“My work is loving the world.”– Mary Oliver
By Linda Burson Swift
It’s been a challenging season for our global community. There is so much happening in the world around us currently and it’s definitely not a time to disengage from life, rather there is a collective invitation to activism in whatever expression that might take. From where I hail in the Antipodean Island Nation of Aōtearoa (New Zealand), it’s very easy to pretend that everything is okay, but that would continue to foster the classic Kiwi, “she’ll be right” attitude, which no longer works for us. Maintaining a “head buried in the sand,” or “leave it to someone else” approach doesn’t effect necessary change.
In Enneagram language I identify as a #9, and for the most part seek peace in my everyday life and world around me. I don’t get up in the morning and think, how can I rock the boat today, but if there is a boat that needs to change its course, and I feel the call to justice rise up in my belly, I’m not averse to creating some waves. Peace, I’ve learned, is something that is usually experienced after conflict or adversity, which is neither my personal preference or chosen route. But perhaps the current invitation for all humanity is to lean into the discomfort, to collaborate and share the road with one another, thus being the makers of the peace we all seek.
I was inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “Messenger” (below ) and a conversation with a friend to consider the many places we encounter that offer us peace, and therefore presence, which in themselves are a divine encounter. I believe that wherever peace is found, there is God. To embrace this idea enables us to extend our image and therefore experience of God. This approach offers ways of seeing that enlarge our ability to both seek and find God in the not-so-conventional spaces.
Is the morning smell of a freshly brewed pot of coffee that someone has prepared for you an invitation to experience the presence of God? Can it be? Can you stretch your imagination to find sacred presence in a blade of grass? Does it lead you to peace?
I have been on a journey over the years to dismantle prescribed ways of being with God (often called prayer) that have promised to lead me into the presence, or fill me with the peace of God. Not fitting the mould used to leave me feeling like something might be wrong with me, which in hindsight was only because there were certain ways of being that I was taught to value over others. This was the cause of anxiety, something which sadly has been used as a tool in some expressions of the Christian tradition to keep people bound within a set of prescribed doctrines, or rules. The script was set and deviation from it might get me into some kind of trouble, although I was never really sure what that might look like.
These days I’m comfortable and safe in the knowledge that whatever brings me to peace is itself a sacred presence, and I’m on the continued search for new ways of connecting with the Divine. 🙂
Mary Oliver’s poem, “Messenger” is a beautiful offering that reminds and keeps me grounded in what is real, and from there I am able to launch into that which I cannot control — like the world I live in right now, for example. The experiences I have with the natural world around me hold me in the same way an anchor would hold a small boat that was being lashed in a storm.
Peace Is Every Step* is the title of the book by Thich Nhat Hahn. This is becoming my mantra.
The Messenger My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird— equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand. Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here, which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever. ~ Mary Oliver
* Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hahn, 1991 Bantam Books
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Linda Burson Swift has worked in the vocation of church leadership and pastoral ministry for around 40 years. On completing her training with Spiritual Growth Ministries in 2010, she began practicing as a Spiritual Director, being registered with the New Zealand Association of Christian Spiritual Directors. She is a supervisor, certified to practice through the Unitec Professional Skills training programme in association with the NZ Coaching and Mentoring Centre, and offer supervision to spiritual directors as well as clergy and leaders of faith-based communities.