out in greeting to the one who is not there; how you lift your voice not in habit but in honor of the absence so fierce it has become its own force.
I know how the hollow of the house echoes in your chest, how the emptiness you enter matches the ache you carry with you always.
I know there are days when the only thing more brave than leaving this house is coming back to it.
So on those days, may there be a door in the emptiness through which a welcome waits for you.
On those days, may you be surprised by the grace that gathers itself within this space.
On those days, may the delight that made a home here find its way to you again, not merely in memory but in hope,
so that every word ever spoken in kindness circles back to meet you;
so that you may hear what still sings to you within these walls;
so that you may know the love that dreams with you here when finally you give yourself to rest—
the love that rises with you, stubborn like the dawn that never fails to come.
I have rediscovered Haiku poetry, a Japanese form of short poetry. In the English language, Haiku is written according to the number of syllables: Three lines with 17 syllables. 5-7-5. Japanese does not have syllables. So, Haiku is written in what are durational sound units, sounds of equal duration. In English, syllables can be of differing duration.
I think I love Haiku so much for a couple of reasons. First, because of my analytical side. The counting of syllables and the effort it takes to fit a moment of life into 17 syllables is very satisfying to this woman whose favorite class in school (way back when) was math. Many poets of Haiku in English think of this 17-syllable rule as a suggestion, and my older self is just fine with coloring outside the lines.
Second, Haiku helps me to reel in my errant thoughts and focus them like a light beam onto one moment, one object, a simple thing. This is a type of meditation for me. It has helped me, especially during these uncertain times.
Noticing the smallest of things and being grateful for them, however fleeting, is what I attempt to hold in my hands as I walk through life now.
Here are a few Haiku poems focusing on grief and gratitude. I hope you find comfort in them.
A Japanese Poem Translated by Takashi Kodaira and Alfred H. Marks
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
As I care for my aging father, and witness his diminishing abilities, both physical and mental. I see my own future. I see my frustration and grief in not being able to do things that used to come so easily. I see my melancholy face as I stare out the window of the kitchen, thinking of – who knows? My past? Things I have done and not done? Joys and regrets?
At times it sends me into a panic wondering what I have done, or what I may still do in the time I have left of this life. What will I do with my one wild and precious life? At other times, I release these fears and escape my ego’s hold, a great reprieve if even just for a little while.
I believe the answer to Mary Oliver’s questions above may be within the poem in which she asks that devastating question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
Be in awe of the grasshoppers, and trees, and blue skies. Be in awe of the beauty in this weary world. A world that we have been gifted.
The rest of life will unfold as it will and should.
Mary Oliver’s poetry has saved me in ways it is hard for me to explain. Through the darkness of my mind, her words pulled me back to the world. I wiped my eyes and remembered to be in awe of the beauty around me, especially in the smallest of things. A flower, an insect, a cloud, fleeting as they all may be. Her poem “The Summer Day” was the first one of hers that I read, and it pulled me back from the abyss.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I do not know where I first read this or who wrote it. But it has always stuck with me, so I share it with you now.
The Wise Woman and The Stone
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman if she could give it to him. She did so without hesitatin. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Please give me what you had within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass
The witchery of living is my whole conversation with you, my darlings. All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again. This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones. It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. It’s more than the beating of the single heart. It’s praising. It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving. You have a life—just imagine that! You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe still another.
A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.
How the Stars Get in Your Bones
by Jan Richardson
Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz: think of every hard thing that carries its own brilliance, shining with the luster that comes only from uncountable ages in the earth, in the dark, buried beneath unimaginable weight, bearing what seemed impossible, bearing it still.
And you, shouldering the grief you had thought so solid, so impermeable, the terrible anguish you carried as a burden now become— who can say what day it happened?— a beginning.
See how the sorrow in you slowly makes its own light, how it conjures its own fire.
See how radiant even your despair has become in the grace of that sun.
Did you think this would happen by holding the weight of the world, by giving in to the press of sadness and time?
I tell you, this blazing in you— it does not come by choosing the most difficult way, the most daunting; it does not come by the sheer force of your will. It comes from the helpless place in you that, despite all, cannot help but hope, the part of you that does not know how not to keep turning toward this world, to keep turning your face toward this sky, to keep turning your heart toward this unendurable earth, knowing your heart will break but turning it still.
I tell you, this is how the stars get in your bones.
This is how the brightness makes a home in you, as you open to the hope that burnishes every fractured thing it finds and sets it shimmering, a generous light that will not cease, no matter how deep the darkness grows, no matter how long the night becomes.
Still, still, still the secret of secrets keeps turning in you, becoming beautiful, becoming blessed, kindling the luminous way by which you will emerge, carrying your shattered heart like a constellation within you, singing to the day that will not fail to come.
Recently, I have found much comfort in this 12th-Century poem, especially during this time when everything seems to be changing and out of our control. In order to truly feel the depth of appreciation for those people and beings we love, whether a parent, a pet or a flower, it is necessary to see that their end will come as well. Everything we love, we will lose. It is an unchanging law of this physical world. I try to walk the path of holding these two seeming opposites in my hands. Grief and gratitude. They are twins of the same mother, love.
Here is the 12th-Century poem in written and video form (click the picture above). The author is unknown.