photo courtesy of Joel Brotzman
by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
The blue iris has always looked, to me, beautiful in a regal, formal, set-apart sort of way. Prim and proper, standing straight and austere, head held high; I can easily picture it rendered in stained glass, shining above a wondrously-carven altar.
I sometimes catch myself heading down the blue-iris-lined path; in my writing, and in my relationships, I can fuss over a phrase or worry over a nuance for hours – hours that I could spend actually writing or relating – in my anxiety to make everything perfect.
I run up against this tendency in prayer, too. I grew up in small churches populated by simple, salt-of-the-earth people; farmers, mostly, and mechanics, a postman, a piano teacher, sincere souls one and all. I learned from their example that regardless of one’s natural manner of speaking, one addresses the Almighty in carefully chosen King James English, thereby making one’s petitions known and presentable.
Blue irises are lovely; so are stained glass cathedral windows and the poetic cadence of the King James Bible. But they are not the only appropriate adornments for worship, not the only paths of prayer. The tall grasses waving in an untended field have an approachable beauty of their own. The sun-warmed shells that I pick from the sand and hold in my fingers draw me to their Maker more palpably than polished gems behind climate-controlled museum glass ever could.
Precisely cultivated flowerbeds and intricately worked icons can move me to awe, certainly, and lofty language can evoke visions of splendor. Each of these has its proper place. But it is the simple pleasant things, plentiful and near enough to touch, that assure me that I don’t have to produce an elaborately-worded application to enter the presence of God, that I may encounter Him walking along a back road, that if I sit quietly under a gnarled old tree I may hear His voice.
This piece was originally posted on http://www.allninemuses.wordpress.com on November 11, 2012.