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God of Dirt, pt 3: Meeting God, that Mysterious ‘Other,’ in Flora and Fauna

October 4, 2010

Yesterday, we discussed how we encounter God as a mysterious and sacred “Other” in nature, particularly in our encounters with peaceful trees and flowers on the one hand and with wild, chaotic animals on the other. (This program will repeat this Thursday, Oct. 7 at 6 pm). We once again dipped into the poetry of Mary Oliver as well as our scriptures (this week–the words of God speaking out of the whirlwind from the Book of Job). You can click below for the complete handout, but here’s a small taste of what we got into (with a peculiarly Florida perspective):

Alligator Poem

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth—
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me—
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems—
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

The Mysterious Peacefulness of Trees and Flowers

I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there… Eventually I began to appreciate—I don’t say this lightly—that the great black oaks knew me. I don’t mean they knew me as myself and not another—that kind of individualism was not in the air—but that they recognized and responded to my presence, and to my mood. They began to offer, or I began to feel them offer, their serene greeting.

– Mary Oliver, 1999

A Blessing

The man in the tree, a rough amorphous pope
Making the sign of benediction over

The pasture, and my daily walk,
Has stood for years

Locked in the wrinkled bark halfway up
The black oak tree.

I have had in my lifetime many
Blessings, from father, mother, friends,

From dogs and strangers. But none
Washed like the water

Of these green arms lifted
To a distant heaven, yet including me.

How shall I walk in the world,
But looking for light and wisdom,

Believing in what I see,
And more—what turns

On the wheel of what cannot be defined
In the leaves, in the darkness?

White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers
began.

The Mysterious Wildness of Animals

The Book of Job, chap 38-39

God spoke out of the whirlwind…
‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?

‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them…
‘Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings towards the south?

Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.’


A Meeting

She steps into the dark swamp
where the long wait ends.

The secret slippery package
drops to the weeds.

She leans her long neck and tongues it
between breaths slack with exhaustion

and after a while rises and becomes a creature
like her, but much smaller.

So now there are two. And they walk together
like a dream under the trees.

In early June, at the edge of a field
thick with pink and yellow flowers

I meet them.
I can only stare.

She is the most beautiful woman
I have ever seen.

Her child leaps among the flowers,
the blue of the sky falls over me

like the silk, the flowers burn, and I want
to live my life all over again, to begin again,

to be utterly
wild.

The Book of Job, chap 40-41

And the Lord said to Job:
‘Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.’

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth…
And the Lord said to Job…

‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it make many supplications to you?
Will it speak soft words to you?

…Can you fill its skin with harpoons,
or its head with fishing-spears?
Lay hands on it;
think of the battle; you will not do it again!
Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed;
…No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up.
Who can stand before it?
Who can confront itand be safe?
—under the whole heaven, who?

‘I will not keep silence concerning its limbs,
or its mighty strength, or its splendid frame.
Who can strip off its outer garment?
Who can penetrate its double coat of mail?
Who can open the doors of its face?
There is terror all around its teeth.
Its back is made of shields in rows,
shut up closely as with a seal.
One is so near to another
that no air can come between them.
They are joined one to another;
they clasp each other and cannot be separated…
Its underparts are like sharp potsherds;
it spreads itself like a threshing-sledge on the mire.
It makes the deep boil like a pot;
it makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
It leaves a shining wake behind it;
one would think the deep to be white-haired.
On earth it has no equal,
a creature without fear.
It surveys everything that is lofty;
it is king over all that are proud.’

Alligator Poem

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth—
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me—
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems—
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.


Five a.m. in the Pinewoods

I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward

the deeper woods, so I
got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
Finally
one of them—I swear it!—

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.


The Fawn

Sunday morning and mellow as precious metal
the church bells rang, but I went
to the woods instead.

A fawn, too new
for fear, rose from the grass
and stood with its spots blazing,
and knowing no way but words,
no trick but music,
I sang to him.

He listened.
His small hooves struck the grass.
Oh what is holiness?

The fawn came closer,
walked to my hands, to my knees.

I did not touch him.
I only sang, and when the doe came back
calling out to him dolefully
and he turned and followed her into the trees,

still I sang,
not knowing how to end such a joyful text,

until far off the bells once more tipped and tumbled and rang through the morning, announcing
the going forth of the blessed.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. C.A. Child permalink
    October 5, 2010 8:05 am

    Love this.

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