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A Final Dig Into “God of Dirt”

October 15, 2010

Last night, we wrapped up our four week dig into the “God of Dirt” through the poetry of Mary Oliver by discussing how we are all “Overwhelmed by God’s Frightening & Awesome Power in Storm and Sea.” Our discussion was wide ranging and included descriptions from our scripture of God in the raging storm and sea as well as the story of Jesus calming a storm while in a boat upon the raging sea. Click the link below for the complete final handout text. Here’s a final thought from (again) Mary Oliver:

Bone

1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what a soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape—
and so, last week,
when I found on the beach

the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died
hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something—
for the ear bone

2.

is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where
once, in the lively swimmer’s head,
it joined its two sisters

in the house of hearing,
it was only
two inches long—
and I thought: the soul
might be like this—
so hard, so necessary—

3.

yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,
unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;

I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

4.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts—
certainties—
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.

[click below for complete handout]

“God of Dirt,” part 4: Overwhelmed by God’s Frightening & Awesome Power in Storm and Sea

Psalm 18: 6-15

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew;
he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering around him,
his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
there broke through his clouds
hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice.*
14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

Lightning

The oaks shone
gaunt gold
on the lip
of the storm before
the wind rose,
the shapeless mouth
opened and began
its five-hour howl;
the lights
went out fast, branches
sidled over
the pitch of the roof, bounced
into the yard
that grew black
within minutes, except
for the lightning—the landscape
bulging forth like the quick
lesson in creation, then
thudding away. Inside,
as always,
it was hard to tell
fear from excitement:
how sensual
the lightning’s
poured stroke! and still,
what a fire and a risk!
As always the body
wants to hide,
wants to flow toward it—strives
to balance while
fear shouts,
excitement shouts, back
and forth—each
bolt a burning river
tearing like escape through the dark
field of the other.

Beyond the Snow Belt

Over the local stations, one by one,
Announcers list disasters like dark poems
That always happen in the skull of winter.
But once again the storm has passed us by:
Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down
While shouting children hurry back to play,
And scarved and smiling citizens once more
Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome.

And what else might we do? Let us be truthful.
Two countries north the storm has taken lives.
Two countries north, to us, is far away,¾
A land of trees, a wing upon a map,
A wild place never visited,¾so we
Forget with ease each far mortality.

Peacefully from our frozen yards we watch
Our children running on the mild white hills.
This is the landscape that we understand,¾
And till the principle of things takes root,
How shall examples move us from our calm?
I do not say that it is not a fault.
I only say, except as we have loved,
All news arrives as from a distant land.

Matthew 8:23-27

When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ 26And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

Maybe

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
that night.
But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
the threshold—the uncles
mutter together,

the women walk away
the young brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water—
sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth

like the tremore of pure sunlight,
before exhaustion,
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it—

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was—
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer sea.

The Waves

The sea
isn’t a place
but a fact, and
a mystery

under its green and black
cobbled coat that never
stops moving
When death

happens on land, on some
hairpin piece of road,
we crawl past
imagining

over and over that moment
of disaster. After the storm
the other boats didn’t
hesitate—they spun out

from the rickety pier, the men
bent the nets or turning
the weedy winches
Surely the sea

is the most beautiful fact
in our universe, but
you won’t find a fisherman
who will say so;

what they say is,
See you later.
Gulls white as angels scream
as they float in the sun

just off the sterns;
everything is here
that you could ever imagine.
And the bones

of the drowned fisherman
are returned, half a year later,
in the glittering,
laden nets.

Winter

And the waves
gush pearls
from their snowy throats
as they come
leaping
over the moss-green,
black-green
glass-green roughage—
as they crumble
on the incline
scattering
whatever they carry
in their invisible
and motherly
hands:
stones,
seaweed,
mussels
icy and plump
with waled shells,
waiting
for the gatherers
who come flying
on their long white wings—
who comes walking,
who comes muttering:
thank you,
old dainties,
dark wreckage,
coins of the sea
in my pockets
and plenty for the gulls
and the wind still pounding
and the sea still streaming in like a mother wild with gifts—
in this world I am as rich
as I need to be.

Bone

1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what a soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape—
and so, last week,
when I found on the beach

the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died
hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something—
for the ear bone

2.

is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where
once, in the lively swimmer’s head,
it joined its two sisters

in the house of hearing,
it was only
two inches long—
and I thought: the soul
might be like this—
so hard, so necessary—

3.

yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,
unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;

I looked but I couldn’t see anything
through its dark-knit glare;
yet don’t we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it

4.

lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts—
certainties—
and what the soul is, also
I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
softly,
through the pale-pink morning light.

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