Be a Great Poem

Scott Weber Creative Commons

Scott Weber Creative Commons

A few weeks ago I based a service on one of my favourite texts. This is an excerpt from the reflection. By American poet Walt Whitman, this famous poem is found in the preface of his grand work Leaves of Grass.

This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem and
have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and
in every motion and joint of your body.

I love this image of our bodies becoming lyrical poetry, objects of great beauty and rich fluency. Imagine a world where our elders are understood as great poetry.

Whitman’s advice from 160 years ago is still sound. Devote your income and labour to the service of others,
Fight against injustice, examine what authority tells you. Be patient with other people.

And while Whitman was suspicious of church, I think that Unitarian Universalism is precisely a place that encourages this way of principled living. Unitarian Universalist communities are intended as spaces for reflection, to examine all the endless information and opinion that is thrown at us everyday and to dismiss what insults our souls.

We need spaces like this more and more in this busy technological world. We gather on Sunday mornings for a moment of rest and reflection. This time together is time to simply be, as you are. It is for self-examination and understanding.

If we all strive to become great poems, through living our seven principles and being grounded in our six sources,
then perhaps our children will have the same ambition.
Pulitzer prize winning poems will be everywhere!

Imagine that.

the way home is all downhill

I wrote this poem many years ago when, after having a rough few months, I found a good place for myself. The house where I was living was down a hill from the centre of town; biking home I knew when I was almost there as I could stop pedalling and glide easily down the hill. Walking, it doesn’t feel the same, but on a bike it is a lovely way to arrive home. The same is true of where I live now – at the convergence of two gentle downward slopes – and there is something about that easy, invitational last move towards home that is a true gift.

the way home is all downhill

your neighbour’s gift
+++ of cheerful bulging cucumbers
mail in the mailbox
+++ with your name on it
the stray cat
+++ swirled around your legs

these  make you stand in the living room and
+++ lose your mind
++++++ in ordinary delights

i am here    you think

and everybody knows

your laughter causes dust to rise up off the ficus
+++ and dance
++++++ in the encircling sun

And I believe, without doubt…

I find myself longing for spring, so grateful for the lengthening daylight as we head towards the equinox.  In anticipation, I offer this delightful excerpt from Pattiann Roger’s poem Rolling Naked in the Morning Dew (1989).

Lillie Langtry practiced it, when weather permitted,
Lying down naked every morning in the dew,
With all of her beauty believing the single petal
Of her white skin could absorb and assume
That radiating purity of liquid and light.
And I admit to believing myself, without question,
In the magical powers of dew on the cheeks
And breasts of Lillie Langtry believing devotedly
In the magical powers of early morning dew on the skin
Of her body lolling in purple beds of bird’s-foot violets,
Pink prairie mimosa. And I believe, without doubt,
In the mystery of the healing energy coming
From that wholehearted belief in the beneficent results
Of the good delights of the naked body rolling
And rolling through all the silked and sun-filled,
Dusky-winged, sheathed and sparkled, looped
And dizzied effluences of each dawn
Of the rolling earth.

Just consider how the mere idea of it alone
Has already caused me to sing and sing
This whole morning long.

Pattiann Rogers

Lillie Langtry - 1899 "The Degenerates"

Lillie Langtry – 1899 “The Degenerates” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

a chalice filled with words…

woodcut chaliceAs a Unitarian minister, every time I create a service I find myself scrolling through word documents trying to find that quote, reading, meditation or chalice lighting that fits the theme.  I can waste a lot of time seeking that perfect piece  – one of the downsides of a tradition without a sacred text! Most of the time I’m glad to find myself opened up in unexpected ways through reading novels, watching tv shows, or listening to tedx talks; I love referencing Anne of Green Gables as well as the Dalai Lama in a reflection.  But it is a challenge trying to remember where I found that insight…

I created wordchalice to hold all these pieces in one place with a good search engine.   I’ve only got a fraction of the texts I use up there, but I’m adding more each week.  The blog includes insights from musicians, scientists, feminists, writers, gardeners, poets, theologians and wise people from across the centuries.  And from tv shows that have wowed me with anew ways to consider the world.  My original work will also be posted there.  The Empty Chalice will remain my blog, the tumblr account is my reference database.  An eclectic and evolving gathering of texts, I hope wordchalice will be a useful site for anyone seeking inspiration on topics from the sacred to the food we eat.  It can be accessed via my blogroll anytime.

Hatching the Wondrous

But when we begin to tell stories,

our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again.

Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us,

and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous.

We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit,

along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden,

and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter.

Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos —

the round dance of the seasons,

the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening,

the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

David Abram  excerpt from Storytelling and Wonder

Among the Trees

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

~ Mary Oliver ~

Pine in Algonquin Park